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Eric Bailey talks:
Microsoft stirred up some controversy in April with the release of the Corporate Travel Innovation Manifesto. The document, which is actually the output of an industry innovation group brought together by Microsoft global director of travel, venue sourcing and payment Eric Bailey, calls for increased financial transparency in corporate travel and pushes buyers and suppliers to consider the changes that emerging technologies could bring to the table. Now that the document has marinated in industry reaction for a while, Bailey spoke with BTN editor-in-chief Elizabeth West and reflected on its impact.
BTN: What was the group's intention in putting out the manifesto?
Bailey: We're obviously seeing changes in corporate travel. There are changes from the different suppliers: airline, hotel and car. When we look at ride-sharing and things like that, there are lots of changes. It's causing adjustments in the business models around [travel] and things that we do just everyday as travelers. We hoped the manifesto would drive a dialogue around some of these issues so the industry can be more prepared and more aware of the changes in the corporate travel space that are coming in the next three to five years.
BTN: Some of the changes suggested in the manifesto impact established commercial models and partnerships. Have buyers and suppliers reacted differently from each other to the manifesto?
Bailey: There's been clear support across every single travel buyer I've talked to. I'd say also clear support across startups because the startups are seeing the opportunities that may emerge with changes in the industry or even just new opportunities in the industry. Most of the [established] suppliers I've talked to have read it, which is good, and we're starting to have some conversations around it. I think that there is a hesitancy from some [suppliers] because there are lots of dollars flowing around. When dollars change, business models have to change. That's a dangerous place for companies to be in, or it's a great opportunity. I should really say it's a great opportunity that may appear to be dangerous. Maybe that's a better way to put it.
BTN: The manifesto has been controversial for suggesting conflict of interest, particularly at the travel management company level, at which preferred global distribution system incentives and supplier relationships might not align with their clients' own preferreds.
Bailey: Transparency is something that we talk about with all our suppliers. Any sort of bias or preferencing—away from saying we want the best value for what the traveler wants based on the corporate travel program, or anything that pushes away from that—makes me suspicious. That conversation has stepped up in the last few months. There are lots of conversations about transparency and understanding intent.
BTN: The manifesto also put big ideas on the table. User-owned profiles was an interesting one. Tell us how Microsoft Travel is thinking about these.
Bailey: If you look at what we're doing today around data, across not just this industry but across the whole world, your data and your ownership of data is going to become extremely important. But there are two forces dragging in opposite directions: your right to have private data and your need to share all your data with everybody. We're not going to trust any companies to do that. The traveler having the ability to own that is … fundamental to things moving forward. None of us will accept an unpersonalized world in the future.
We’re working with EY as an outcome of the manifesto. There are quite a few other companies that we’ve looked at deeper [innovation] partnerships with ... Is it as fast as I want to be? Nothing’s ever as fast as I want it to be.”
BTN: Is there a way to execute that? Is blockchain the platform?
Bailey: It could be. It could be some sort of a blockchain profile that is shared in certain ways and you give certain people access to it and you can see who accessed it and you can turn it off. Where the front end of that is, I don't know. It could be a [travel] agency. It could be the GDS. It could be Facebook, LinkedIn or Gmail. Any of these could be your interface [for] that [blockchain profile]. But you need robust and very secure data sharing on the back end in order to achieve any of that real personalization.
BTN: In-destination traveler experience was another area that the manifesto describes as ripe for innovation.
Bailey: There are multibillion-dollar opportunities there. They're being capitalized on now by complete randomness. Randomness creates stress for travelers. At the end of the day, I just want it to be easier to get your travel done. Solving for that piece is a big opportunity.
BTN: That sounds like your work with Tripism. Is the manifesto actually a road map for Microsoft Travel?
Bailey: I don't want to build one-off solutions for Microsoft, but in reality, we sometimes need to do some proof of concepts and work with startups to push along new alternatives for the industry. Eventually, the industry has to respond to these changes, as well. We want to help get people in front of that.
BTN: What are you working on right now?
Bailey: Alternative payment is just one example that we've started working on. Payment terms right now generally pay suppliers way out or pay short-term with a discount. But there are different ways to look at it. Maybe we can look at payment terms based on [supplier] cash flow. Maybe we offer a different alternative using a card solution or potentially a direct bill solution of some sort.
We're also working on a more integrated traveler experience. We have thousands of guests coming to visit [the Microsoft campus] every year. We want to offer an experience that is not like the regular travel experience. How do we have it so that the hotel knows when they're arriving, so that our shuttles know when they're going and everyone along that line can connect? If the person informs the shuttle that they're late, how do we integrate the meal[times] with that information or the appointments with people? How do we allow them to share their data for a little bit and then delete it? On a scale perspective, that's very small, but it tests the concepts.
BTN: Has the manifesto driven any innovation partnerships with other companies? The call to action at the end of the document basically said, "Let's work together!"
Bailey: We're working with EY as an outcome of the manifesto. There are quite a few other companies that we've looked at deeper partnerships with based on some of these conversations. Is it as fast as I want to be? Nothing's ever as fast as I want it to be.
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