Managing a company’s corporate lodging program at scale is often easier said than done. Between prioritizing duty of care, working within company budgets, negotiating rates, encouraging in-policy bookings, reporting and reconciling room bookings — not to mention figuring out how employee travel will work in the era of Covid-19 — travel managers have a lot on their plates.
CLC Lodging, a FLEETCOR company, is a provider of corporate lodging solutions for businesses with teams that travel. It has a goal to help companies control their lodging expense and simplify the corporate lodging process, from reservations, to reporting and reconciliation, by offering instant access to pre-negotiated rates offered by its massive hotel network across North America. CLC Lodging recently acquired Travelliance, which provides full-service lodging solutions for airlines and many other industries. SkiftX spoke with Ronald J. Rogers, president, lodging division, at FLEETCOR Technologies, about the partnership, CLC Lodging’s recent brand refresh, trends in workforce lodging, and how the sector has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
SkiftX: CLC Lodging specializes in workforce lodging. How does this differ from the traditional idea of corporate or business travel?
Ronald J. Rogers: Workforce lodging typically represents the essential travel projects that keep North America running, such as transportation of goods or traveling utility and construction crews that move from project to project. These are the complex programs that require a solution to every facet of hotel management.
Workforce travel patterns often demand flexible booking and reservation management tools, including walk-in flexibility. Over 65 percent of our small to midsize enterprise clients book on the same day as the stay, so eliminating the need for the traveler to use their own credit card and offering 24/7 skilled support is important. Companies that need this type of lodging also require program controls, such as customized hotel directories and rooming list management, project coding on the lodging invoice, and streamlined audited reconciliation. These would likely be cost prohibitive if they needed to be developed in-house or pieced together.
SkiftX: Can you explain what types of businesses and travelers you typically serve?
Rogers: Our company tends to serve blue and grey collar travelers — individual travelers or those who travel in a crew or group — employed by small companies with just a few employees to very large companies with thousands of employees. The four main segments we operate in are railroads, trucking, energy, and construction. However, we also serve a broad spectrum of other segments, such as business services, emergency responders — really any company that has a large number of employees who travel for work and wants to better control and simplify their corporate lodging expenses.
SkiftX: What types of hotels does CLC Lodging tend to partner with to offer these travelers?
Rogers: We contract with individual hotels and work with all of the major hotel brands, both in the U.S. and Canada. We’ve partnered with about 15,000 hotels that operate in our CLC Network that offer pre-negotiated rates and reservation flexibility and another 30,000 discounted hotels in our Expanded Network. We provide traditional hotel accommodations, as well as longer-term accommodations through corporate apartments.
SkiftX: The Covid-19 pandemic has shifted how companies are thinking about how their employees work and travel. What are some of the most interesting shifts we can expect to see in workforce lodging over the next few years?
Rogers: There are certainly going to be changes that come out of the situation we’re in right now. But companies are still looking for three main things when it comes to employee lodging: savings, control, and simplification. I’d say that these factors are even more relevant in unsettled times and will continue to be once things become a bit more settled.
One thing I am seeing, and this was the case even pre-pandemic, is the increased focus on duty of care and employee safety. Companies also want the travel booking process to be easier and more convenient through tech tools, and they want to have data at hand to make informed decisions. We’ve taken note of these shifting demands and have heavily invested in improving our offerings to meet them.
SkiftX: In addition to hotel lodging, CLC also specializes in connecting companies to longer-term corporate housing. Can you talk more about your corporate housing offerings?
Rogers: Again, companies want control, cost savings, and simplification, as well as duty of care and quality experiences in their corporate housing options. We help companies by sourcing the housing for employees and taking care of the logistics around utilities, furnishings, and everything else that comes with longer-term corporate lodging, so they can focus on their business.
SkiftX: CLC Lodging recently acquired Travelliance. What was the strategy behind this partnership?
Rogers: Our parent company, FLEETCOR, acquired Travelliance in October 2019. There were two things that attracted FLEETCOR to the company: First, Travelliance primarily serves the airline sector and their crews and passengers who need accommodation because of a cancelled flight. It’s an adjacent and natural vertical for us and allows us to engage with a broader spectrum of customers.
Second, Travelliance has a very strong technology platform. For example, one of its newest products, HMT, digitizes the hotel and meal vouchers the airline provides to airline passengers whose flights were canceled, so they no longer have to queue up in line. Instead, the vouchers are delivered to a passenger’s smartphone, making the process much more efficient and prevents those lines and logjams at the gate agent’s desk. This became even more important in recent months as people try to maintain a safe distance while traveling.
SkiftX: What are some opportunities you expect to come from this acquisition?
Rogers: The partnership with Travelliance has definitely strengthened and broadened our network. Travelliance hotels tend to be located in cities home to major airports, and many CLC Network hotels are in secondary cities and areas outside of urban centers. So both of our networks really complement each other, and the scale of our business is much larger now, which allows us to better serve our customers. For example, CLC’s buying power went from 17 million annual rooms booked, to a combined hotel purchasing power of over 26 million rooms last year. Additionally, both CLC Lodging and Travelliance are investing heavily in new technologies. Together, we can provide the best solutions in workforce lodging to match different customers’ different needs.
SkiftX: CLC Lodging recently revamped its booking experience and lodging management portal for both its travelers and those managing them. What was the strategy behind the refresh?
Rogers: We have two primary users of our portal and mobile app: The first is the travel manager and the second is the individual traveler. We knew that both types of users want convenience when it comes to arranging travel lodging, as well as a wide range of hotel choice, and that travel managers want information about reporting and duty of care. We revamped our digital experience to provide more real-time information and support around duty of care and reservations and made the navigation, features, and functionality much more user friendly and convenient.
We also set out to improve how we communicate as a company with our customers. We put a new focus on advising travelers and travel managers on how to best choose the hotel that’s right for them, based on their personal wants and needs and travel program goals.
SkiftX: Has Covid-19 influenced your long-term strategy?
Rogers: It did make us pause and reexamine our product roadmap and priorities to make sure they’re relevant to what the world looks like now and what it might look like when we come out on the other end of this. After doing a thorough evaluation, we concluded that the product and offerings we have in place still make sense. In fact, we believe that our value proposition is perhaps even more relevant due to the coronavirus pandemic, especially because we put such an emphasis on duty of care. We understand that our customers’ needs may change a bit, but we think we’re still on the right path to meet those needs.