Travel managers need to know where travelers are and what they're spending. New technology can make them better informed and more empowered to help travelers when something goes wrong.
Knowing what travelers are doing in real-time has long been a pain point for travel managers. With more business travelers self-booking or using services outside of policy, measuring spending has also become tougher.
Andres Fabris, CEO of Traxo, thinks that players in corporate travel have finally realized the importance of real-time access to traveler data.
Traxo essentially collects traveler data, both inside and outside of company booking tools, and analyzes the data to provide travel managers a more comprehensive picture of how their clients travel. So if a business traveler books a flight directly, then stays in an Airbnb, the travel manager will be able to see where the traveler is in real-time and better understand trip spending as it happens.
Skift spoke with Fabris about the importance of a more inclusive view of business travelers, why travel managers have been slow to adapt to the rise of outside bookings and the effect greater intelligence of bookings on the corporate travel ecosystem.
Skift: Overall, what are the big trends you see affecting the corporate travel ecosystem in the coming years?
Fabris: We’ve been talking about this fragmentation, and the need for a 360-degree view of the traveler. Over the last several years it’s been pretty pronounced just into how people are thinking about that problem. I think many are in denial about fragmentation and the rise of direct bookings.
At first travel managers said, ‘It’s not happening, and if it is it’s small, we can control it.’ Then, it became well it is happening a bit, but it’s not so problematic. We can manage it. Then, it became this is really occurring quicker than we thought. It became less about trying to put the cat back in the bag. It became a ‘we need the data’ on this problem.
Now, it’s almost to the point where I think it’s pretty clear that it’s happening and there’s going to be even more off-platform bookings occurring. There’s a need for the data and some more progressive companies are saying, ‘You know what? We’re okay with it. We’re going to allow it. It helps improve job satisfaction. It helps empower our employees and we’re comfortable with this new dynamic.’
That’s been the macro level trend; an increasing percentage of bookings are occurring off-platform and there’s a recognition of that. I think that will continue.
Skift: There have been countless different travel itinerary data management apps that have failed to hit the mark. Why has Traxo found traction in the corporate travel community, and what is the affect of more streamlined management on travelers?
Fabris: We’ve been talking about the same concept for years. The point is, now, who needs that 360-degree view of the traveler? Well, a lot of people. The traveler wants it for themselves. The corporate travel manager does, and then some of the travel companies do as well.
Well, let’s focus on that corporate travel manager. They increasingly recognize that some of these off-platform bookings are hard to stop. We don’t have to really support it or try to prevent it. We just recognize it’s happening. It’ll vary by corporation to corporation to what degree it occurs, but in an environment where it is occurring, and it’s argued that it’ll likely occur more just because of consumerization of travel, millennials, frankly the distribution cost charge I think will lead to more supplier direct bookings. I think the verdict is still out on where that ends up, but things like that just lead to more direct booking.
Skift: Let’s talk about the problems that face travel managers that don’t know how to read the data that’s coming in. What are the core issues that affect them, and why?
Fabris: What problems does that create for the corporate travel manager? I think it creates a lot of problems. Number one is they’d like to be able to see that booking information as early as possible. Today, really the only visibility they get is once the expense report is filed. By that point it’s obviously too late, right?
Number two, we both talk about it briefly as a duty of care, right? In this day and age it’s important to know where your people are in case of emergency. It actually creates a liability for the corporation when they don’t know. You might imagine if everybody’s using a proper looking tool or using the agency, it’s pretty easy to run the report. ‘Who do I have in Paris right now?’
When everybody’s out there booking directly on Airbnb, on Marriott, on Starwood, on Hilton, on Hyatt, and you don’t see that booking, it’s really tough to know where your people are.
Our technology solves for that second problem around duty of care. We provide visibility for that corporate manager. If they want to see it on a list, they can see it on list of who’s traveling right now. If they want to see it on a timeline, they can see it on a timeline. If they want to see it on a map, they can see it on a map. They can say, ‘Okay, I’ve got seven people here in this affected region. I need to send them a message.’
Skift: So it’s not just analyzing the data for insights, it’s about being able to parse the data more quickly. What about the effect of smarted decision making on corporate rates?
Fabris: When it’s time to negotiate next year’s discounts, that corporate manager wants to make sure they get credit for all of their booking, not just what was booked through the approved channels, but they want credit for that direct line. Let’s say their employees booked 10,000 room nights on a big hotel chain, but they did so directly at that chain’s website. That corporate manager wants some kind of report saying those were all of my bookings. I want a discount that incorporates those 10,000 additional room nights. I want credit for that and so next year’s is going to be even steeper.
Skift: If travel management companies have had this problem for years, why haven’t they built their own tools to deal with this major issue?
Fabris: The really big ones, I’d say the top five, I think have the skill and the budgets to try to build their own. I wouldn’t say it’s always been a successful effort and I think several that have attempted it, hadn’t worked out, they’ve had to rewind and try again. I think the top five, maybe the top ten, I think they will likely build or try to build and then perhaps integrate some toolbar.
As companies enable their employees to book on Airbnb, for instance, there’s now a need for this. They’re not going to spend the time to individually put some kind of direct connect or API connection in place with Airbnb or with Lufthansa, so what we do is we provide a really nice easy to use web image so that the corporate travel manager can simply go in there and see all his Lufthansa data, connect to his Airbnb account, his Uber account, and others.
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Photo credit: An airport in Bangkok, Thailand. Nico Bae / Flickr