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Sometimes a website relaunch is more than a website relaunch. Sometimes it represents a watershed moment in a sector. This week’s relaunch of bridgestreet.com has the hallmarks of being a watershed moment for corporate housing — especially for the travel managers who book it.
BridgeStreet Global Hospitality is a Reston, Va.-based company that provides corporate housing to more than 4,000 companies, such as Tesla, Disney, and Liberty Mutual. It leases or manages 4,000 furnished apartments and houses. It also aggregates 60,000 properties supplied by professional property managers.
Its website, which officially is relaunching on Wednesday, will make all of these properties instantly bookable online. The site, in essence, becomes a mini online travel agency (OTA) like Expedia — with inventory from multiple property operators, including many of the luxury vacation homes managed by AccorHotels’ Onefinestay brand.
Easier for Suppliers
Until now, suppliers of corporate housing have found it technologically difficult to distribute their inventory to the systems used by most corporate travel managers. That obstacle has had the knock-on effect of making it difficult for travel managers to book serviced, extended-stay apartments within the managers’ preferred online systems.
BridgeStreet has come up with a solution, one that could be mimicked by competitors and do for corporate housing what Airbnb, HomeAway, and others are doing for sharing-economy rentals and vacation homes: namely, make them easily comparable and instantly bookable. It’s one more example of how corporate travel tech is in upheaval, a megatrend Skift is tracking in 2017.
For years, some suppliers of properties have distributed their inventory via the global distribution systems (GDSs, such as Amadeus and Sabre) that are used by many travel management companies. But getting a property listed in a GDS has been a hassle.
“It takes about nine pages to load a single property, and you have to wait two weeks to get that property loaded into a GDS format,” says BridgeStreet chief executive Sean Worker.
BridgeStreet is addressing this problem by acting as an OTA via a changed approach to the back-end interfaces with other distribution technology companies.
Easier for the Travel Managers
BridgeStreet’s new approach is of value to travel managers who aren’t its clients. The GDS connectivity means more travel managers will easily see the apartments on their desktop software. Travel managers often prefer booking from trusted sources within a GDS, Worker says, because it lets them “say ‘yes’ with peace of mind, duty, care, safety, compliance, technology, reporting, and single source purchasing.” BridgeStreet selects and quality tests [via LRA by Deloitte] all operators that supply properties on its website and channel.
The convenience matters, Worker says. Thousands of travel managers don’t use Booking.com, Expedia, or similar sites. They largely use compliance tools instead. BridgeStreet’s new process makes it easier for travel managers to be able to book this within their “widgets” or “implants” offered on the booking tools of corporate travel management companies like American Express Global Business Travel and Carlson Wagonlit.
BridgeStreet’s process is faster than the old one for uploading content to OTAs. As an example, BridgeStreet estimates that, out of its nearly 400 suppliers in the US market, fewer than 5 percent participate in the OTAs given the hassle. That may change.
The suppliers of vetted serviced apartments will be able to add or subtract inventory via the bridgestreet.com channel at the flip of a switch, instead of through a long process. This speed will appeal to property suppliers because they often want to move inventory when it is “distressed,” such as when it has been vacant too long, or a booking is canceled at the last minute.
It’s true that, for years now, suppliers of corporate housing have been able to distribute content to Expedia and other OTAs. While companies can use a channel manager to get their inventory out to multiple consumer OTAs, BridgeStreet is the first channel catering to business and travel managers that can aggregate and load multiple operators into its system.
To put that another way: Until now serviced apartment operators have used a channel manager to distribute to OTAs and metasearch sites for consumers. What’s new is that BridgeStreet has become a channel that is largely targeting “business travel leaders and their employees” in a “built-for-business travel model that makes the inventory available to the general consumer sites in the same workflow. BridgeStreet has built a channel that will be accessed by operators that wish to load their inventory on its OTA platform and the GDSes all at once.
By the end of March, corporate clients of BridgeStreet will get private access to an extranet-like platform that will recognize a corporate traveler and let them book all the inventory in agreement with their company’s travel policies. These customized portals for corporate clients will have tailored travel parameters built-in and will be a workaround outside of the GDSs.
Other companies have created booking platforms for extended-stay properties, with marketing toward business travel. Paris-based MagicStay has for a few years offered serviced apartments. Its collection now totals more than 100,000.
Since 2014, German startup Homelike has been aggregating European apartment properties. But Homelike lacks global inventory and hasn’t built connections to the global corporate market and online travel agencies via the global distribution systems used by travel managers.
Easier for Property Managers
BridgeStreet has, essentially, built a technical connection to channel managers, software used by property managers and hotel owners to distribute their content. The channel managers transform the data into a form that can be displayed on GDSs and OTAs, and the company has been approved by most of the popular channel managers, like eRevMax’s RateTiger, Cubilis, and others.
Under BridgeStreet’s new system, property managers/operators will be able to use channel manager software, to pick the channel they want to use to distribute. Bridgestreet.com will appear as an OTA right next to the Booking.com’s of the world in the interface.
The Onefinestay integration is eye-opening. As Skift reported last summer, the sharing economy has yet to catch on in extended stay business travel. This new deal brings these properties into the workflow of travel managers and also lets BridgeStreet provide additional service or vetting for its corporate clients if requested.
BridgeStreet’s OTA connectivity via the standardized channel manager tool means that more ordinary travelers will see serviced apartments on their favorite travel booking sites more often than they did in the past, as companies like AKA and Oakwood Worldwide (newly acquired by Singapore-based Mapletree Investments) take similar steps.
For regular business travelers without travel managers, bridgestreet.com will be an online travel agency for serviced accommodations with all listings vetted and bookable instantly. The company says it will “dedicate significant marketing” to reach these consumers.