Skift Take

Today’s corporate travel managers and business travelers expect frictionless experiences, especially when it comes to managing expenses. By leveraging automated expense management capabilities for their guests, hospitality brands can accelerate digital transformation, deepen customer loyalty, increase operational cost savings, and create seamless customer experiences.

As more business travelers return to the skies and roads, finance leaders, looking to retain pandemic-era savings and facing global economic uncertainty, are scrutinizing corporate expenses now more than ever. During Covid, travelers began to rely more on digital tools, and today they expect more seamless experiences when they travel for work.

There is also a fundamental shift in how employees approach travel, with 41 percent of travel managers reporting an increase in employees asking for blended travel, according to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). The rise in blended, or “bleisure,” travel further complicates a longstanding challenge in corporate travel: streamlining expense management.

Paper receipts, inefficient processes, and inaccurate data have long plagued business travelers and their finance teams alike. With the corporate travel market expected to reach $9 billion in 2022, how can finance, hospitality, and tech companies collaborate to better serve this important group of customers?

SkiftX spoke with Jehan Luth, founder and CEO of Banyan, to understand how hospitality brands can help solve some of business travelers’ most persistent challenges by providing item-level receipt data and leveraging Banyan’s unique two-sided network.

SkiftX: Travel expense management has long been a challenge for companies and their employees. Where do you see the biggest opportunity to streamline what can often be a manual and inefficient process?

Jehan Luth: With the pandemic having slowed, most business travelers are happy to be traveling again. In a 2021 survey by GBTA, 77 percent of business travelers said they were “willing” or “very willing” to travel for business.

But when it comes to filling out that pesky expense report when the trip is over? Not so willing. Indeed, in a survey by Wakefield Research, a majority of business travelers said there were times when they didn’t seek reimbursement for a business expense because they didn’t want to bother with an expense report. It’s even worse when they need to collect the hotel folio after a trip. In fact, a majority said they’d rather do their tax returns than do an expense report. Wrap your head around that.

Banyan is a two-sided data network that enables hotels, merchants, banks, and fintech companies to leverage item-level data to provide seamless, digitalized, and automated experiences. Item-level receipt data consists of categorized information generated on a purchase-by-purchase basis when consumers use their payment cards. Harnessing this data is the holy grail for the industry because it eliminates paper receipts and empowers people to connect with their purchases through any app of their choosing.

SkiftX: The burden of optimizing travel expense management has historically fallen with a company’s finance or travel management department. Why should hospitality companies seek to be part of the solution as well?

Luth: In today’s economy, hotels, restaurants, and other merchants are all looking for ways to attract more customers and keep them loyal. Hospitality brands can offer convenience to business travelers and their employers by sharing item-level data on purchases and helping them make expense reporting easier. Offering this convenience is a differentiating value add for the industry.

Chief financial officers appreciate this approach as they’re attuned to streamlining company costs — they’re more likely to confer preferred status on hotels that offer data and can reduce expense management friction.

This one step can lead to both higher revenue and lower operating expenses. For a hotel, providing greater receipt and folio clarity, as well as offering convenience for business guests, will reduce the number of incoming requests for receipt copies and other questions that hotel employees have to field. It’s a happy marriage, facilitated by automated receipt capture.

This is especially helpful right now as merchants and hotels experience issues of understaffing.

Additionally, Banyan provides hotels and their partners with the ability to enhance the guest experience through a focus on their journey, from the moment they book their room until after they check out. We can also help increase the opportunity to drive on-property spend in restaurants, spas, and stores, as well as repeat bookings through personalized, relevant card-linked offers delivered straight to their banking apps.

SkiftX: In a recent Skift and AWS survey, 72 percent of travel executives said that digital transformation was very important to their business. Why is enabling automation in expense reporting so important?

Luth: As business travel slowly makes a return and the world adjusts to the new normal, the hidden costs from productivity to actual monetary expenditures of outdated expense management systems are reemerging.

First, loss of productivity due to lengthy and time-intensive expense reports is taking a toll on business travelers and finance teams.

Business travelers expect an automated experience throughout their travel journey. During the height of the pandemic, companies were able to innovate and create seamless customer experiences at different levels to keep them safe and healthy. This raised the bar for all digital touchpoints, so eliminating the folio at checkout and providing an automated expense management experience seems like the next logical step.

Second, bleisure travel can make expense reports all the more difficult, with travelers having to discern at the end of their trip which expenses fall into the business category and which are personal.

Finally, not only are expense reports a hassle, they’re also expensive. Another study by GBTA revealed that processing an expense report for just one night’s stay at a hotel costs companies an average of $58 and takes 20 minutes of an employee’s time to complete. The study further revealed that one in five expense reports has mistakes or missing information, which costs an additional $52 and takes another 18 minutes to fix in worker time that could be spent elsewhere.

Consumers and business travelers can save time and energy through automated receipt capture, often eliminating the need for a traditional expense report. By creating preference with both business travelers and corporate finance departments alike, a more streamlined process also benefits hotels and merchants.

SkiftX: How can item-level data empower corporate travel managers in their decision-making?

Luth: All the time and money devoted to expense reports can put a dent in any company’s bottom line — that same GBTA study showed companies process an average of 51,000 expense reports every year. If every single one of those reports takes 20 minutes and a fifth of those reports have mistakes, that’s a total of $3,488,400 lost to expense reports in a single year.

Technology providers have taken note of all this inefficiency and expense and are now offering solutions to assist businesses with the digital transformation of expense reporting. The global expense-management software market is forecast to grow to $10.56 billion by 2030.

Any solutions that are able to streamline the decision-making process are a benefit to the corporation’s bottom line — and as an extension, item-level data can be used to create better targeted and more customized offers for these corporations. For example, an airline could offer a specific corporation deals on corporate travel to and from conventions. A hotel could drive travel managers to increase booking at their properties by ensuring folios are automatically integrated into expense reports — without action by the consumer. Merchants, such as restaurants and bars, can even incentivize the consumption of certain foods or beverages by offering deals or discounts only on items they may have in excess.

SkiftX: Banyan is a two-sided platform, which is different from many solutions in expense management. Can you explain why Banyan is unique and how you see this approach reshaping expense management in the future?

Luth: Today’s expense report process is ripe for disruption. Banyan benefits all parties involved — consumers, merchants, and banks — seamlessly automating processes that help the bottom line of all groups. By collaboratively partnering with merchants in the travel and hospitality sectors, Banyan is able to match purchase receipt data from the source with business card transactions for highly accurate, secure, and convenient receipt information synced into the chosen banking and expense management applications. There’s no relying on problematic uploaded receipt pictures or screen-scraping from emails.

The time is now; innovative travel and entertainment executives are increasingly searching for solutions to accelerate automated expense management. By streamlining the item-level receipt process, the companies that send out business travelers and the companies that serve them can all make expense reporting faster, easier, and more cost-efficient. And that’s a destination everyone involved in business travel would like to reach.

For more information about Banyan, visit www.banyan.com.

This content was created collaboratively by Banyan and Skift’s branded content studio, SkiftX.

Tags: banyan, business travel, expense management, innovation, SkiftX Showcase: Hospitality

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