Concur TripLink: First Hotel Chain Finally Live, New TMC Options Coming

InterContinental Hotels Group this week began listing on its website the rates negotiated by companies that also use Concur's TripLink open-booking service. IHG follows Avis Budget Group as the first supplier participants active in Concur's program. Starwood Hotels and Resorts and Marriott International are next in Concur's queue. Meanwhile, Concur said it's developing simpler means for travel management companies to service TripLink transactions.

The initial process is being used by the three TMCs that are certified to use Concur's TripLink application programming interface: Gant Travel, TravelSolutions By Campbell and Christopherson Business Travel, according to Concur vice president of supplier and TMC services Mike Koetting. He acknowledged that the process is complicated, but said it "has the most opportunity for customization and flexibility, wherein the TMC writes to our platform directly via our API, consumes those transactions and integrates them with the various TMC systems all by themselves."

Koetting said TMCs looking to be a bit more "hands off" will find the new options—expected in roughly six months—easier to use. On one of the two new paths, Concur would bring TripLink transactions into the Compleat mid-office system (which went to Concur as part of its acquisition of GDSX). "Furthermore, we will be releasing a back-office exporter capability that will automatically push these TripLink transactions into the client back office," Koetting explained.

The third option would make use of third-party technology written to Concur's platform. "One example of that would be an initiative we are pursuing with Cornerstone and their ResMarker Connect product," he said. "Hopefully that will include other third-party TMC technology providers that can connect to our platform ... to deliver that service to TMCs in a very turnkey fashion."

Clearing Air On Supplier Participation

During presentations on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of Concur's user conference in New Orleans, CEO Steve Singh announced that Marriott and Starwood "joined the Concur platform with deep integration across TripLink." He also suggested that direct corporate booking with La Quinta Inns & Suites now is possible, and that TripLink now comprises "just over 45 percent of all the hotel content our customers book."

Koetting clarified that among hotel chains, only IHG now is live in TripLink, and the 45 percent figure includes Marriott and Starwood. "You'll see Starwood go live in a matter of months, and you'll see Marriott go live before the end of the year," he said.

Marriott, Starwood, IHG and La Quinta each were among suppliers that Concur nearly two years ago announced as interested parties. When asked why it took two years to go from an expression of interest to a commitment, Koetting said, "It's a very deep dive for these suppliers to evaluate the level of client interest, what is the magnitude of development that would be required, and talking to their own salespeople, TMCs and clients. It's a fairly complex IT development effort for suppliers to implement TripLink."

Singh also alluded to participation by airlines, though none has been disclosed. Koetting offered a similar explanation as to why: "In our discussions with all the suppliers, those suppliers very carefully look at technology resources required, customer interest, etc. We feel confident that all travel supplier types will be engaging in TripLink."

Meanwhile, when asked about the 1,000 TripLink customers referenced last week during Concur's earnings calls, Koetting said those customers "likely" are using certain TripLink components, including the ability to send emailed itineraries to Concur and using TripIt Pro. "They will have additional capabilities as suppliers come online," he added.

Concur also has claimed that TripLink can provide all the controls and safeguards that managed travel professionals expect in designated channels, though by its nature TripLink can provide those only reactively.

In January during a BTN interview, Singh acknowledged that "at the time you are booking we may not be able to tell you that you should book this [rate or supplier] instead, but when you book it and it gets back into Concur, we'll tell you here are the three other options you had that would have been preferred options within your managed travel program." On Tuesday, Singh said that "with time, we'll be able to influence and direct that booking so that it absolutely no matter what follows the rules and policies of that company."

Koetting said that would be accomplished by "evaluating the cost of that booking and supplier choice once it is back in Concur." He said Concur then could provide feedback to travelers on whether they beat price benchmarks. "There is a whole rules structure that a travel manager can apply through Concur Travel as well as bookings through Concur TripLink," Koetting added.

On the benchmarks, he was referring to a forthcoming TripLink feature called Price To Beat. It's essentially about providing price targets for travelers to consider when they book travel, and feeds into a gamification element that rewards travelers for beating those benchmarks. "We are introducing big data things," said Concur executive vice president Mike Hilton during a Tuesday presentation. "Price To Beat is a very complicated calculation based on a lot of data we collect and real-time pricing information." Price To Beat was designed with Google, which has had such a program in place for six years.

New And Enhanced Products

Concur made several other announcements during its ongoing user conference, including news on product and service enhancements, another investment from its Perfect Trip Fund and a strategic alliance with IBM as that company winds down operations of its Global Expense Reporting Solutions as a standalone product.

• A new offering to be made available next quarter, Concur Insight provides business intelligence and analytics. "It's very dashboard-driven and tailored to your role in the company," Hilton explained. He added that the product can display not only data collected by Concur, but also a client's budgeting data, for example. Users can configure Concur Insight to notify them when spending crosses a preset threshold, when possible fraud is detected or for other events. Concur president and COO Raj Singh noted that the tool will be powered by the TravelTrax reporting tool that came over as part of Concur's acquisition of TRX.

• Raj Singh also said that the company "over the weeks and months ahead" will deliver a service to better handle trip disruptions. "If there's a disruption in your trip, it's going to figure out your next best option and deliver it to you, and can automatically book it for you without anyone else getting involved." He added that an automatic seat-upgrade feature also is in development.

• Raj Singh also spoke of a new dashboard to help clients and their travelers understand service issues, including downtime or maintenance. "When there is a service challenge, [users] don't have to deal with 10,000 phone calls because employees will know exactly what's going on," Singh said, noting that the dashboard would be launched "in the weeks ahead."

• Hilton demoed voice booking capabilities that would enable Concur users via the company's app to book airline tickets and hotel reservations with a few spoken words. He also described how search recommendations represent "a huge area of direction for us in the product." Those recommendations can start simple, based on a user's previous travel or popular choices selected by that user's co-workers. Hilton said the idea is to "be smarter about tailoring search results to you. We made a big initial investment. We'll continue to invest in this area."

• Hilton also walked through Concur's "most significant user experience update we've ever done on the web," which he said would be launched within the next few quarters. With tablets in mind, the new interface has touch functionality. It displays outstanding items for users, whether those are expenses that need to be submitted, open expense reports that need to be filed or, for managers, items that need approval. A user's homepage also provides such stats as out-of-policy bookings, spending levels and other information.

• Gant Travel and mobility management firm Visage Mobile created for the Concur App Center a tool that proactively alerts Concur users to international wireless charges.

Gant president Patrick Linnihan told The Beat that a pilot with one customer currently is underway for the service, which the agency named Travel Mobility Guru. Referred to as International Travel Roaming Alerts in a Concur news release, the service "will notify travel and mobility managers to potential wireless and mobile spend overages before international travel takes place." According to Visage, "mobile 'roamers' are typically four times more costly than non-roamers."

Linnihan said that Gant plans to offer it to corporate clients and other TMCs, and Concur noted the service would be "coming soon" directly from the Concur App Center.

• Concur announced that as part of its Perfect Trip Fund it invested on last-minute restaurant booking service Table8. Concur did not say exactly how much it invested, but noted that its contribution was part of a $4.6 million round of funding that Table8 received. According to Concur, Table8 "is currently in beta in San Francisco and has plans to expand to other cities including New York, London and Chicago in the near future."