Skift Take

Lola's new group management travel tools are useful for small companies that don't want to deal with the hassle of creating a heavily managed travel program. Its upcoming marketing push will likely prove crucial as the company looks to attract more customers in a crowded business travel booking sector.

Mobile booking app Lola made its pivot to business travel official late last year, although the writing had been on the wall for a while that the move was coming.

Lola co-founder Paul English told Skift last year to expect more advanced team management tools, and the features are launching Tuesday under the Lola Works brand.

Discussing the new group management tools, English explained that Lola is targeting growing companies that need simple ways to manage and track employee travel.

“We’ve tested it with a few small businesses in Boston,” said English. “You really need Lola when you have five, 10, or 15 travelers. That’s when there’s some anxiety from the business owner about travel being the biggest expense and there are no guidelines, everyone is doing different things. That’s when we think this will be more relevant.”

The new tools allow companies to manage their travel programs without setting hard limits on spending and travel types. A manager can set the hotel quality and cabin class that is suggested to travelers through Lola’s booking tool, as well as suggest spending for each category.

There’s also a feature that uses dynamic pricing to allow managers to set a quality level based on a city being visited.

While the traveler isn’t actually locked out of booking more expensive or luxurious options, the app will show whether an option is more expensive than the company would like. This way, someone isn’t prevented selecting a particular option if they really need to or have already cleared it with their boss.

Combined with Lola’s artificial intelligence powered personalization, the feature produces a more nuanced set of hotels and flights possibilities than a business traveler gets through a traditional online booking site.

“Expedia shows the results based on how much hotels pay Expedia,” said English. “We’re showing results that are similar to hotels you stayed at before.”

For the manager themselves, there are also tools to manage total company travel spend, recommend restaurants in commonly visited destinations, and track where travelers are at any given time. These are accessed online and the number of employees that can be managed though Lola is unlimited, although the team would have to do work on the back-end to group thousands of travelers by department.

Small Business Focus

For the time being, English is looking to attract more small businesses to the Lola platform. A marketing push will take place sometime in the next month as the company figures out exactly which platforms it would like to play on.

Looking forward, English sees potential in the expense technology space to expand Lola’s offerings; for now, the service does interface with expense management tools like Concur and Expensify. It has also entered preliminary discussions with a travel agency to possibly license out its back-of-the-house technology for enhanced travel agent booking tools.

The company’s mobile chat service remains staffed by humans, as well, despite aspirations to move to a more automated concept powered by artificial intelligence.

“I’m never satisfied, I was not satisfied at Kayak either,” said English. “We have seen growth, we’re getting a lot of customers [from small businesses]. I always want to have more so I’m excited to begin the marketing next month to begin acquiring [customers at a higher rate]. I’ve told my team internally… one of the goals for sales in a company at our stage isn’t so much revenue, but collecting product requirements and I think our sales team has done a really good job of quantifying the market for our engineering team. The product itself has to continue evolving.”

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Tags: business travel, ctir, lola, startups

Photo credit: Lola's newest feature gives small companies basic travel management tools to keep track of travelers and monitor what employees spend on their trips. Pictured is co-founder Paul English (rear, left) with Lola team members several years ago. Lola

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