September 23, 2021
 

Q&A: TRIPBAM CEO Steve Reynolds

With TRIPBAM set to launch its air solution later this year, Bev Fearis checked in with its CEO and founder

Where are you now in terms of the development?

We’re on target. Development is moving along rather nicely. We’re in the middle of testing with Beta clients – both TMCs and corporate buyers and all large multinational corporations  – and it seems to be working well. Of course, there’s the occasional bug but you fix it. We’re anticipating a six to eight week beta cycle and, assuming things are working as planned, we’ll have a full release by mid-October.

What are the key differentiators of your air solution?

We will have NDC content from day one. We’ll have automated re-ticketing as part of the solution, which I hear other agencies have but I have a feeling it’s semi-automated and there’s some manual intervention in the process. Ours is fully automated. It’s a global solution right out of the gate. We’re going to have the ‘lowest qualified fares’ to accurately measure the value of contracts. We’re going to be auditing contracts to make sure airline contracts are being applied and applied accurately, and we’re going to be feeding all this data – including some historical data that we have – into a benchmarking solution called Air Intelligence. We’ll have three of the four components available in August/September and the fourth – the sourcing piece – will come along sometime next year.

What are the potential savings for buyers?

With reasonably configuration as far as the savings threshold and the like, we’re going to see savings of 4-5% on an air fares as a result of aggressively shopping. When you get into alternative routing – which I’m not sure how many customers will adopt that but at least they’ll have the analytics to know what will happen if I push them off that American flight and put them on a later flight with Delta – the saving is going to pop up to 15%, maybe even to 20% depending on the market. Then, when you get into the alternative classes of service, it’s even higher. But the easy savings – same flight, same seat, no change – will be in that 4-5% bucket.

Has the development of your air solution been more complicated because it took place during a pandemic?

If anything the pandemic has made it easier because since there isn’t a lot of air volume we haven’t been trying to build the solution while the train’s running at 100 miles per hour down the track. In addition, NDC is now available much more reliably than it was in the past. I don’t even think it was an option maybe for us a year ago. And because of the pandemic, and because it’s a more mature product, we haven’t had to apply the same level of development resource to our hotel solution so we have been able to reallocate that resource to the air solution and build that team up a bit larger.

Why now?

We’ve been talking about it for years and our customers have been asking for it. I put it off for a while until I felt we’d really nailed the hotel market. It’s probably been a year and a half that we’ve been looking at it seriously. Then once change fees went away, and I was hearing from the airlines that they might be gone for a particularly long period of time, it felt like there was an opportunity here to invest in air. I had several large buyers push us really hard. They said: “Come on Steve, you build it and we will come. Make it happen.”

If airline change fees come back, how will that affect what you’re doing?

The re-shop component of what we do generates a lot of return on investment and that investment can be used to pay for the whole suite of products and services .The re-shop ROI is 6x or 8x, so effectively all the other components come for free. For example, if the fee for the service is $100/month, savings generated would be $600-$800 a month. If the change fees increase, it’s going to make it harder to generate savings from re-shop to potentially fund some of those other services but it doesn’t go away completely. You can easily beat a $200 change fee if it creeps back in.

What were the particular challenges with moving into the air space?

This is the third time I’ve built an air re-shop analytics tool so we knew what we were getting into as far as the messiness of the data and the categorisation of fare basis codes and the different fare classes. But it’s a legacy system that hasn’t changed in probably 40-50 years so, in my mind, air is actually easier than hotels. With hotels you’ve got 200,000 properties and multiple DMS systems, whereas with airlines it’s a lot smaller market from a content perspective and it hasn’t changed.

What’s next? Have you got plans to move into other areas?

The next step is taking those four services and applying them to car. We want to be able to cover the main areas of travel spend. It really resonates well with the buyers and it will really differentiate us when we can cover all areas. I think we’ll start seriously talking about it in the first half of 2022. We’ve got to find a good content source to capture the rate fluctuations and we’ve got to get more familiar with car contracting and benchmarking. I don’t know anybody that’s doing that for the corporate space so we’ll be trailblazing and that takes a bit longer to figure out.