[UPDATE, Jan. 26, 2023: This article did not properly describe ARC’s Direct Connect initiative; its definition is updated below.]

We start with some good news. 

ARC president and CEO Lauri Reishus told attendees to The Beat Live in December that the pandemic caused fewer travel agency closings than ARC had anticipated

Back in 2020, Reishus said during our live teleconference interview that ARC was bracing for a reduction in TMC locations of as much as 25 percent. 

“We didn’t see it,” Reishus said, The Beat reported last week. “We did see some changes in the numbers but through mergers and acquisitions. Also, a number of new agencies came into the system. Those agencies tended to be tech-first: They’re really a technology platform-oriented agency. These are probably a little bit more leisure- or blended-travel oriented.”

ARC president and CEO Lauri Reishus

According to ARC’s sales statistics, there were just under 10 percent fewer agency locations in November 2022 than there were in March 2020. A spokesperson said the company in 2020 saw a net decrease of 580 agency firms, or 9.5 percent. The count was 3.4 percent lower year-over-year in 2019, 2.9 percent lower in 2021 and down 5.8 percent in 2022. In addition to the M&A activity, “Covid accelerated the closures of some agencies, especially those already processing very few ticket sales.”

Reishus in December also said that about 7 percent of ARC’s volume used its relatively new Direct Connect program, which had about 19 participating airlines and more than 200 travel agencies. The program enables reporting and settlement of transactions booked using direct-connect (NDC or proprietary schema) pipes by importing sales data directly from airlines or aggregators. ARC is looking into how to break out the numbers for corporate travel.

All journeys must pass. The collaboration between AmTrav and Journera that we covered in 2020 didn’t take off. Part of the idea was to track when travelers boarded and/or checked in for flights. “Quite frankly, our first crack at using Journera data for boarding and check-in data hasn’t been wildly exciting to our customer base,” according to AmTrav CEO Jeff Klee. “That happens sometimes. We’re still big believers in Journera’s vision and remain open to testing more new functionality built around some of the additional data points that they are planning to expose in the future.” 

“Back in 2020, AmTrav was ahead of the curve in testing new ways to serve their customers — such as providing more robust duty-of-care — especially during the pandemic and travel downturn,” according to a statement attributed to Journera chief product officer Shelly DeMott. “In the years since, the Journera platform, product offerings, and the recognition that the ‘whole journey’ view of the customer creates tremendous value, have all taken root. We are all in a different place now. This includes enabling our partners to use travel data to significantly improve the customer journey, whether leisure or corporate.”

Hopping right along. Remember our story from last summer about Hopper targeting corporate travel? The company hasn’t made a grunt (thump?) about the effort but a newer job listing revealed more details. The manager of customer service operations for corporate travel would oversee customer service for corporate clients as the “voice of Hopper” in a third-party call center, which evidently uses Sabre. They would assist with “workflows, KPIs, gap analysis and regulatory compliance,” working with “front line agents and customers for our marquee B2B client,” which is in banking, according to the listing. 

Reaction: We received some comments on this week’s travel manager wish list. We know you’re busy, but are you really going to keep letting Festive Road have most of the fun?

Around The Web

• The Wall Street Journal and New York Times both covered Google in recent weeks, focusing on how the company is scrutinizing costs in an effort to avoid layoffs. Here’s a comment from a Times reader identifying as a Google employee: “A lot of us have had to change our business plans because hiring has almost stopped, and because the bar for business travel has been significantly raised. These are mere inconveniences compared to what a lot of people outside of Google have to deal with, and I save my concern for them.”

• According to a Sunday report in the Financial Times, layoffs at Goldman Sachs coincide with a review of expenses related to travel and two Gulfstream jets it bought in 2019. “The decision not to own its own jets and rent them [from NetJets] instead had been a point of pride for some of Goldman’s more parsimonious old guard, although when the bank acquired the aircraft it said the move would lower costs,” FT reported.

A1A Global Ground director of sales and marketing Art Ginolfi told us Tuesday on a LinkedIn Audio call that he was working to build an alliance between GBTA and the National Business Aviation Association. The goal is to close gaps between corporate aviation and travel departments. Microsoft travel buyer Eric Bailey said his company did not own jets but instead used shared services. “We’re poor,” joked Automation Anywhere’s Makiko Barrett. “We only consider it for the C-suite if they’re on a customer road show and the commercial schedule doesn’t work. It’s not great for optics.” Nor for sustainability, Bailey added.

• “Fintech Stocks Did Worse Than Fin or Tech in 2022.” Great headline from the WSJ last week that highlighted a shift in access to capital. News about Stripe downgrading its internal valuation hit TechCrunch this week. Companies in our space styled as fintechs include Ramp and IPO-in-waiting TripActions. Could a reversal of hype lead to more acquisitions by banks or other established firms? 

• BTN Europe is raising awareness about a potent new law in Spain that travel folks are working to understand. Apparently applying to Spanish companies serving Spanish customers, it requires “accommodation and car rental providers in Spain to collect and submit to authorities a comprehensive set of customers’ personal details and sensitive payment information which can be stored indefinitely.” A portal for that is live, and firms have five months to get used to it before sanctions take hold.

• This Harvard Business Review column from November has some research-based tips for all of us as we continue to shake off the networking rust. Focus on what you’re going to ask rather than what you’re going to say, and try to move to “deep talk” from “small talk.” Suggested questions are included.

• Also from HBR for our supplier readers, “Setting Your B2B Sales Strategy in a Downturn.”

Here’s a page where we pull in business travel news feeds from around the web.

Hat-Tips And Heads-Ups

Congrats to self-described travel ninja Sean Parham for landing a new role at Discord as senior manager of travel services after Snap laid him off last year. We’ve featured Sean’s work at Snap and Riot Games. Also an outspoken buyer, Ann Dery left S&P Global to join Johnson & Johnson as director and global travel & meetings category lead. Way to go!

From our archive: It’s been hard to miss the sensation that generative AI caused since the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November. While we consider the implications, here’s our corporate travel chatbot memory lane for your perusal.

Reminder: corporate booking tool configuration is vital. A Twitter user found a company tool recommending they fly Boston to Newark and ignore the 7:00 p.m. nonstop on United to Brussels but instead schlep over to JFK for the 6:25 p.m. operated by Brussels Airlines.

Why, indeed. The traveler suspects it has to do with the lower emissions estimate, but there are many possible explanations ranging from inadvertent to opportunistic.

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