Innovation is slow in corporate travel, mainly due to the entrenched legacy systems that undergird the sector and the complex web of financial incentives that power incumbents. These leaders are doing something different in a space defined by convention.
Every company wants to be innovative, but a small few are more successful than others. So many companies across travel claim to be innovators that it can be hard to even understand what innovation is anymore.
Corporate travel, of course, is dominated by legacy players like American Express Global Business Travel or Concur that provide solutions to the biggest companies in the world. Innovation often comes from smaller players, which face an uphill battle competing against the industry’s billion-dollar behemoths.
For the second annual installment of this list, Skift’s editorial staff took a look at the corporate travel ecosystem to identify the executives and leaders that have helped the industry evolve in recent years.
You can read last year’s edition here. In 2017, we outlined the most interesting startups in corporate travel at the time.
For the sake of clarity, we define innovation as something new that helps move the industry forward, either for business travelers or the companies servicing them. The list is in alphabetical order by last name.
*Named to Skift’s 2018 list
The Skift 2019 Corporate Travel Innovators List
Charles de Gaspe Beaubien
Fixing the marketplace for meeting space that has long been dominated by Cvent is a daunting challenge. Groupize, under CEO Charles de Gaspe Beaubien, is doing the work to create a comprehensive platform for booking and managing meetings while keeping track of all the data that comes with running a variety of events.
TravelBank is working to make travel and expense easier for small businesses, under the leadership of CEO Duke Chung, without the legacy baggage that makes Concur an enemy of the frequent business traveler. A partnership with Brex, the chosen corporate card of Valley entrepreneurs, shows that you don’t need to try to conquer the world to build a successful and versatile product.
TripActions exploded onto the scene in recent years with an easy-to-use product for business travelers. Under CEO Ariel Cohen, it’s also been on the forefront of bringing more comprehensive air booking display to its customers. We’ll see how the company’s growth story inevitably pans out given its enormous marketing push, but everyone in the sector is paying attention to TripActions.
HomeLike brings Airbnb-style apartments to European business travelers looking to stay in destination for a month or more. The concept has value, and the company’s execution under CEO Dustin Figge seems to be paying off. The niche between traditional business travel and corporate relocation is ripe for disruption and players like HomeLike are finding ways to solve problems for travel managers.
Mary Ellen George-Hess
So many corporate travel agencies reinvent the wheel, but what if they didn’t have to? Tramada helps automate complex backend systems for agencies, and George-Hess heads up Tramada’s operations in North America. She’s also on the board of WINiT, which provides a meeting ground for women in a male-dominated industry.
Serko continues its growth outside Australasia, pushing into North America through a variety of partnerships and deals. It helps that the company’s Zeno booking engine is powerful. CEO Grafton also has an eye on the future of business travel, pushing beyond the booking into what travelers actually do when they’re in a city for work.
As Airbnb has moved into the corporate travel mainstream, forging partnerships with industry mainstays has been key. As Global Head of Airbnb for Work, Holyoke has helped bring Airbnb to the booking engines of major travel management companies at a time when the company’s fate in corporate travel was anything but certain.
For a long time, ATPCO was an unsexy but integral part of how flights get booked. It still is in many ways. But by acquiring Routehappy, which has led the way in bringing rich content to air shopping, and developing displays featuring new distribution capabilities, the industry mainstay led by CEO Rolf Purzer has suddenly become an interesting player in the space.
Resources and support for female business travelers are limited even as more women travel for business than ever before. GoJaneGo, led by CEO Saksen and COO Kate Nichols, has built a community for women on the road to discuss the issues they face while providing advice on important issues. The company is also developing a database of hotels that provide a safe environment for female business travelers. In a male-dominated industry, GoJaneGo is doing the hard work of showing women that they are not alone on the road.
Booking and managing small or simple meetings is a major headache for organizations. Bizly makes it easier to plan meetings and track all the important data points that can get lost in the shuffle. The company’s upcoming product update, showed off by CEO Ron Shah earlier this month, creates an easy-to-use engine for designing meetings whether you are a professional planner, an executive assistant, or anyone else who has to get people in a room on a regular basis.
Yatra is one of the more interesting stories in corporate travel, a travel management company in India’s complex and growing business travel market. Indian tech giant Ebix wants to buy the company, demonstrating the strong work Yatra has done to grow at an impressive clip under CEO Dhruv Shringi.
Startups often need to house a variety of workers as they scale, and Zeus provides tools for growing companies to find lodging for employees with flexible terms and a variety of spaces around the U.S. The company, led by CEO Kulveer Taggar, is relatively new but provides an interesting product by easing pain points for rapidly growing companies.
Jeroen van Velzen
Most itinerary management apps are trash, and there’s a huge opportunity to innovate in business traveler experience after a trip has been booked. Roadmap builds bespoke itinerary management tools for large corporations, injecting the tired TripIt format with custom aesthetics, smart notifications, and suggestions for where travelers should dine and explore based on other travelers. CEO Jeroen van Velzen is focusing on bigger clients and wants to reinvent the itinerary management experience.
What should a truly contemporary travel management company look like? WTMC is trying to answer that question by building a new tech stack to solve the knotty problems faced by corporates and global business travelers. By breaking the orthodoxy of how travel management is conducted, WTMC, under CEO Sarosh Waghmar, has the potential to push the sector forward.
For years, Conichi tried to help hoteliers bring their properties into the information age. It didn’t quite work out. Now, the company is working to simplify the arcane minutiae of payments processing, making things easier for both hotels and travel managers. Building on its existing infrastructure, Conichi is taking another swing at simplifying business travel. The fresh pivot under CEO Maximilian Waldmann will be watched closely across the sector.
Corporate apartments have been around for a long time, but what Bridgestreet Worldwide pulled off last year is noteworthy. It brought traditional hotels, homeshare listings, and more onto its digital platforms. Former CEO Sean Worker was recently pushed out by the company’s board, but the company’s booking engine remains an intriguing play in a crowded space, even if it appears to not have worked out financially.