As the managed travel community chews over the implications of open booking and models that provide more traveler empowerment, travel management companies are considering where they stand and how to move forward. Gant Travel Management has made its decision and opted to embrace a new mindset. It plans on Nov. 1 to launch a desktop tool for agents to manage trip components not booked through designated managed travel channels and, to address one of the more familiar challenges to travel program compliance, a new hotel program in conjunction with Expedia Affiliate Network.
It's also hired a new COO with a singular goal in mind: "Being the world's best TMC for the Concur Travel and Expense user," Gant president Patrick Linnihan told The Beat. Kurt Mosher came to Gant from Lexmark International, where he was a program manager. Linnihan said the appointment "is a demonstration of our commitment to our mission. His background in the application of process improvement methodology will be a key component in our future."
First reported by Travel Market Report, Gant's open-booking system will enable agents to see and manage reservations booked outside a client's traditional process__notably hotel bookings made in conjunction with meeting registrations. It's no surprise; Concur in July named Gant as one of the TMCs collaborating on its open-booking approach.
Gant's new tool is called TripFuz (pronounced "fuse," not "fuzz") and, for now, presupposes that travelers are using Concur's TripIt itinerary manager. "We think this is pretty logical because people are naturally adopting TripIt at an incredible rate," Linnihan said. "It's not like you are asking someone to use something they would not want to do." Future phases, he said, may not even require that, as "suppliers will be feeding that information because it is to their advantage that they do."
TripLink, which is Concur's set of open-booking services, will experience "wild adoption" among travel suppliers, Linnihan predicted. He added that travelers also would, for example, be able to create a rule within Outlook that would automatically push along any entry that includes "confirmation number" and "hotel."
Using TripFuz, Gant agents in their normal desktop interface would see any "open-booking segment" along with trip components booked via typical managed travel processes. That will happen by using an updated version of Cornerstone Information Systems' ResMarker application, connected to TripIt via an application programming interface. According to Linnihan, the new version called ResMarker Connect will be cloud-based rather than desktop-based.
"Even though [the traveler] made the hotel reservation while making the meeting reservation on a meeting registration tool, the ResMarker open-booking alert comes up when we pull up [the traveler's] record and tells the agent that even though the air and car were booked with Gant, there was a hotel reservation made outside the system," Linnihan explained.
Armed with the pertinent information, agents will provide necessary services, including after-hours support and reaccommodation.
Linnihan is stressing the big picture. "An open-booking platform, such as TripLink, isn't going to allow individuals to circumvent their travel program," he said. "It's going to allow leadership to be applied to a portion of bookings that has been very difficult to persuade in the past, and that is all meeting bookings and travelers that are beyond reproach because they are highly valued inside the company.
"It also is going to allow you to create content that you cannot get in the GDS and pull it into your travel program in a way that wasn't possible before," Linnihan added. "Every good TMC has a method for how 80 percent of bookings are handled. This is going to allow us to go after the final mile and get it all right for once."
To that end, at the same time it launches TripFuz, Gant will introduce a new hotel program that's being created with Expedia Affiliate Network as a means to "take away one of the primary objections that I get in the marketplace: clients finding lower rates for hotel online," Linnihan said. "Now we can actually go to the program that's been our number one competitor. They are very interested in having us help them move more hotel rooms. I can incorporate that into the online tool and into the phone offerings, and with the TripFuz technology, I can service those reservations once I have made them."
A corporate client's interest in this sort of thing depends on its culture and its clout. Companies that spend more on travel may want to hang onto their negotiating leverage by focusing on directing travelers to a small set of preferred suppliers. "In very large, mature programs they are treating travel as a commodity with an aggressive process, and they are not as interested in creating a method that allows someone to go out and use their initiative," Linnihan acknowledged. However, many small and midmarket clients__an area of growth for Gant__"are very excited and can't wait to see what is next."
All this doesn't mean relying completely on the likes of Concur. "A travel agent is a problem solver with communications equipment on steroids," Linnihan said. "The easy trips are going to continue to be automated by workflow companies like Concur but there is still going to be room for a travel agency to do the heavy lifting and problem solving, and we just have to make sure we have a model that supports that."