TECH: CWT Evolves Its App, Seeks Airline Help To Streamline Check-In

Carlson Wagonlit Travel is calling on airlines to create application programming interfaces for check-in functions that would enable third parties to provide the service entirely within their own customer interfaces. "Consistent, integrated APIs" would, for example, enable CWT's To Go mobile app to check customers in with one click, rather than today's three clicks and a visit to the airline's site.

According to CWT president for suppliers, products and technology Andrew Winterton, "To make the mobile check-in process much easier from the app, we will need to work with the major airlines. We have just started to have the exploratory discussions on this. It's more an industry issue."

American Airlines has discussed with TMCs access to online check-in functionality as part of its Direct Connect initiative.

Asked whether online check-in could become a negotiated function, Winterton said, "This is not part of a contractual relationship. We see it as an efficiency drive. Airlines are creating their own apps, and I think at this stage most airlines are focused on their own communities, and we're trying to encourage them to think broader into managed travel."

CWT is one of very few travel management companies to launch a branded mobile app, and nearly all such TMCs are using a third-party tech developer. For CWT, that does not mean simply grabbing something off a shelf and calling it a day. In addition to negotiating for content and features, CWT's development roadmap contemplates significant integration between the app and its call support operations. The company is providing not only marketing and provisioning but also first-level support for the app.

Powered by Rearden Commerce, the CWT To Go app has been downloaded nearly 50,000 times since its September 2011 launch in the Android, iPhone and BlackBerry app stores, said Winterton. Only travelers with a profile in CWT's systems can use the app.

The app offers clients free access to automatically imported itineraries, travel schedules and location-based information. It provides disruption alerts and weather and dining info, and imports bookings fulfilled by CWT, whether originally made online or with an agent. A "click-to-call" function is planned, as is rail functionality and possibly hotel check-in.

Winterton said the company had some trepidation about the resources that would be required for the new app.

"We built and architected it to leverage our profile information and the PNR processes that we use in [mid-office solution] Aqua, so therefore it makes a lot of sense for us to provide the first level of support," Winterton said during an interview last week. "If the app is functioning, if there were any issues it's probably how people have configured use within our systems. You don't know how much support you will need to provide, but so far we've been very satisfied with the self-service usability of the product."

Although Winterton admitted it's "a ways off," part of CWT's vision is to use location information along with intelligence on trip disruptions to alert the full-service center and plan contingencies or execute rescheduling.

In its marketing, CWT differentiates the app from other mobile solutions by highlighting that users need not email their itineraries to another party which may not be in a formal relationship with their employers.

"The banking sector is normally one of the most focused on info security and data protection, and we're very pleased that a number of banking customers have reviewed and approved this app," said Winterton. "I don't want to give the impression that most customers have or would deploy, but a lot of our large customers are actively deploying the product. Some want to take a primary role, but a large number of customers are allowing us to deploy it directly to them, as well."

Meanwhile, CWT also is piloting a mobile app called CWT Policy, which allows companies to place policy within an app for travelers to reference. The company also offers CWT Market, a collection of recommended utility and information apps.