Whether called gamification, employee recognition or loyalty, there's a wide spectrum of opinion on how best to encourage corporate travel behavior.
American Express Business Travel, BCD Travel, Carlson Wagonlit Travel and Travel and Transport are among those agencies developing programs that let clients measure and reward employee booking choices, and each is jumping into loyalty from a different direction. It's a concept also being explored by the likes of Egencia and World Travel Inc.
Travel and Transport's loyalty work for corporate travel clients has seen fits and starts. Its genesis lies with a loyalty division the company started in 1990 to serve financial institutions, retailers and others interested in employee rewards programs.
In 2008, Travel and Transport brought the idea to corporate travel with the introduction of the Travel Smart program, designed to reward travelers who made "the right decisions," according to company information. Seen by the TMC as "ahead of its time"__before gamification became a corporate travel industry buzzword__it was shelved. Sensing that the mindset had changed, Travel and Transport tried again in 2012 with its Points 2 Points program. Late that year, the TMC was "just a few weeks away from the first launch when a [client] company's compliance department asked them to put a hold on the project due to further review," according to a Travel and Transport official. "We are finding that although corporations are excited about a new model that could change the landscape of how they manage travel programs and many want to be first out of the gate, corporate compliance can challenge travel managers to provide historical data that proves rewarding business travelers is the right thing to do."
In 2014, at least three Travel and Transport clients have determined that it is and have begun program implementation, with many others showing strong interest, according to general manager Michelle Holmes.
"We have the infrastructure that has been built over 20-something years as the foundation as what we have been doing to launch it in the corporate travel world," she said.
That foundation includes a proprietary web-based rewards platform and rules engine linked to the agency's travel processes. "We think of it as a filter by client that is set up based on what those rules should be, to award or not award points," Holmes explained. "It sits in our back office, and as reservations are booked they pass through the filter."
Rules are customizable based on the program metrics and booking behaviors a client wants to track and incentivize. Incentives can be a rating or status travelers earn, "traditional" points that can be cashed in for gift cards or merchandise, or points that can be redeemed to offset future noncompliant bookings. Holmes said clients haven't shown much interest in the last of those options, with the traditional points model thus far the "most desirable."
Travel and Transport also has connected the loyalty system to its mobile platform. "We have a mobility application for the Points 2 Points product so a traveler can view and redeem points online," said recently promoted CIO Michael Kubasik. "They'll actually see on their itinerary an icon and the points [accrued from encouraged booking actions] below." He explained that because all of Travel and Transport's new technology is based on HTML5, it's easily integrated with the mobile platform.
Carlson Wagonlit Travel last week released a study on travel management priorities that found 15 percent of 970 surveyed global travel managers are "interested in game techniques," and 43 percent "are unsure what this implies." In that study, the TMC suggested changes are underway to "the culture of control within companies, with a perceptible shift toward carrot rather than stick approaches."
CWT plans to publicly launch its new gamification platform on Feb. 17, and expects seven pilots to be running by the end of this month, according to CWT Solutions Group Americas senior director Joel Wartgow.
Originally planned for a fall 2013 release by CWT Solutions Group, the system was delayed while the TMC integrated it with CWT Portal, a single-sign-on website for travelers that provides program and destination information, access to designated booking systems and other tools. CWT Portal is a prerequisite for applying the gamification platform, to be made available for a fee to customers globally.
The mechanics are similar to those of Travel and Transport's program. Every 24 hours, all agent-assisted or self-booked transactions are consolidated in a data repository via CWT's globally integrated back office, fed through a rules engine "and filtered to identify what type of recognition should be assigned to an individual traveler," Wartgow said.
CWT established 16 compliance measures (advance booking, for example), which can be customized to client preferences. But the TMC went a step further. "In most compliance measurement today, it's very binary: compliant or noncompliant," Wartgow said. Clients using CWT's gamification platform, however, can reward "super-compliant or exceptional" behavior. That could relate to just how far in advance a traveler books or picking the one hotel property among three preferreds that the client wants to emphasize most. "You can have two hotel programs," Wartgow suggested, "one that is your standard hotels and another which is these super-compliant hotels."
He said CWT developed the option of rewarding employees for exceptional booking behavior in response to concerns of some customers who were not comfortable with recognition based merely on following policy__something expected of travelers anyway.
"Gamification is not a simple flip of switch," Wartgow continued. "We have consultants helping to configure the travel gamification platform, and we are doing an assessment of which travelers are most appropriate to engage. Our intention is not to roll this out initially to all travelers. It's more of a surgical approach to segment traveler populations and really target travelers where we can make a positive impact."
Recognition can come in the form of achievement badges, points accrual and leaderboards that can rank the performance of individuals or groups of employees. Unlike Travel and Transport, CWT isn't handling any points redemption. "We do have a partner that we can recommend if a company is interested in fulfillment," Wartgow explained, adding that some clients are keen to connect points earned from travel booking behaviors to other pre-existing internal employee recognition programs.
CWT hasn't branded its gamification platform, instead leaving it to clients to develop their own name, which could tie in to other internal programs. It also hasn't yet integrated the loyalty program with its CWT To Go app, though Wartgow said it planned to do so.
Mobile App As Entry
At BCD Travel, loyalty is a relatively new play, and unlike CWT, it's starting with a mobile app. "Most of the OTAs, the airlines, the hoteliers ... they all have some kind of loyalty program," said BCD Travel senior vice president April Bridgeman, who also serves as managing director of the TMC's Advito consultancy. "As a travel management company, we haven't done as much as, of course, a B-to-C company would have over the years in marketing directly to travelers."
To do so now, the TMC first is focusing on its newly launched TripSource mobile app. "We decided early on to integrate a pretty comprehensive loyalty platform into the app that could end up being multi-channel," Bridgeman explained. "We will be developing on that platform more aspects of a loyalty program as we move forward," but for now, an early objective is to make the app "sticky."
"First and foremost, we want to engage travelers in the app, encourage them to do certain things around downloading, coming back, taking certain actions, sharing their trips," she explained. "At this stage we're simply running giveaways."
But the platform ultimately will be customizable based on customer needs, enabling clients to reward travelers for policy-compliant booking. "If we know, for example, that hotel programs don't have the same level of attachment or adoption with TMCs as airlines do, we want to give travelers the same types of reasons for travelers to book with us as they have to book with the online travel agencies."
Amex Charts Improvements For Citrix
American Express, too, is building out a "traveler engagement program" and reported travel program improvements at early adopter Citrix Systems. Developed with Badgeville, the system awards status badges for various encouraged booking behaviors.
Launched in November, the Citrix version of Amex's GoTime platform is "tailored to their culture and travel program gaps," according to an Amex spokesperson.
Based on preliminary results following the 90-day pilot, Citrix within 35 days realized 4 percentage point improvements versus the prior year in preferred airline bookings and hotel attachment rates, and "there has been a shift to booking further in advance (seven to 13 days out) among travelers," according to the spokesperson.