Coming Soon: Managed Travel Capabilities on
Delta Air Lines told travel agencies in January that by the end of the March quarter it would add to new corporate travel management capabilities developed by tech firm nuTravel. Part of what Delta calls an "omnichannel" approach, these capabilities relate to duty of care, payment, reporting and expense management integration.

According to Delta, its ongoing "retail transformation" means enhancing the "business experience" across all sales channels.

Air Travel

Also in January, ARC said it would acquire majority ownership of nuTravel to address the omnichannel trend gaining traction around the industry. As air travelers shop and buy in more places, and as airlines differentiate content and capabilities across those places, there is a growing need to bridge the functionality gap between direct and indirect channels.

NuTravel will operate as an independent subsidiary of airline-owned ARC. Terms were not disclosed.

"We believe ARC's recent investment in nuTravel is a foundational step in creating an ecosystem where our TMC partners, who play a vital role in corporate travel, can service a booking regardless of the channel it is booked in," according to Delta.

“It didn’t seem like anyone was out there trying to pursue this new model, where the indirect and direct model are more blurred," said ARC CEO Mike Premo.

ARC in 2019 also invested in Traxo and Blockskye. Traxo captures data on bookings or changes from airline sites and e-mailed booking confirmations. Blockskye is working on accounting and settlement using blockchain distributed ledger tech.

The agency servicing piece of nuTravel's Universal Connect is a work in progress. Meanwhile, TMCs and clients may need to rethink fee structures; some TMCs apply charges for non-standard bookings, notably those outside traditional global distribution system/TMC processes.

United Airlines Updates Corporate Accounts on NDC Plans
United Airlines during a meeting with corporate and travel agency accounts in December provided an update on its NDC plans. Glenn Hollister, VP of sales strategy, later told The Company Dime that NDC was "moving from tech people talking about it behind the scenes to people actually booking tickets."

For United's corporate clients, new content types will start with bundles that wrap in checked bags, premium economy seating, club passes and other add-ons.

United has a team of experts to talk with corporate and agency customers when they have questions about NDC but encourages corporate clients to start the NDC discussion with their travel management companies. Hollister described as "very valid" the concern that direct connects and API connectivity via other parties could affect the economics of contracts buyers have with TMCs.

"The best route for most companies for this content is through TMCs," he said, "so our focus for this year is to figure out the right way to get them NDC content."

He laid out the three primary mechanisms for TMCs to connect to United:
•Direct to airline through an API connection. Hollister said he expected only "a handful" of agencies to do such one-to-one development, most likely those that book predominantly United tickets.
•Work with aggregators that are connected to multiple airlines. United has relationships with a few, including Travelfusion and Atriis. "The feedback from TMCs is that having those tools is better than not, but those tools are not fully mature yet," Hollister said.
•Through GDSs, with content available via agent desktops. United expects that to start happening this year.

Hollister did not provide an update on United's test of dynamic bundles in SAP Concur's booking tool. As reported in [ital] The Company Dime [end ital] last spring, Concur users would click a United fare in search results to see detailed descriptions of what’s included.

IHG Follows Up Small Business Portal with One for Large Clients
InterContinental Hotels Group is building a customizable portal for enterprise accounts. It's now in testing and will be ready for customer use in early 2020, according to the hotel company. IHG said accounts would get their detailed spending information by brand, region, rate type, traveler loyalty and guest rating.

The enterprise portal follows the mid-2018 launch of IHG Business Edge program and associated portal for small and midsize customers.

IHG SVP of global sales Derek DeCross, a former American Airlines executive, in 2019 told [ital] The Company Dime [end ital] that the hospitality industry was behind airlines in building B2B portals. "Given the data challenges we have on the hospitality side, due to that high level of system fragmentation, one could argue that portals in our part of the industry could have more appeal than those from the airlines," DeCross said at the time.

IHG also is among the hotel chains that provide customer-specific environmental impact reports.

IHG brands include InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Crowne Plaza, Kimpton, Holiday Inn, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites.

TMC Consolidation Continues With Two US Midmarket Acquisitions
Direct Travel in January announced the acquisition of Cleveland-based Professional Travel, a TMC with annual sales of $448 million and about 350 corporate clients. Direct Travel, which has acquired dozens of agencies since 2011, said Professional Travel was its largest in the United States.

Meanwhile, Frosch International Travel in late 2019 bought Luxe Travel, an Irvine, CA, headquartered agency. Luxe has about $200 million in annual sales, according to published reports.

Industry leaders believe TMCs need to get bigger for a few reasons. The more purchasing power an agency has, the better leverage it has when negotiating commissions and other incentives from travel suppliers, and securing favorable rates and perks for customers. Also, greater scale makes it easier to invest in new technologies that improve services for clients and make agencies more efficient.

Each month, journalists Jay Campbell and David Jonas from news and analysis site contribute to Business Travel Executive a compendium of the industry news that travel buyers and managers should be aware of, and what it means to them.