A new tool has been launched by Qantas to help small and medium sized Australian businesses manage their travel requirements.
The new service will allow users to streamline the travel management process – from booking flights and hotels to implementing travel policies – whilst providing real-time data and analytics to manage costs and prepare expense reports.
Developed based on feedback from existing members of the Qantas Business Rewards program, the new tool will be available as part of the program in addition to the existing benefits.
“We’ve been listening to our Qantas Business Rewards members who have told us that making it easier to manage their business travel will add more value to the program,” said Olivia Wirth, CEO of Qantas Loyalty in a release.
“The investment we’re making in Qantas Business Rewards will provide Australian businesses with a one-stop platform to manage their business travel needs and make the most of their rewards.”
The new tool was successfully trialed in August, and has now been rolled out to all program members.
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Juniper, a travel tech company offering travel booking and management solutions, will integrate TUI’s portfolio of 88,000 excursions, activities, and attraction tickets in 100 countries, making it available for its clients of 270 travel and tourism companies.
The integration with Juniper Travel will “reach new customers based on their needs through seamless integration”, said Nishank Gopalkrishnan, chief business officer of TUI Musement. It expands TUI’s business to business strategy, both with companies in TUI’s established source markets such as the United Kingdom and Germany, and also with Juniper partners in southern Europe and LATAM as new markets for TUI.
Juan Mateos, Juniper Travel general manager, said its clients would have “frictionless access” to TUI’s experiences, initially available as a standalone catalog. In the future, it will be part of Juniper’s packaging and call center modules.
The UK-based fintech app Revolut, which claims 30 million users, has added a in-app experiences marketplace, in partnership with Tripadvisor’s Viator.
The app now features some 300,000 tours, activities, and attractions, offering users options like “traversing the rocky Agafay Desert on camelback or taking a relaxing dip in Budapest’s Széchenyi Thermal Baths.”
The Revolut experiences marketplace, available to its UK and Europe customers, offers split bills for group trips, no booking fee, and discounts on experiences up to 10% depending on the user’s Revolut plan.
The addition of tours and activities follows the app’s initial launch of selling accommodation in 2021 in a move described as wanting to become a Super App by offering all travel-related products. The app’s other travel products include holiday home rentals, hotels, travel insurance, and currency exchange. Revolut said it also wants to add flights and car rental bookings eventually.
Revolut stated its customers make 400 million transactions a month, with its year-on-year data for May 2023 showing UK spending on tourist attractions was up by 9%.
Travel agents could bring a real-world perspective to complex rules shaping the protection of air travel passengers, as part of a modernization proposal for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) watchdog for aviation consumer protection.
The Modernization Act (H.R. 3780) would see the Aviation Consumer Protection Advisory Committee (ACPAC) membership include a dedicated travel agency seat to the advisory body. The bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Dina Titus (D-NV), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), John Garamendi (D-CA), Marc Molinaro (R-NY) and Julia Brownley (D-CA) on Thursday, 1 June.
The five most recent ACPAC meetings, starting in December 2021, have centered around two major DOT regulatory proposals on ticket refunds and transparency in airline fees – crucial to business operations of travel agencies, whatever their final forms take.
“Roughly half of all airline tickets in the U.S. are sold through the agency channel. Giving these small business owners, 70 percent of whom are women, an elevated voice in the DOT regulatory process will help the Department meet its consumer protection mission,” said Zane Kerby, CEO and president of the American Association of Travel Advisors (ASTA).
Travel agents provide valuable insights through real-world impacts of complex proposals pending before DOT, currently missing from ACPAC’s process, added Eben Peck, ASTA’s executive vice president.
In its current form, ACPAC membership consists of one representative each of U.S. airlines, consumer groups, airports and state or local governments.
Google is starting to release the chatbot Bard, its rival to ChatGPT.
Google made the announcement Tuesday morning in a blog post. Users in the U.S. and the U.K. can join a waitlist for access. The platform will be expanded to other countries and languages later.
Both platforms are powered by generative AI, a model that enables the technology to provide new, original answers in response to a prompt. The technology has big implications for the travel industry, starting with travel planning and marketing. Booking platforms, like Booking.com and Expedia, are among other travel companies exploring how the technology can be used to power the future of travel planning and booking.
The blog described Bard as “an experiment,” and the next step in the process is to gather user feedback.
According to the post, the chatbot appears to operate similarly to ChatGPT, except that it responds to prompts with more than one answer. Bard is connected to Google search, so users can search for items suggested by Bard if they choose. Google also said that Bard gathers current data from the internet to power its answers, while ChatGPT is limited to data from 2021.
The post said the company will be integrating the tech into the search platform in a deeper way in the future.
Google last week said that it was opening access to its generative AI tech to developers so they may integrate it into their own platforms.
The underlying technology of ChatGPT has been open to developers since the chatbot was released in November.
Online travel agency Wheel the World, which serves travelers with disabilities, announced on Thursday that it’s offering guaranteed accessibility and price match for hotel rooms booked on its website.
“We have identified those details of accessibility and the rooms that have those details,” Wheel the World CEO and co-founder Alvaro Silberstein said, adding that the company also offers price matches for hotel rooms booked on other platforms, including Booking.com, Expedia and Travelocity.
The new features come after the company secured $6 million in what it describes as pre-Series A funding. Venture capital firm Kayak Ventures led the investment. Detroit Venture Partners, REI Co-op Path Ahead Ventures, former Booking.com CEO Gillian Tans, Dadneo, CLIN Fund, Amarena and WeBoost also participated in the round.
Google has added San Francisco-based startup Whimstay as a vacation rental partner.
Whimstay focuses on booking last-minute vacation rentals and the selling of distressed inventory — or providing discounts on vacation rentals that would otherwise go unoccupied at full retail rates.
Google will now add Whimstay’s 150,000 vacation rental properties to its travel search function. They join properties listed in the U.S. by other vacation rental partners including Uplisting, Futurestay, Eviivo, BookingPal and Bluetent.
“Google’s platform for vacation rentals enables us to leapfrog our already strong outperformance on organic search, thereby increasing conversion in a manner that is far more profitable and capital efficient,” said Whimstay CEO David Weiss.
Whimstay also expects to add an extra 100,000 to 150,000 properties to its platform over the next 12 months.
There’s been well-deserved excitement in travel tech circles in recent years about everything from the New Distribution Capability to chatbots and the arrival of generative AI, but the reality is that much of what passes for travel technology is still backwards these days.
Here are a few recent examples:
Avis: Rental Counter Can Be Unavoidable
Avis informed me a few days ago that I couldn’t modify an upcoming reservation at Newark Airport to add electronic toll charges because I made the reservation using points. In a chat, the Avis agent assured me I could add E-ZPass at the counter — although there are often elongated wait times there.
In November at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, as an Avis Preferred member, I was supposed to be able to view the app and go directly to the parking lot to retrieve my rental car, but that didn’t happen. Eventually, an Avis agent at the car rental counter told me I hadn’t been able to go directly to the car in the parking garage because I arrived during an employee shift change, and the cars were not in place and ready. The wait for the cars was at least 45 minutes at the rental counter.
JetBlue Ticket Modifications: You Need to Cancel and Rebook
In early January, I tried to modify a JetBlue flight booking at JetBlue.com, but wasn’t able to. During a text chat, JetBlue told me in what I think was an automated answer that since I booked the flight with points, I’d have to cancel and rebook it to make the change. “TrueBlue point bookings are managed online,” JetBlue stated. “Changes require you to cancel and rebook. Points are returned to the TrueBlue account. Bags/seats are refunded to the original payment.”
If I had booked the original flights with dollars instead of TrueBlue points, I probably would have been able to easily modify the booking online. But don’t airlines want their customers to join their loyalty programs, and redeem those points? Instead, there is a disincentive when points functionality lags.
Avianca Blames the ‘System’ on Multi-City Booking Issue
About a week ago, I wanted to book a multi-city itinerary on Avianca.com, but there was no option to do so. I was looking to book Punta Cana-Cartagena-Medellin-Punta Cana. I complained on Twitter in frustration, and Avianca kindly messaged me within minutes of my tweet that its customer service agents would reach out, which they did. But after a back and forth with one of the agents over a couple of days, he informed me that the Avianca “system” wouldn’t allow him to make the multi-city booking, either. The agent said I should try booking the tickets separately.
I did book the flights separately — but with another airline.
Can’t Bypass the Front Desk at a Hilton Property
In November, I reserved a room for a few nights at a Hilton Garden Inn in New Jersey. A Hilton email informed me I could use the Hilton Honors app for a contactless arrival. The idea was to skip the front desk, head to my assigned room, and unlock the door with my phone.
When I arrived at the property, a very nice front desk employee informed me that for security purposes I would have to show her an ID so it turns out at this particular property, at least, there would be no bypassing the front desk. She then handed me a couple of card keys for my room door.
Moral of the Story?
Despite all the boasts from airlines, hotels, and car rental companies about seamless this or frictionless that, the reality is often more traditional and clunky. The travel industry still finds itself plagued by outdated, legacy technology or more modern applications that sometimes aren’t well thought out.
Travelers make multiple purchases in preparation for their trip, a consideration Tripadvisor believes should be noticed by marketers. The company honed in on the purchasing intent of its audience and found that despite rising prices, plans to travel is on par with 2019 levels.
Tripadvisor’s latest research report, with some 5,000 respondents across six countries, indicates purchasing behavior of travelers and its influence across industries is being overlooked.
It’s one thing that the pandemic did not disrupt in travel.
The intent when planning a trip is broader than flights, accommodations, and activities, according Tripadvisor.
“Part of the fun for travelers is the planning (and spending!) before a trip. Consumers find travel is a great excuse to buy new clothes, special toys, or just the right gear.”
Of those surveyed, the most bought item in preparation for a trip is clothes (89 percent), followed by luggage (72 percent), and electronics (62 percent). Tripadvisor stated these are “not one-off purchases, with respondents (luggage being an exception) buying these items at least 2-3 times in the past three years before traveling.”
And while three-quarters of those surveyed do plan to reduce discretionary spending, cuts to travel plans are a no-go “with saving for future vacations the top priority.”
TrovaTrip, which offers more than 150 experiences in 48 countries, enables travelers to participate in activities such as hiking in Patagonia and doing yoga in Bali. Creators establish the price for experiences they’re leading while TrovaTrip sets up a page for hosts to promote their trips, which are run by certified tour operators. TrovaTrip plans to use the investment for its expansion plans.
The company, which was founded in 2017, has raised $20 million in funding to date. The Series A funding round follows TrovaTrip’s $5 million seed funding that was announced in August 2021.