17 experts advise on what’s to come this year. Spoiler: Data factors big.
The Innovate Conference for the Advancement of Business Travel offered business travel executives the opportunity to articulate priorities and recommendations.
Less than a quarter of small and midmarket travel buyers spend
100 percent of their time managing travel. Yet, their responsibilities continue
to expand. Traditional travel buyers are focusing a lot of their time on travel
risk management, gathering and analyzing quality data, developing meetings management
programs and more. Time constraints necessitate turnkey solutions, and providers
are working hard to serve this market—though they'll admit that it has been difficult
to penetrate. Here are several recent supplier efforts—both traditional and emerging—to
resonate with SME buyers.
Concur Risk Messaging
One-third of small and nearly half of midsize travel buyers surveyed
by BTN said travel risk management was a career development opportunity. Concur
read the tea leaves on this a while back and later this summer will introduce enhancements
to its Risk Messaging platform that may start to tie together some loose ends for
small and midsize TRM efforts. Especially for programs that only lightly manage
the upfront travel booking process, Concur Risk Messaging will bring together travel
itinerary data through the Concur booking tool, corporate card data feeds, expense
data and even off-channel bookings from TripIt/TripLink data and feed it into a
TRM traveler tracking interface. It will continue to support a messaging platform
to communicate with travelers. As an extension of the data integration and traveler
tracking, Concur has established a monitoring and communications relationship with
HX Global for 24/7 support in identifying and reaching out to affected travelers
in an emergency. The HX Global extension comes with an additional fee. Concur is
selling the product direct to corporates but also through its TMC partners.
Business Intelligence Boot Camp?
Data analysis and business intelligence are high on SME travel
buyers' list of learning opportunities, according to early results from BTN's Salary
& Attitudes Survey. That also means buyers need better tools to crunch the numbers.
Many look internally for data agnostic platforms on which to build advanced travel
reporting, often in cooperation with their IT departments. Others may lean toward
external suppliers. In terms of using agnostic tools, Tableau seems to be looking
closely at the midmarket to figure out how to get a piece of the action. The company
has produced a how-to guide in cooperation with Egencia—an OTA with its sweet spot
squarely in the midmarket—to help joint clients configure data streams and build
compelling visualizations. Among specialized travel data intelligence tools, Data
Visualization Intelligence, the spinoff company of Travel and Transport, has hopes
that its full-service approach with a reasonable price tag will be its golden ticket
into the midmarket. Platforms like Tableau will take in multiple data sources, but
official guidance for travel buyers is currently limited to TMC data. That's on
par with most TMC BI tools at the moment. DVI has a multisource strategy that includes
TMC data, corporate card and expense, but also brings in benchmarking data from
other sources like the International Air Transport Association, Prism and global
distribution systems for air, plus hotel sources like Smith Travel Accommodations
Report. The company plans to build APIs to systems like the GDSs, card and expense
in order to fill in gaps in program data. The platform is customizable to suit a
client's specific visualization, though DVI is counting on 80 percent of the KPIs
to remain standard for most of its customer base.
Canadian Payment System: BMO Financial Targets SMEs with Cashback
BMO Financial Group has added two commercial cards and improved
its Air Miles card. BMO's Commercial MasterCard Offerings suite, which also includes
two other cards, targets small and midsize Canadian enterprises that have annual
revenue between $5 million and $100 million. The products are aimed at organizations
that would not historically have qualified for traditional rebates on their volume
of spend. The BMO CashBack Commercial MasterCard allows companies to earn 1 percent
of cash back on eligible purchases. There is no cap. BMO credits the funds to the
company every January. The annual fee is $45 per card. A Not-for-Profit Commercial
MasterCard, available to registered charities only, has no annual fee and offers
no rewards. The BMO Air Miles Commercial MasterCard offers one air mile reward for
every $20 spent on eligible purchases. Previously, users had to spend $40 to earn
a reward. The bank can pass the reward to either the cardholder or the company,
and the annual fee is $50 per card.
Meetings Tools: A Proprietary & a Platform
Best Western Online RFP
Best Western Hotels & Resorts has launched the BW Groups
RFP Tool to simplify and improve the group booking process for BW hotels and customers.
To create the tool, BW partnered with HotelPlanner, an online services provider
for group hotel sales and booking services. It includes such features as online
RFP management, email notifications, auto-response and reporting and analytics.
"Group business continues to be a segment that we perform exceptionally well
in, and our new platform will enable our hotels to capitalize on these additional
revenue opportunities and enhance our customers' experience," BW chief marketing
officer and SVP Dorothy Dowling said. The BWGroups RFP Tool is live for all Best
Western's branded hotels in North America, and the company intends to expand the
tool to its global network of 4,200 hotels.
Groupize Simple Meetings Platform
Groupize isn't a tool that is targeted to SMEs per se, but the
product fits neatly into that packaging, given that larger meetings management stacks
can be expensive to buy and bulky to implement for modest meetings management. It
also lends itself to a distributed meeting planning structure that loops in executive
assistants, sales staff and others with meeting arranger responsibilities. Arrangers
can book meetings with as many as nine sleeping rooms within the app, which pulls
in preferred properties and rates directly, from Travelport. For larger programs,
the app allows arrangers to negotiate with multiple properties for various meeting
elements—including sleeping rooms, meeting spaces, food and beverage, audiovisual
and special requests. This happens via an email-based bid system that tracks all
stages of the process and facilitates internal corporate approvals for budget and
contract authorization. Quick-build registration functionality and a recent integration
with Concur Travel allows attendees to register for a meeting and book travel without
re-entering their information. They can also wait to arrange travel and the tool
will pre-populate details from their registration to initiate booking later.
Amex GBT Doubles Down on the Midmarket
American Express Global Business Travel is placing a big bet on midmarket business, launching a completely redesigned service for the segment that is based on upgraded technology that has allowed the TMC to "democratize" services that were once for large programs or even VIP management. "We recognized that we needed to start from scratch and think about what kind of service, what kind of program would really serve the midmarket company and the traveler best," said Amex GBT general manager and VP for the U.S. and Canada Colin Temple. The program is based on seven key principles that include personalized recognition for the traveler aided by sophisticated telephony, where once it would have taken dedicated personnel; it also supports proactive trip disruption assistance for the traveler. For the travel manager, business intelligence visualization tools are available; plus, the product suite includes Amex GBT's hotel reshopping tool powered by Tripbam and air reshopping tool powered by Yapta. The overall investment was possible thanks to the influx of cash from Amex GBT's 2015 joint venture with Certares. The investor group poured $900 million into the Amex GBT coffers to grow the business overall. Temple said aggressively pursuing the midmarket was a key part of that growth strategy. "We invested a lot in this effort. Our ability to scale this is based on access to the right technology. We anticipate that we'll capture more business."
Small & Midmarket Sourcing Solutions
Travel agency support company ABC Global Services has launched
Hotel-Connex Sourcing Solutions to source hotels on behalf of corporate clients.
The company soft-launched the service last year with select clients, a process that
helped the company realize that in the midmarket, there's no one size that fits
all. HotelConnex is instead available in three service tiers: core, comprehensive
and premium. Services include RFP management, global distribution service rate audits
and custom reporting and benchmarking, as well as consulting services. The company
considers the midmarket its sweet spot for corporate clients, but it works with
companies of any size. ABC recently named Carlson Wagonlit Travel Hotel Solutions
Group vet Josh Gilmore as director of hotel sourcing. Gilmore will report to business
development and client solutions VP David Marcus, who joined from American Express
Global Business Travel's consulting unit.
One to Watch: TravelBank
Mobile startup company TravelBank is in very early
stages, but has a lot of ambition in the SME market—plus, a three-pronged adoption
strategy. First is the budget-to-beat approach shared by competitors TripActions
and Rocketrip. The tool will scour market data to produce a trip budget and incentivize
travelers to beat that rate. Second, bookings through the system tap into into three
tiers of points: The individual can earn loyalty points with suppliers, personal
or corporate card points and, finally, TravelBank points for every booking. Third,
TravelBank will incent corporate clients to aggregate bookings through its platform
by doubling the client's corporate card rebate. As booking volume rises, TravelBank
plans to leverage buying power to negotiate savings with suppliers and will direct
discounts to its small and midsize client base, replacing a key TMC value proposition.
How close is TravelBank to a viable product? The business model is based mostly
on hotel commissions, but the company has not announced any hotel partners. It has,
however, announced seven airline partners.
Correction, June 7: A previous version of this story stated that Amex GBT’s hotel reshopping tool is powered by Yapta.
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