November 28, 2022
 

Made to measure

The pandemic expedited the development of bespoke travel management solutions for SMEs. Gill Upton looks at some of the key products

A greater appetite for digital solutions during the pandemic opened up a new world of efficiencies for SMEs and that demand has accelerated this year as they get back to business travel.

Faced with a need to simplify more complex travel, the industry made huge strides in technology in a relatively short period of time, assisted by a dramatic rise in the amount of data that can be analysed via cloud computing and a flurry of innovative tech disruptors entering the travel space.

Personal usage also broke down barriers as we all adapted to new digital ways of doing things. At the same time, savvy tech providers fully realised the benefit of working with more agile SMEs, who were first off the mark when restrictions were lifted, and launched bespoke products for these customers rather than simplified versions of those already developed for large-volume corporates.

“Tech is a huge area of our business and lots of great innovations came out of the pandemic,” says Abby Penston, CEO of the Focus Travel Partnership, whose TMC members specialise in SMEs. “The resource issue we all had made us look at how we work and we started to implement some of the fantastic efficiency tools out there.

“Tech suppliers are coming to us as a gatekeeper to 50 TMCs. We work with them, encourage them and work out how we move forward. Tech companies have been banging the drum for so long that it must be so pleasing for them now.”

Guy Snelgar, Global Business Travel Director at Advantage, offers an alternate view. “There is a need for technology with a human touch. Success comes from having people to wrap around the technology.”

While Snelgar appreciates new tech entrants he argues that there are many useful tech tools out there which are proven and notes a nervousness among TMCs who have had their fingers burnt from failed tech implementations. His advice? “Don’t get hung up with chasing the shiny thing.”

Snelgar believes the biggest issue is sourcing content and getting it to work through the TMC eco system. “TMCs want easy access particularly set against a background of resource issues,” he says.

Here are some of the key tech solutions to help SMEs manage their travel:

Booking

The older legacy products are Sabre GetThere, Concur and Cytrix/Amadeus and these are arguably less relevant today. There is also a reticence among SME TMCs about using an OBT owned by a rival TMC.

A more recent arrival, HotelHub provides smart booking technology, aggregating GDS and non-GDS content into a single interface in the TMC desktop.

It standardises rates and room types across these channels and ensures that no property is duplicated. Its AI-powered Rate Optimiser dynamically tracks hotel rates.

Corporate Traveller is the latest TMC to implement HotelHub’s booking solution, initially across the US and Canada.

TravelPerk is an all-in-one platform to book flights, hotels, trains and cars – claiming to have the world’s largest inventory, 24/7 support and easy booking.

Reed & Mackay’s proprietary online booking tool, R&M/Book, gives SME clients the ability to blend high-touch expertise with self-serve booking, also available through the Reed & Mackay app.

“There is a need for technology with a human touch. Success comes from having people to wrap around the technology”

This year the Focus Travel Partnership invested in PSNGR1’s NDC-enabled booking tool to provide GDS and direct content in a mobile first platform and a management and metrics dashboard to provide real-time air spend data. Gray Dawes, Blue Cube and TakeTwo have also partnered with US-based PSNGR1, which recently suffered a funding shortfall but is now in the process of being taken over by UK-based Snowfall Travel.

New NDC-enabled booking platform Spotnana, from the Madrona Venture Group, is a single dashboard with visibility into all employee activity, claiming to offer buyers consumer-grade online booking tools. It’s a system of record in an open platform so anyone can contribute to it and add value. It’s what Madrona investor Steve Singh (Concur founder) calls “micro service architecture” and can be white labelled.

TapTrip is an omni-channel booking tool providing lower transaction fees, centralised bookings, tracked costs, traveller tracking, approval, expenses submission in seconds, and high compliance. This summer it was acquired by TripStax  (see page 32).

TRIPBAM provides global hotel re-shopping, contract auditing, benchmarking, analytics and sourcing and also re-shopping for air, promising lower fares for more than 10% of tickets used.

Lufthansa and TripActions provide a business travel platform for SMEs with direct access to NDC deals on flights and hotels, rail and car rental content across two BusinessToGo tiers, Essentials and Premium, depending on requirements. The platform also provides policy and profile management, TripActions’ negotiated rates, duty of care and CO2 emissions reporting, real-time management information, 24/7 support and centralised billing.

Payments/Expenses

Conferma and Amadeus Cytric Travel & Expense have long been the go-to solutions.

A Conferma pilot could see a real total cost of trip solution by using a virtual card through Apple Pay on phones. In August, Conferma was acquired by Sabre, a long-term partner. Sabre says it plans to expand the Conferma Pay proposition.

TripActions’ Liquid is a centralised billing card that streamlines the payment process from reservation through to reconciliation. Proactive policies are built into smart cards so that expense management is automated. Interactive dashboards provide real-time transaction visibility for more informed decision-making.

“Our goal is to provide that which has, until now, only been available to large companies who can afford to build their own tech stack. It has been well received in the US and so we plan to roll it out to other markets over the coming months,” said Michael Riegel, General Manager EMEA for TripActions.

“Our goal is to provide that which has, until now, only been available to large companies who can afford to build their own stack”

Earlier this year, TripActions launched a version of Liquid for companies with less than 100 employees in the US and plans to roll this out in the UK in the coming months.

The Neo1 spend management platform from Amex GBT provides real-time visibility of all employee spend, including travel. It is specifically designed to help SMEs spend less on keeping track of cashflow and more on growing their business. It provides a single location for employees to source goods, services, and travel, managing the entire purchasing process from invoice approval to payment reconciliation.

Risk management/Duty of care

Mia Bazo is a self-service travel risk platform targeted at SMEs, providing duty of care, travel tracking and travel security which includes itinerary management, active tracking, country safety guides, daily safety checks and real-time security alerts, all through an app.

Geo is Travelogix’s duty of care solution for TMCs. It moves away from the expensive and often intrusive GPS tracking solution that many enterprise companies have as their chosen method for duty of care, and does its job by passively tracking the itinerary data for any given traveller.

The Focus Partnership has invested in Focus Pinpoint, which offers traveller tracking and duty of care as an off-the-shelf product for members.

Grapevine started out as an AI-backed selling platform for ancillary bookings. Grapevine Premium offers close to total trip management, with one email automatically triggered from a booking consolidating the itinerary, hotels, ground transportation, airport parking, travel risk for a destination and carbon footprint.

Advantage Partnership is rolling out Mobility Hub, its ground transportation platform partnered with Journey, Carey and Sixt Ride as a one-stop-shop for ancillaries. Going forward the Mobility Hub will become part of Grapevine Premium.

TripLink from Concur aims to provide full visibility of spending data by connecting trips, travellers and itineraries across multiple channels to enhance and simplify the entire travel experience.

Sustainability

“Working on blanket counts across Europe is still not good enough; we need more granular data,” says Paula Cullen, Associate for Growth & Sustainability at consultancy Black Box Partnerships.

“Progress is being made but it’s not moving as quickly as we need it to.”

Leanne Fowler of Agiito points to another challenge: “Travel buyers are aware of their responsibities in this area but find it hard to take ownership of it and be responsible for a budget. Noone is owning it so there is no traction to invest in it.”

“There is also a reticence among SME TMCs about using an OBT owned by a rival TMC”

Travel Planet is an all-inclusive TMC solution with 24/7 offline cover and traveller tracking with offsetting options for air, rail, hotel and car rental.

COCO+ removes emissions from the full trip verifiably through third-party validated CO2 removal projects, enabling businesses to travel net zero. COCO+ pays for carbon offsetting through upfront bulk buying of carbon credit and this is built into the commercial model.

Hubli Green is a dedicated sustainability product for business travel and meetings allowing planners to choose city and venue locations based on the lowest carbon emissions, book sustainable spaces and remove high waste items from meetings. It is part of the Hubli search engine.

Mia Bazo provides free climate action tools, which allow for carbon budgeting, carbon planning and a tool to calculate the carbon footprint of vehicles, properties and any mode of travel. Customers can also purchase carbon offsets on the website.

Thrust Carbon provides a suite of tools including Thrust Calculator and Thrust Carbon Hotel Sustainability Index (TC-HSI), the latter generating a sustainability score for each individual hotel globally out of 100.

“This makes it an extremely useful tool because it empowers travellers to make decisions which they previously couldn’t have done,” says Black Box’s Cullen. Thrust is partnering with SME specialist Corporate Traveller and SAP Concur, enabling travel managers to have live emissions reporting.

Trees4Travel offers an offsetting programme to turn trips into trees. It calculates emissions from all modes of transport and all travel classes and supplies monthly reporting. It allows companies to track and follow their trees, matching the CO2 absorbed to the CO2 emitted by their travel. A dashboard shows how many trees have been planted, the amount of CO2 absorbed and what the monthly allowance is. The CO2 emissions can be detailed by class, department, traveller, timeline and even by a ‘what if’ scenario to see the potential savings when changing class.

In Amex’s travel and expense platform, Neo, CO2 emissions are displayed and greener options can be highlighted to help influence booking decisions. Furthermore, its sustainability tool, Green Compass, helps travel managers understand how to meet targets on reducing travel-related emissions.

TROOP enables travel managers to choose eco-friendly meetings and events planning strategy and minimise their footprint.

Greengage provides ECOsmart accreditation for hotels, venues and short-stay apartments and its EVENTsmart carbon calculator is a software platform that measures meetings/events of any size and CO2 resulting from attendee travel, accommodation, meeting space, catering, power, production and waste.

TripActions’ sustainability tools allow users to set carbon budgets based on historical spend and industry benchmarking data and get real-time data for all inventory via an easy-to-use analytics dashboard. There are three globally-recognised methodologies to measure and track progress.

Advito/BCD Meetings and Events has launched an ISO certified emissions calculator for meetings and events, which allows planners to input a wide range of data in the pre-event planning stage to drive more conscious decisions when choosing a destination, venue and other event design elements.

SAP Concur has added the CHOOOSE Climate App to its App Centre enabling customers to better manage climate action and carbon offsetting activities.

Data processing

TripStax is a state-of-the-art data processing powerhouse which stores, cleans and enriches data enabling TMCs to provide richer analytics to clients. Developed over a long period by ATPI it is now a separate entity. It connects airline content from multiple sources including GDSs, aggregators and direct connections to airlines. Paying by subscription, TMCs can cherry pick modules or stacks of applications – approve, profile, track, analytics, content, docs and mobile.

Analytix from Travelogix is a suite of cloud-based solutions with real-time travel management data, reports and analysis consolidated from multiple back office and booking systems into one single source via reports and customisable dashboards. It can also consolidate data from multiple TMCs for a shared client to provide a single reporting platform with data in any currency.