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Can consumer-oriented Hipmunk, the airline and hotel search engine, develop features for road warriors and their travel planners back at the office?
This could be a painful process for Hipmunk, the self-described travel-planning agony-reduction specialist, but the San Francisco-based company is going to give it a try.
Hipmunk is trying to edge its way into the corporate travel market, and released its first paid product, Hipmunk Business Class.
Geared for travel planners and administrative personnel at small- and medium-size companies, they can keep track of their employees’ travel plans through their Outlook and Google calendars, see which flights complement their schedules, and which hotels would be most convenient for their meetings’ agenda.
With Hipmunk Business Class, the company travel planner then searches Hipmunk, suggests flights and hotels, and the details automatically get emailed to the traveler, Hipmunk says.
Each traveler sets up profiles with their own preferred airlines and hotels — and in a managed travel program the corporation would more or less dictate them — so travel planners can view the optimal choices of their multiple travelers.
What this is and what this isn’t
Although Hipmunk says Business Class can be used by entities as large as medium-size companies, this is not a managed travel program.
It doesn’t integrate corporate travel policies, there are no reporting capabilities to keep track of travel spend, and ticket-tracking functionality is absent, as well.
However, the feature is designed to automate a lot of communications that otherwise would take place over the phone or via email threads.
The traveler can approve various options sent by the travel planner and these automatically get emailed back to the travel arranger to make the bookings.
And, for Hipmunk, the introduction of Business Class is an attempt to deliver a new revenue stream and to tap into the lucrative business travel market.
The startup seems to be learning on the fly.
Hipmunk began with flight search, and soon realized that there is more money in hotels.
And, now Hipmunk is showing that it realizes the importance of going beyond a single-minded focus on the consumer, and plans to grab a bit of that corporate-travel spend.
Hipmunk is charging $10 per month per account for the first year of Business Class, although the first 60 days are free.
A travel management company’s perspective
David LeCompte, CEO of Short’s Travel Management, based in Waterloo, Iowa, characterizes Hipmunk Business Class as a “small step” and a “great start” for Hipmunk, and he plans to show it to his office administrator.
LeCompte notes that the tool has no corporate travel policy or ticket-tracking capabilities, but does address some “pain points.”
Other than fare-drop tracker Yapta, which is transitioning to address business travel, it is rare and “kind of neat” to see a metasearch site target the corporate market, LeCompte says.
He sees value in Hipmunk’s Outlook integration for scheduling, but notes that few businesses make use of Google Calendar, which is also part of the Business Class service.
Still, “it will be interesting to see Hipmunk’s movement into corporate travel,” LeCompte says.
Hipmunk was presenting Hipmunk Business Class July 23 at the GBTA Convention 2012 in Boston.