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Travel search engine Kayak has finally launched its corporate travel booking tool, after nearly two years in the making. But during this lengthy period which included beta-testing (15 months), a soft launch (five months) and even a Miami hotel opening it doesn’t seem to have taken the pandemic into account.

The Booking Holdings division on Tuesday officially unveiled its corporate travel solution, Kayak for Business. It said it had signed on 3,000 companies in the past three months, while it’s available in 60 markets and 28 languages. “New” features include expense integration, price prediction, discounted corporate rates and more.

“When travel came to nearly a full stop in 2020, it gave us an unexpected runway to think about the future of business travel,” said Steve Hafner, Kayak’s CEO. “Business travelers and their employers in a post-Covid world will demand even more flexibility, competitive prices and easy ways to blend business and leisure travel.”

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Fair points, but where the platform (still) falls short is customer service and managing risk — how to get out of a tight spot is currently on a lot of people’s radars, particularly travel managers. “Customer service is a key aspect of business travel. Kayak doesn’t do customer service so that may not go over well,” Skift noted in 2019.

That service will be needed more than ever, with many travelers understandably keen to talk to advisors about their plans.

“Not having customer service to reach out to could be a significant issue for some, not for others, especially those that don’t have any travel platform currently,” said travel and meeting risk consultant Kevin Coffey.

Meanwhile, corporate travel platforms are expected to provide detailed Covid-19 and visa updates as governments experiment with reopening their borders. The number of partnerships that companies like Riskline and Sherpa have established is testament to that.

“From a travel risk management perspective, it will be interesting to see if Kayak for Business tries to weave any risk management features into the product,” Coffey said.

“While it’s obvious they don’t have any live customer service help, there are many duty of care tools that are fairly automated that could help at least address some of those travel risk management concerns that impact many organizations. Incorporating those could put it at an advantage,” he added.

Playing the Free Card

A Kayak for Business spokesperson said that business users can rely on existing customer service options, including the supplier directly, online travel agencies or they can use integrated higher service level providers for international flights with dedicated VIP service agents.

“We allow the user to determine the choice according to their needs, rather than paying for each employee/trip,” they added, while Hafner also told Skift: “Of course, enterprise is in the works. Have you ever known us to dream small?”

Where Kayak for Business will score points is that it’s free, and it’s got access to some 2,000 suppliers (courtesy of Booking Holdings). And of course metasearch websites, or aggregators, like Kayak do take the heavy lifting out of scanning through dozens of travel websites. Russian metasearch site Aviasales launched Aviasales for Business in April last year with this in mind, similarly going after small and medium-sized companies.

Kayak for Business also claims it “gets everyone in the company under one platform” and offers a quick and efficient approval process for travel and expenses, through an integration with Expensify.

Again, Kayak is known for its user-friendly interface, but it may need more than just a great experience to compete with bigger rivals that also want their share of smaller customers.

TravelPerk, after buying Click Travel, now has access to a free platform geared towards these small clients. Meanwhile, American Express Global Business Travel will be targeting a similar market, once its Egencia acquisition goes through.

The Kayak spokesperson said that the platform would be a viable competitor because  millions of people already use Kayak for leisure, so there’s no need for employees to learn how to use a new travel platform.

Kayak for Business will also offer “big cost savings versus other corporate travel platforms,” but going back to the Egencia acquisition, part of that deal involves creating a marketplace that taps into Expedia’s vast inventories.

With this belated launch, Kayak seems to be looking way beyond the pandemic. It’s counting on a strong return for the business trip, with more leisure breaks tagged on. A recent consumer survey it conducted with YouGov revealed one quarter of American business travelers wanted a job where they can travel for work, while 28 percent would like to go on at least one business trip by year-end.

“Companies that support blending business with leisure travel will have a competitive advantage with talent. Many people want a change of scenery right now,” added Hafner. The platform also features employee-generated city guides and hotel recommendations, which could prove popular too if they reach a decent scale.

But you get the sense Kayak might be missing an opportunity to support more companies with their return to travel after such a challenging period, considering the amount of chatbots, plug-ins and other artificial intelligence tools out there that could have complemented this household brand.

UPDATE: This story was updated to include a quote from Kayak CEO Steve Hafner in relation to an enterprise version.

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Photo Credit: Kayak for Business is targeting small and medium-sized companies. L Filipe C Sousa / Unsplash