BTN's annual answer book for business travel managers.
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BridgeStreet's Sean Worker talks:
Business travel extended-stay specialist BridgeStreet Global Hospitality is growing its inventory with more than 60,000 of what the company is calling "urban dwellings," catering to business travelers with extended-stay needs in high-demand business locations. The alternative lodging distribution and booking provider refined its technology platform in September, introducing the concept of Six Ways to Stay by categorizing its inventory—which comes direct to BridgeStreet and through partnerships with SiteMinder, Cubilis and others—into extended-stay hotels, traditional hotels, furnished homes, urban/resort vacation rentals, serviced apartments and design-led hostels. The platform is optimized to integrate with managed booking and expense tools. The company launched a mobile app with the same structure, plus travel management features like complex—or simple—policy configuration, as well as integration with online booking and expense tools. CEO Sean Worker spoke with BTN editor-in-chief Elizabeth West.
BTN: The definition of extended stay seems to be evolving. What trends are you seeing?
Worker: For larger companies, extended stay is getting influenced in a couple of ways. For decades, travel has been segmented between business and other forms of travel inside the company—relocation, interns, projects, short versus medium or whatever starts to go into the extended-stay hotel. Larger enterprises are trying to go horizontal in that solution and to find efficiencies, so the lines between those types of travel are blurring. Another trend we've seen is an effort not to relocate employees. We see shorter-term project trips where employees are out for two or three weeks and then back for one week. That's driving demand within organizations to find different solutions.
BTN: Extended-stay hotels and serviced apartments aren't always the right solution? What are they looking for?
Worker: More traditional business travelers, those who have longer stays or project work, are demanding broader forms of accommodation, and they balance the risk of going outside the travel program to access what they need. Wrapped within that pressure, also, [are] the need for talent and difficulty recruiting. Companies are realizing they need to offer a holistic value proposition and the freedom to book the kinds of accommodations employees want in desirable locations. This tends to be a broader [selection of accommodations] than typically offered in a travel program. The business travel experience, in a sense, becomes part of the package for taking a job and for keeping that talent. How long that will last, I don't know.
BTN: Experience is one aspect, but there's also productivity, which seems more tied to the drive to "access what they need."
Worker: Yes, definitely. Project teams, for example, need collaboration environments. Not everything is done at the office, and not all accommodations will have a collaboration space. If you are in manufacturing at a product plant or working in R&D, space can be scarce. The alternative to providing that space can be to source a different type of accommodation. There's a way to make that happen.
BTN: I'm sure there's overlap among small and medium enterprises with some of the trends you've already mentioned, but are there trends specific to the SME segment?
Worker:These companies have a different profile. Decision-makers here are double-jobbing, and they are time impoverished. But this [segment represents] the great frontier of how to deliver travel and travel management. [There are] Lola and some of the others and how they are tapping into the needs in this market. [SMEs] need to be able to self-serve, but they need policy integration and they need the same level of inventory as the big guys. They need the comfort of accessing it without having to talk to a soul. Expense management systems are inexpensive now, [so even SME companies need] the booking app to integrate. You have to offer a frictionless experience for the business owner and their teams. Everything has to be easy, and it has to be mobile.
We have broadened the interpretation of urban accommodation. It's not just hotel; you're going to see a variety of accommodation that you wouldn't normally see served up for that use."
BTN: Is this what you've done with the mobile app, target the SME market?
Worker: It's part of it, but our new app was built with all the functionality of our platform and serves all program sizes. It is GDPR compliant and all the data and pathing are safe so we start with a foundation of trust. We built the app to accommodate all types of travel policies, and they can be loaded super quickly. There are a variety of other features bespoke to individual companies. Not all companies will want to access all the features. Small companies will mostly work with the self-serve, lower-touch configuration, while the next level for midsize to large companies delivers a more sophisticated suite of products. Customers can go all the way up to a full-scale "Range Rover," which gets them everything: account management, expense management, full integration into their travel environment, customized content and the ability to turn on and off with other solutions.
BTN: You are adding a lot more inventory to your platform. How are you prioritizing the locations? These days, you have to get down to neighborhood, not just somewhere within a given city.
Worker: We constantly refine our offering based on uses. It's dynamic and it changes throughout the year. We only work with businesses, not individuals, so we know there's quality. With the 60,000 urban dwellings, we have broadened the interpretation of urban accommodation. It's not just hotel; you're going to see a variety of accommodation that you wouldn't normally see served up for that use. Of course, some will not be unique, but some will be super unique, narrowly distributed inventory. We specialize in tracking demand levels, curating and qualifying these types of accommodations, whether it's suburban New York or the Upper East Side. We refine our analytics all the time based on search data and find the inventory in the location that fits different use cases. And you are right, even business travelers want unique experiences. That has changed how and where they want to stay on business trips. We have made sure to include a mapping function to show exactly how far their choices are from their business meetings [whether] walking, on public transportation or by car. They may not want to stay in the hotel across the street anymore, and they can often save money by not doing so.
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