Two More Startups Tackle Corporate Travel Spot Buying

Two New York startups separately are bringing to market next-gen travel management-lite systems geared toward smaller companies. Reminiscent of Concur's use of TripIt, both revolve around emailed itineraries from travelers booking wherever they like.

Currently in beta tests, Rocketrip applies algorithms to industry data and considers client preferences to create what founder Dan Ruch describes as "a real-time budgeting platform." Travelers are encouraged to use the open market to beat pre-determined values (and send itineraries back through Rocketrip). When they do, they accrue points that can be redeemed for gift cards and prepaid cards. Ruch isn't shy to acknowledge Google's internal travel program as an inspiration.

Meanwhile, TripScanner's "open booking solution" also uses emails from travelers to track spending and alert managers based on various "policy parameters." TripScanner clients can receive "real-time policy alerts" when, for example, a traveler books an airfare over a certain dollar threshold. A monthly fee of $99 covers up to 100 itineraries.

Such technology addressing (or encouraging) open bookings also is being developed by more traditional management companies like Gant Travel Management and Short's Travel Management, and more is on the way.

TripScanner, which made public its system about a month ago, intends to provide its services to TMCs via a partnership program announced this week. According to founder and CEO Ethan Laub, TMCs can benefit by more easily capturing off-channel bookings and the TripScanner website notes a "potential competitive differentiator for customers/prospects with significant volume leakage."

TripScanner also wants to partner with "other B2B solution providers," including expense management companies that can sign up for "a turn-key travel management solution to market to their customers."

Laub said the company is "just beginning discussions with a few potential partners."

Rocketrip is a bit different. It does some of the same things as TripScanner__using emailed itineraries from the open market to help clients watch spending__but goes a step further by challenging travelers to beat what it determines to be fair market rates. Potentially a complement, it is positioned more as an alternative to a full-service TMC for fairly small companies.

"Offering employees the carrot rather than the stick is a really interesting idea that probably works at scale," Ruch said. Based on the companies with which he has explored the concept__he's been keying in on those with fewer than 500 employees__Ruch believes the end result is roughly a 20 percent reduction in T&E spending.

The algorithms it has created, paired with analytics to "understand what is fair and reasonable based on a company's sensitivity," is Rocketrip's "secret sauce," according to Ruch. Company-specific preferences used to help determine that sensitivity may include coach versus business class, connecting flights versus nonstop, compact cars versus full-size, hotel tiers and other factors.

A corporate user cannot determine how many points employees receive based on their booking behavior. "It's up to us," Ruch said. He explained that if organizations make their own decisions, it creates "outstanding liability" on their balance sheets or P&Ls in the form of "these sort of weird outstanding employee credits that basically lead to undermining the system in the first place because there is a natural motivation on the part of the company to try to prevent redemption. We absolve the company of the responsibility."

Rocketrip was incubated at Genacast Ventures, a partnership between entrepreneur Gil Beyda and Comcast Ventures. It has raised north of $500,000 in a convertible note from a round of friends and family funding. Ruch noted that he and the rest of the company's team have no travel background, an "intentional design because frankly most of the business travel solutions in the market are fairly antiquated. We want to come at this from a fresh perspective."

Like with TripScanner, a next potential step for Rocketrip is to integrate with expense management software. The idea, Ruch said, is to create something of an end-to-end solution and make expense report filing "supremely easy."