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Corporate travel is slow to evolve, yet the pace of change seems to have increased as travel management companies have turned to technology to solve common problems.
This week at the Global Business Travel Association Convention in Boston, customization was a major theme as the industry has focused more on appealing to the individual needs of travelers and clients rather than compelling them to work with a constrained set of tools.
Still, the structure of the industry precludes any sort of widespread transition to a more traveler-centric focus.
Here are Skift’s takeaways from the convention and meetings with the industry’s top executives.
Airbnb Going Corporate
Airbnb has been making serious progress in the corporate travel ecosystem, integrating with the systems of major travel management companies in recent years. But last week, a deal was announced to bring Airbnb listings into Concur’s online booking tool, a major step toward the corporate travel mainstream.
Concur users who want to book an Airbnb stay will finalize the transaction on Airbnb.com using the site’s interface, according to David Holyoke, global head of business travel for Airbnb. This way, travelers get a taste of Airbnb’s user experience while being able to shop around between different hotels and Airbnb listings on their corporate booking tool.
This could pave the way for similar deals with the other major travel management companies, giving Airbnb listings more prominence among hotels.
The bigger issue, of course, is simply that most travel policies don’t allow travelers to stay in an Airbnb, for a variety of reasons including the duty to make sure traveling employees are safe. Holyoke said his message to potential partners is simple: Just try us.
Acceptance has been slow, and Airbnb is working on new business travel products to address pain points that business travelers may feel staying in a shared home instead of a hotel. These could include add-ons like access to meeting spaces or gym facilities.
Skift expects to see new ancillary products emerge soon as a part of Airbnb’s big corporate travel push, though none have been officially announced. How business travel ready are the company’s “Business Travel Ready” listings if they don’t include many elements that travelers consider a bare minimum for their hotel experience?
Expenses, Expenses, Expenses
There’s been a lot of news in recent months from the corporate expenses space, from the roll up of many expense companies including Certify to major travel management companies announcing integration with a variety of expense tools.
As one executive told me in passing: “The opportunity is there because many see Concur potentially withering on the vine after its acquisition by SAP.” This seems unlikely, but there is definitely room in the expense place for a few medium-size players to emerge.
But on a fundamental level, for travel managers and travelers themselves, competition in the space is good. Travelers can seamlessly expense their trips, and managers have better insights into spending.
Chrome River CEO Alan Rich said the race is on to create more actionable insights based on traveler spending behavior, which will benefit the industry as a whole going forward since companies can choose the right expense solution for their needs instead of whatever is automatically baked into their corporate booking tool.
Big TMCs Offer Variety
Giving travelers more choice, and control, was the theme this year from the major travel management companies.
Improvements to mobile tools for travelers and hotel sourcing dominated offerings; BCD Travel CEO John Snyder showed off the company’s improved hotel sourcing technology and mobile app for travelers, while Egencia CEO Rob Greyber discussed the company’s strategy of iterating improvements surrounding traveler pain points, like expensing their trip spending.
Carlson Wagonlit Travel CEO Kurt Ekert said the company is investing heavily in data science, with around 90 people currently working on crunching data to improve personalization and prediction.
It seems that next-generation personalization surrounding traveler preferences and targeted offerings isn’t here yet. But positive steps are taking place to empower travel managers and give travelers a wider variety of choices.
Disruptive Startups Gain Ground
As a startup, breaking into the corporate travel ecosystem is a big challenge. With many established, entrenched players, getting a foothold is hard.
New players like Freebird, as well, are cultivating trials with big travel management companies to try out their air rebooking product.
There is a relatively small pocket of true innovation in the corporate travel space, but it’s growing in stature.