KDS Launches Mobile Booking Tool, Will Test Automated Door-To-Door Itineraries

KDS last week launched what it claimed is the first fully functioning mobile corporate booking tool, offering negotiated fares, a policy filter and content from global distribution systems, low-cost carriers and rail operators.

At a client conference here, KDS also unveiled a key performance indicator dashboard suite and demonstrated a prototype of its Project Neo, an ambitious vision to streamline the corporate online booking process to three clicks and two screens by proposing door-to-door itineraries based only on where travelers want to go, when and for how long.

The company's Book-on-Mobile app includes an expense approval facility for line managers and the ability to scan receipts into expense reports. KDS said the app is available immediately for Android and BlackBerry devices, and is scheduled for iPhone deployment by summer.

With limited screen size a main barrier to booking a flight on a mobile phone, KDS opted to restrict the initial search results display to three options: best, cheapest and earliest. Travelers can request additional flight options; any option outside of policy is highlighted in red. Users must key in a password to confirm a booking. Once the reservation is made, a fully integrated passenger name record is created, from which data can be extracted in the usual manner.

KDS vice president of product strategy Oliver Quayle said a simplified mobile display with reduced options encourages compliant and cheaper flight selections. The same philosophy lies behind Project Neo, although the key strategic aim is to make the corporate booking process more attractive to travelers. "We think this kind of user interaction will stop travelers from looking outside the travel program to consumer websites," said KDS CEO Dean Forbes.

After travelers indicate when and where they need to arrive and how long they will stay, Project Neo conducts simultaneous searches for all the trip's bookable components, such as flight, hotel and taxi. Results are presented on a single screen, which includes a door-to-door assessment of the time the trip would start and finish. An expense line shows total cost and the itemized cost of each trip element.

KDS is confident it can eliminate what it terms "blind choice" by proposing an itinerary, removing flights that arrive too late for the traveler's needs and stripping out options that would violate a client's travel policy. Instead, traveler choice is restored at the back end of the process, with bookers able to amend or eliminate any part of the itinerary and search for new options. Once they make the new choice, the timeline and expense line are updated accordingly.

The proposed itinerary also displays estimated additional costs for the journey, such as meals, "so we are pre-creating your expense claim," said Quayle.

KDS will make a final decision about Project Neo's viability after a planned beta test with clients in the second half of 2012. "There is a lot of work trying to write the algorithms to deal with so many possibilities," Forbes told The Beat. "There are hundreds of variations for each component. The middle part of the journey, the flight and hotel, is relatively easy. If you have a meeting at 9 a.m., then we know you have to fly the night before, and your policy and recorded personal preferences will reduce the choices even further.

"Figuring out what time the traveler should leave home and the mode of transport is harder," Forbes continued. "If the tool tells travelers the journey to the airport is two hours but they know it is three hours, they will lose confidence in it quickly. It will have to be accurate at least 80 percent of the time. We have been working on it route by route to get the algorithms right. We reckon we need five to eight route algorithms to make them transferable to most other routes, and we are up to four now."

Unlike Project Neo, the KDS Travel Manager Suite launched at the conference is available now. It provides about 100 KPIs on 14 dashboards, 12 of which are based on booked travel data only. The other two combine data from KDS's expense reporting module.

Quayle said the emphasis for the KPIs in the data suite is on finding "opportunities for making the biggest impact" to total cost. One example is the average number of days travel is booked in advance, which he said could prove an increasingly important KPI given that mobile booking affords travelers the opportunity to book even closer to departure than previously. Other examples include a summary of cities with the heaviest non-negotiated hotel spend, and spend tracking for supplier deals. If spend is not on target, additional data displays indicate whether the reason is a reduction in overall business for the route or destination, or a swing to another supplier.

Combining booked with expensed data also produces a KPI showing spending not directed through the booking tool. The travel manager can drill down to see which individuals are not using the booking tool for hotel stays, for example, and take corrective action or identify cities where the tool is routinely being bypassed, which may suggest dissatisfaction with preferred properties there.

Quayle claimed the tool can combine data not only from KDS' booking and expense tools (thus covering card spend too), but also from offline sources.

Forbes said 80 percent of new business won by KDS last year was for its integrated travel and expense