BCD Travel Tests TripBam With Client Hotel Programs

BCD Travel is piloting with a small group of corporate clients the use of automated hotel rate shopping tool tripBam and plans to expand availability this summer, the companies announced on Monday.

Four of the travel management company's clients soon will turn on tripBam, which takes a booking and continually shops for better rates at the same hotel and those in a user-determined cluster. Two other clients, Sapient and WellPoint, already have been using tripBam through Travelocity Business, which BCD Travel acquired last year, said senior vice president of strategic marketing April Bridgeman. The pilot should last a couple of months, during which time the TMC will examine the implementation process, seek additional automation opportunities and formulate a commercial agreement with tripBam, Bridgeman added.

During the pilot, tripBam will work behind the scenes with bookings funneled from BCD Travel; no interaction is needed with the traveler or the corporate client, said tripBam president and founder Steve Reynolds. Corporations can set parameters for the clusters, such as whether to include only preferred hotels and chains or only the booked hotel itself. They also can opt to allow travelers to set up their own clusters, though Reynolds said no tripBam client as of yet has elected to do so. If a better rate becomes available in the cluster, BCD Travel notifies the traveler via email, prompting him or her to verify with the TMC whether he or she wants to rebook.

Clients also can define parameters as to which rates are searched through tripBam, Reynolds said. Some clients might want to exclude VIP travelers or, especially, hotel bookings associated with an event. Another client has specified to look for new rates only when the original booking was at least $200 per night, he added.

During the pilot, BCD Travel is less concerned about testing the technology itself and more focused on "getting a sense of what real results and opportunities might look like," Bridgeman said. "We're interested in finding an understanding of traveler behavior: what types of offers they're most likely to accept and how it varies by company culture and traveler profile, making sure we have the opportunities to increase the acceptance rate."

For example, to see which yields the best results, the testing will compare such potentially punitive methods as copying in a traveler's supervisor when rebooking options are rejected against such reward-based methods as offering a Starbucks gift card when significant savings are achieved, Reynolds said. BCD Travel also will be investing in automating the rebooking process, since having agents rebook manually is "not sustainable," Bridgeman said.

Early Adopters Report Results

During their own pilot programs, Sapient and WellPoint have taken different approaches with tripBam, and both have reported savings.

WellPoint initially has taken the more limited approach of searching for better rates only at a traveler's booked hotel, which was the best fit considering the company's traveler culture, said director of travel and events Cindy Heston. While WellPoint's negotiated rates in its primary markets have held up well, tripBam has proved useful in improving rates in markets where the company has either little volume or decentralized travel, she explained. Savings have averaged $44 per room night on bookings in which tripBam found a better rate.

Heston now is considering wider use including clusters in markets where room rates are especially high. "Having to ask a traveler to move from one property to another is much more compelling when there's a high-value item there," she said.

Sapient, which began using tripBam in the second quarter of this year, has taken a broader approach, opening it up to all travelers and including clusters of both preferred hotels and other hotels within a certain radius, said director of global travel and client experience Michelle De Costa. The tool has found savings on more than 40 percent of original bookings, which she called "pretty staggering."

Sapient now is looking at refining its communication to travelers, particularly those who most often decline rebooking offers.

"We want to do some personalization, maybe have a more casual communication style since we have a young traveler base," De Costa said. "We're seeing in the reporting what the offers are, so maybe we can do some targeted, one-on-one communication."

In the longer term, Heston said she hopes to leverage tripBam to improve hotel program compliance and develop more data analytics around not only what rates are booked and rebooked but also overall rate availability via the tool. She already plans to use the data later this year when negotiating with hotels in secondary markets.

"Hotels where we keep repeatedly finding lower rates, we can say that it isn't working and needs to be renegotiated, or we need to look at options that will give us a better market value," Heston said. "The data [tripBam] is giving us is showing us what rates the market demands."

De Costa also said she expects use of tripBam eventually will push more hotel bookings through agency channels, as travelers will feel more confident they are getting the best rates. From her own perspective, it eventually could reshape how her hotel program is managed. "This could be a game-changer, because I'll know how my negotiated rates are stacking up out there," De Costa said. "Maybe five years from now we won't even have to do a hotel RFP. We'll always have our preferred partners, people we work with closely for so many things, but the market intelligence from this is so much more information than I could gather and get on my own."