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THE BEAT SHEET: Jacques On Concur; CWT's Mobile Strategy; Direct Travel's GDS Plans

The Beat Sheet is an occasional collection of notes, quotes, musings, tips, reader comments and other tidbits from The Beat's writers.

—— Michael Jacques is director of business development and partnerships at Databasics. He recently sent in this letter on corporate travel innovation:

"As point man for developing Databasics Expense channel strategies, I have the opportunity to speak with many corporates and leading TMCs. We hear a lot of rumors and feedback about our competitors, as well as other providers in the business travel environs. Concur claims to be innovative and known as the biggest. Is being innovative simply buying up companies? We are left wondering why being the 'biggest' technology provider somehow excuses poor service, excessive cost and reduced choice in the managed travel space. Frankly, it boggles the mind why so many continue to swim with the shark. Technology alternatives have certainly narrowed (thanks to this fish's appetite), but there are still real options out there and today we see a countervailing trend emerging.

"TMCs in fact are quietly developing their own technologies and partnering with smaller players whose solutions rival or exceed the capabilities of 'the biggest.' The trend is moving back to Main Street, not Wall Street. These companies do not (cannot) insist on dominating the relationship. They simply roll up their sleeves and help the TMCs and corporates solve the real-world problems of their customers. Managed travel does not need 'the biggest.' In fact, Concur's market power is creating a myth, a serious obstacle to innovation and greater cost-efficiency.

"It would be most interesting to have readers comment, and weigh in on the trends and landscape."

—— Carlson Wagonlit Travel is poised to soon enable travel policy-compliant hotel bookings via its CWT To Go mobile app. "You could argue that air should be a simpler piece, so why not start there?" said CWT senior vice president of global marketing Nick Vournakis. Answer: Hotel is the bigger problem.

"We still see 40 percent leakage across the board," Vournakis said of hotel bookings during a recent interview with The Beat, "and we think this is a great way to bring them back in." He acknowledged that the mobile app isn't necessarily the answer, "but we think it's one of the things that will help provide the plug." And while he also acknowledged that there always will be some leakage—given group travel, meetings and conventions and the like— Vournakis said that CWT's "hypothesis is that the booking experience is a contributing factor to what drives leakage today, and the proof will be in the pudding to see if the technology closes the gap."

"Shrinking the web down to fit on a two-inch-by-three-inch screen is not what I would call a good user experience," Vournakis added, "so we have to design for that user experience and do so in a way that respects the goals of travel management."

Meanwhile, CWT last week issued findings of a huge research project on mobile device use for corporate travel, in which it projected that by 2017 about a quarter of all bookings will be in the mobile channel. "Growth in usage could be even faster if more user-friendly, policy-compliant booking apps are launched sooner and adoption is encouraged by corporate travel managers by way of efficient communication with travelers," according to the report. "In a faster development scenario, mobile bookings could reach 33 percent of online bookings by 2017."

Enter the "power app." According to a statement from David Moran, CWT executive vice president for global marketing and enterprise strategy, "While 80 percent of travelers and travel managers told us they want a one-stop-shop app so they don’t have to juggle between best-of-breed consumer apps, there isn't an app on the market today that answers all their needs." The power app would include functionality already available on mobile devices (itinerary information, check-in and flight status alerts, for example) as well as booking capabilities, trip disruption services and other customizable components.

CWT readily acknowledges its CWT To Go app is far from complete, though through May it had been downloaded 355,000 times across all app stores. After the hotel-booking capability is set, the app will be equipped with "traveler profile management with the same degree of control and integration as other channels (July 2014) and travel policy (2015-16)," according to the TMC. Air and ground transportation booking functionality also is in the works for an early 2015 release.

Back to CWT's survey of 1,804 travelers from seven "global" companies, fielded between December 2013 and May 2014. On average, respondents said they have about three travel apps on their mobile devices and use about two of them. "Only 14 percent of travelers have more than five travel apps, compared to 54 percent who have two at most," according to survey findings.

—— Direct Travel CFO John Coffman told The Beat that the company will continue using Sabre and Travelport while also working with Amadeus "to identify the best opportunities for implementation" of a new deal. Announced last month, that "global distribution" agreement includes use ofthe Amadeus Selling Platform agency desktop and "potential opportunities to partner on future technology initiatives." A statement from Direct Travel CEO Ed Adams indicated the Amadeus deal will help as the company buys more small and midmarket travel agencies. According to its submission as part of BTN's annual Business Travel Survey, Direct Travel in 2013 used Travelport's GDSs for 55 percent of its worldwide GDS transactions and Sabre for 45 percent.

—— We see lots of product pitches. Before reporting on most, we generally like to see that they're operational, have clients and perhaps even users willing to talk. Here's an exception, because even though travel industry tech developer TTS didn't yet have any client testimonials to share about its new TTS Corporate online booking tool, it did answer some of our questions. The tool is designed for use by small and midsize companies, both on desktops and mobile devices. A statement from TTS CEO Pedro Barata claims that the company's product enters a "marketplace where all the online booking solutions are expensive and difficult to implement."

A Travelport partner, TTS said its tool optimizes the booking  and approval processes among travel agencies, companies and travelers. Primarily for agencies to furnish for their accounts, the base version is free; premium (slated for Oct. 1) and enterprise versions "will include several additional features," with the former priced at a $50 flat monthly fee.

"We expect a conversion of 10 percent to 15 percent of all free customers to premium," according to a spokesperson. "The idea behind this model is that it’s only good business for us if it’s a good business for the travel agency. They will pay $50 to service the more demanding customers, but will still benefit from the free version for the majority of all their other customers."

The spokesperson noted that early agency referrers hail from the United States, Latin America and Asia/Pacific, and added: "We don’t want to focus on the big global and multinational corporations because for them there are already several great corporate booking tools on the market."

From where is content sourced? "In this initial release, it all comes from one of the three Travelport GDSs: Galileo, Apollo or Worldspan," according to the spokesperson. "We have a model of add-ons that will allow the agency to pick additional content sources like LCC, taxis and others. Some of those add-ons will have a cost while others can even generate an additional revenue for the travel agency."

—— We've been following Amadeus' work with micro-donation technology for charitable causes, first through the now-defunct Massivegood effort and now via a partnership with UNICEF and Spanish airline Iberia. Launched in December 2013, the program enables visitors to the airline's website to donate between €3 and €20 as they complete a ticket purchase. Amadeus last month reported that through May, 12,000 Iberia customers collectively contributed €70,000 earmarked for UNICEF's "100% Vaccinated Children" program. Amadeus indicated that it's providing the donation engine "free of charge to UNICEF and to airlines like Iberia that have agreed to cooperate with us in this project."

When asked which other airlines are on board, an Amadeus official wrote that the company has "ongoing discussions with other industry players to make this project grow."

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