JetBlue Airways last month signed nuTravel to build a next-generation booking portal for small and midsize businesses, meant to replace the carrier's current Sabre-powered CompanyBlue platform. Development work is underway and the airline expects a new portal by early 2014 that would enable small businesses to book hotels and rental cars in addition to JetBlue air content, while facilitating small business rewards and enhanced travel reporting.
JetBlue in recent years has made strides in courting managed corporate business, but for the small, unmanaged segment, "we felt like we needed a more robust offering," said vice president of sales and revenue management Dennis Corrigan. "We're really positioning this as a total suite of offerings for small businesses. We look at it as a travel portal that is not only air, but hotel and car and reporting and rewards. Those rewards are not only for the traveler, but for the company using our established currency of TrueBlue points."
For air and rental car content, Corrigan said JetBlue likely would "leverage the existing partnerships we already have," including Hertz and Hotels.com, both of which already provide content for JetBlue's consumer site.
Corrigan said JetBlue also is exploring enhanced reporting for portal users in the realm of "expense management" and "travel policy management."
JetBlue last year began hunting for a new booking portal developer and ultimately selected the Port Chester, N.Y.-based corporate travel technology firm partly because of nuTravel's work on Air Canada's small business tool.
NuTravel president and CEO Carmine Carpanzano said his firm and JetBlue would build "from the ground up" what he described as "a custom solution." Carpanzano declined to specify the value of the contract, but indicated nuTravel's revenues would be derived on a per-transaction basis.
Carpanzano said there is growing interest among foreign and U.S. domestic airlines in building portals aimed at small and mid-size businesses. At the moment, Carpanzano said five such requests for proposals are in play at nuTravel.
Corporate-direct portals have come and gone over the years. American Airlines, for example, discontinued in late 2008 its CorporateAAccess portal. In 2007, then-SkyTeam partners Delta, Northwest and Continental launched a short-lived joint portal. Southwest Airlines' Swabiz product has had the most staying power in the United States.
"Airlines have tried this in the past but and it hadn't been successful, but we found the right ingredients with Air Canada and the right building blocks to build out the solution," said Carpanzano.
Considering the growth opportunity airline-direct portals represent to nuTravel, could that potentially compromise agency relationships? "Look, ultimately someone is going to do this," Carpanzano said. "Airlines are looking at these opportunities and ways of going direct to their customers, owning the relationship. While we are aiding the airlines in doing so, on the flip side, with our technology, we're still working very closely and heavily with the TMC community and will to continue to help and aid them in any way we can. It's a double-edged sword, but we're trying to balance that the best way we can."