Finding the right fit with a travel management partner could come down to the technology they offer
A corporate travel program brings together a dizzying array of factors – people, schedules, company goals, the weather and more – with the expectation that everything is going to go as planned. With this many moving parts, travel managers often have to rely on their travel management companies not only to provide travel-related services, but also the underlying technology to support travelers on the road and ensure the most cost-effective use of travel dollars.
That’s why travel managers need to sort through all of the 21st century technology solutions available to decide how best to meet their corporate objectives, their travelers’ service demands and their program’s needs.
“The partnership between us and our clients is always a priority. To us it is critical to understand our clients objectives – what do they want to achieve with their travel program?” says James Stevenson, Hogg Robinson Group’s global sales director. “Once we understand that, we then put forward the most appropriate technology solution, either our own or the best in class from other technology companies, to help the client and us achieve their objectives and goals. Technology is the enabler to objective achievement.”
Travel managers need to have a range of technology solutions that cover the full spectrum of travel – from access, authorization and booking, to mobile tech and reporting – and to have those solutions that work and deliver benefit wherever the client operates. With that in mind, flexibility is key, as clients may need to have a different solution in different markets.Partner Up
It’s critical that the travel manager chooses a partner who can deliver a solution that will meet their objectives, whether those are corporate objectives, policy goals or traveler needs. The partner has got to tick all the boxes.
From a customer perspective, notes Tom Clark, global chief technology officer at Corporate Travel Management, it helps enormously if a travel manager has a clear and focused understanding of exactly what they are trying to achieve across all aspects of a program. And from a TMC perspective, Clark says, it’s essential to have a team of people who understand the requirements, will do everything within their means to deliver solutions and are passionate about making the partnership with the client a success.
“They should seek a technology partner who is agile and nimble, understands both current and future trends, and has the ability to push solutions to market in line with those trends,” he says. “Implementations can be tricky business, so it’s imperative that a TMC gets it right. The key to success is the need to truly understand the customer’s requirements and provide a solution with minimal impact to travelers.”
From there, Clark says, CTM can put in place the right technology platform to achieve specific client goals and a return on their investment. The platform then gives travelers access to an ecosystem, which for CTM clients is the CTM SMART Portal created to service every element of a travel program.
There are two partnerships that need to be considered, according to Patrice Simon, Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s vice president of global products: A partnership with the corporate travel program and a partnership with the traveler who experiences it.
“A travel manager wants the least amount of risk as possible, particularly when considering implementing new technology,” she says. “The ideal solution is something the travel manager knows will work and can be implemented in a timely manner. Reliability, performance, strong support from the TMC and a 3- to 5-year road map that is updated with the latest technological trends are all necessary considerations,” Simon explains.
“Good travel managers look for technology that will help them with their day-to-day,” says Neil Wainwright, CEO of Nexonia. “Great travel managers know the importance of finding a solution that not only provides an excellent platform for travel booking, but also streamlines business functions for the entire organization.” Nexonia is a tech company that can integrate its expense management solution with virtually any system that makes sense, including a variety of online booking tools and TMC systems.
“These integrated partnerships operate in real-time, meaning travel booked in your online booking tool will show up in your expense report in Nexonia immediately,” Wainwright says.
While it may seem obvious, HRG’s Stevenson says that whatever the technology is has to work in all the clients’ operational markets and this may not be one solution, but several. “The client also needs to consider the return on investment and how the ROI will be measured,” Stevenson says.
“It’s not always a monetary decision but can also be an improvement in process or traveler well-being or experience,” he advises. “For example the deployment of a new online booking tool in a country with few transactions might measure ROI via both process and traveler experience rather than in dollars.”
TMCs are key players in servicing and fulfilling a corporation’s ability to manage travel and corporate spend, notes Arlene Coyle, Amadeus IT Group’s director, managed travel.
“The technology a TMC proposes can make a big difference in finding the best fare, locating travelers in time of need, identifying travel spend, reducing travel costs or providing the right offer to the right corporate traveler at the right time,” she says. “Corporate travelers expect intuitive tools that can provide them with a smooth end-to-end travel experience. To make this happen, travel managers need a technology partner that has the latest and most innovative mobile technology solutions.”
For instance, Amadeus’ recently-introduced Travel & Expense tool is built on cytric, a global distribution system-neutral platform that can be configured to the corporate customer’s travel policy, preferred suppliers and negotiated rates. Since it’s browser-based, cytric has global reach and is relatively inexpensive to deploy.Putting the Pieces Together
The Amadeus product is one example of the kind of technology that is being developed for the travel manager. In any robust TMC technology, there are a number of actions taking place behind the scenes to ensure seamless delivery.
It all begins with the creation of a company’s profile, says CWT’s Simon. That profile is then synchronized across channels – online, mobile and offline – and then the information flows smoothly between these channels.
“We make sure contracts (air, hotel, rental car) are loaded correctly,” she says. “We look at the reporting program data to make sure we can track traveler behavior and ensure traveler compliance. We can’t overemphasize the importance of data. CWT AnalytIQs provides excellent support for these goals. The real-time data it collects helps clients act more nimbly, resulting in greater savings and quicker response to travelers’ needs.”
CWT offers a mobile app, CWT To Go, which features hotel booking, flight alerts, Uber, weather, transportation management between airports, hotels and meeting locations, plus the ability to change an existing reservation. In addition, another service called Trip Disruption proactively monitors a traveler’s itinerary, so if there is an incident like a weather-related delay, CWT automatically rebooks the traveler’s flight and updates hotel and rental car information accordingly.
If a customer’s core objective is to drive efficiencies in bookings, CTM SMART Technology can provide a solution via one the CTM’s forecasting tools. If a customer wants to achieve greater compliance, CTM can assist by setting parameters in its Pre-Trip Approval tool.
In short, the more specific information and insight the customer can provide about their objectives, issues and areas for improvement, the more tailored a solution CTM can create for them, not just across technology but all aspects of the travel program. CTM says its SMART Technology is highly customized, highly intuitive and aligned to the emerging digital trends.
Seamless delivery is the result of the strength and depth of the relationship between the client and the TMC, Stevenson says. Every good relationship has similar characteristics – openness, honesty, trust and understanding. With these in place, objectives and goals become shared and the best technology for the job is seamlessly delivered.
Stevenson explains the components of HRG’s technology suite: i-Suite enables access, TripPASS handles authorization, booking takes place via HRG Online and reporting both pre- and post-trip happens in Insight, together with its app.
“Most importantly we help to control the road map, most of which is driven by client input and requests, so richer functionality in new versions are automatically scheduled and delivered,” he says. “In addition to our own technology, we can partner with alternative technology to match the client requirement.”
Amadeus offers its Mobile Messenger solution, which Coyle says was developed to interact with travelers at each stage of their journey.
“In the world of Managed Travel 3.0, corporate travelers should no longer have to go looking for their corporate travel policies to know what they can and can’t book. This is where the TMC’s mobile solution or corporate booking tool should automatically feed travelers with booking suggestions that are within policy and provide them with real-time trip details when they need to make decisions,” she says. “For example, a corporate traveler could receive automatic prompts to check-in for their flight, to book a transfer pick-up service from the airport, or to reserve a table at a restaurant near their hotel.”
When employees travel internationally, they may be dealing with multiple currencies, country-specific tax regimes and different mileage rates, which can get inordinately difficult to calculate manually.
“With corporate travel becoming more and more global, and executives conducting business in a variety of places, it’s important to be using an integrated travel management and expense solution that can automate all of this for you, and to make it incredibly easy,” Wainwright advises. “Some regions of the world have more safety issues than others, and that’s why we made an open call earlier this year for travel and expense vendors to build real-time communication systems into their products.”
Nexonia’s multi-currency support allows travelers to submit their reports in an unlimited number of currencies, automatically calculating the amount in their home currency using daily rates.Let’s Be Careful Out There
While some destinations and industries carry more risk than others, traveler safety and security are always paramount, regardless who the employee is or where he or she is headed. That’s why it’s important for a company – no matter whether its travel program is highly managed or lightly managed – to be able to monitor its travelers’ itineraries and know where they are and how to reach them.
“For this reason, we emphasize the importance of booking within policy and encouraging travelers to use the technology that their travel program and TMC has made available to them,” Simon cautions.
Amadeus works with numerous TMCs, and Coyle says some specialize on specific verticals like non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or marine and offshore companies. Although all these corporations are concerned with duty of care, their needs may vary based on the travel patterns involved, she says.
“For example, individual corporate travelers going from a major European hub to a major North American hub have fairly straight-forward requirements,” she explains. “However, a marine and offshore company often needs to coordinate travel for say, 20 people traveling from many different places throughout the world, and they all need to arrive at their final destination, which can sometimes be very remote, at the same time. If one person is delayed, an entire ship may be delayed, and this can have dire financial consequences for the shipping company and all of their customers.”
Travel management companies working with NGOs also send travelers to remote places, and they may be particularly concerned with security. Key Travel utilizes Amadeus Mobile Messenger to track where employees are at any given time and to send real-time alerts if their location is the subject of a natural disaster or other emergency situation.
“At all times, the NGO’s director will have a heat map so he can track where all of his employees are and he can send them instant messages through the Amadeus Mobile Messenger solution with critical information,” Coyle says.
With the constant evolution of technology, it’s important to have an open dialogue and continually reassess the technology that’s currently in place. Does it meet travelers’ needs? Are there any holes? What are the trending means – for example, SMS, chat and instant messaging – by which travelers are sharing information and are we utilizing these?
Companies are expecting more from their travel programs; more efficiency, greater flexibility and a higher level of productivity from every employee out on the road. In the complex world of the corporate travel buyer, it’s the partnership with the travel management company that is key to providing the innovative solutions that will meet these expectations.