The concept makes sense, but there's a risk that metasearch sites could come unstuck coping with all the complexities corporate travel will entail when it eventually restarts.
An early lesson to be learned from the pandemic was that, actually, a company’s travel operation is important, regardless of that organization’s size.
During the evacuations and repatriations earlier this year, many companies without a program would have quickly realized they didn’t know exactly where employees were as countries shut their borders. Fast forward, they may also be regretting not having access to a simple way to claw back airline refunds, instead having to approach airlines individually.
With a dedicated company booking channel, one of the biggest advantages is that the data’s all in one place. For smaller companies, using a corporate travel agency might not be cost effective if there’s not much travel. And it’s here where two metasearch websites spot an opportunity.
Aviasales launched Aviasales for Business in April this year, since developing the platform in September 2019. More than 1,000 small and medium-sized companies are already up and running.
Kayak, meanwhile, signalled its intent last year to launch Kayak for Business, and told Skift it will launch the new platform this fall.
Metasearch websites, or aggregators, take the heavy lifting out of scanning through dozens of travel websites. They send the search query to several search engines, such as an online agent like Expedia, and can trawl directly through an airline or hotel’s website, before compiling the results into an easily comparable list.
Traditionally, metasearch and company travel don’t mix. Ask a company travel manager for their biggest gripe, and they’ll likely say it’s employees who waste time trying to find a cheaper ticket, or room night, rather than go with the price showing up on the company’s online booking tool.
They’ll actually often be able to find a cheaper deal, but be oblivious to what goes on behind that corporate fare, such as extra date flexibility, luggage allowance, traveler tracking and reconciliation.
Corporate travel booking tools are evolving to become simpler to use, but never seem to catch up with the user friendliness, speed or familiarity offered by metasearch sites
“Covid-19 has changed the way companies think about business travel,” a spokesperson for Kayak told Skift. “Even as travel becomes routine again we expect many companies will be looking to save on travel costs.”
Kayak has had a waitlist for businesses in place since November 2019, and will initially launch it in the U.S. with “expense and travel policy management, new partners and perks” part of the offering.
Aviasales claims it’s the world’s first metasearch site to break into corporate travel. Its leisure booking website has been around since 2008, with a claimed 20 million monthly active users, mostly from Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States and Central Asia regions.
For its business platform, it said it has seen a 650 percent rise in bookings in July, compared to June. A quarter of its clients are from the technology sector, and another quarter from retail. Production companies make up 14 percent, with 8 percent from the government sector.
Like Kayak, it says it’s building in policy controls to only provide search results from company-approved hotels and airlines, as well as control over fare types, such as premium economy or business class.
“The idea was to create the same experience, including prices, for corporate travelers,” said Janis Dzenis, a spokesperson for Aviasales. “We often hear this complaint: I’ve seen on Aviasales this flight from London to Moscow is this much, and my corporate travel agent is showing a more expensive fare. This was our first intention.”
Dzenis added the platform is first being rolled out in its home market of Russia. “For metasearch, it’s not usually a comfortable position to do these B2B projects, because you need to combine so many different layers together,” he added.
It’s managing all these layers that could pose a problem for the metasearch sites. Having booked through the appropriate company channel, the busy executive won’t want to contact the airline or hotel to amend their details, so metasearch sites will have to ensure they’ve enough resources to service this new breed of client.
Dzenis said Aviasales for Business does offer full customer support, via an app, email or phone call, and that there are bigger demands with service level agreements it will adhere to, demands that wouldn’t have been in place with the average leisure traveler.
During this relative quiet time, metasearch sites are certainly able to flex their muscles. It’s only when travel picks up again that these new models can be tested.
Photo credit: Metasearch websites are making inroads into the corporate travel sector. Romain Mathon / Unsplash