TMCS are not just enhancing their booking tools – they’re also stripping back functionality and pitching them to SMES, says Linda Fox, who rounds up the latest developments
Aflurry of new booking tools targeting small and mediumsized companies released at the recent Business Travel Show was a clear marker that this area – the SME market – is viewed as very much up for grabs.
Travel management companies continue to pursue the elusive, less-managed traveller with several breaking down existing tools to make them more attractive to this category and others developing entirely new offerings.
American Express Global Business Travel is a good example. The company has just released its Business Travel Made Simple concept which bundles up existing technology and services in to what the company hopes is an uncomplicated, off-the-shelf option for SMES.
Kate Roe, head of marketing, EMEA and APAC, for Amex GBT says this is not a new product or service, but the company’s most popular solutions with simplified pricing.
It includes elements such as a booking platform, servicing, GDS content and auditing tools with support available via traditional channels as well as the company’s new chat tool. It also offers tips and advice on how to implement the technology, and how to present it at board level as well as traveller level.
“It helps travel managers get to the point where they are making bookings faster,” says Roe. The TMC decided what to include in the service by measuring usage of its technology and interviewing customers on what they are looking for in managed travel.
Roe says that while this is not Amex GBT’S first foray into trying to launch a simplified service, it feels in a better place now because it owns the booking technology and therefore has more control.
Similarly, Corporate Travel Management has unveiled its Lightning Lite tool. The Lightning platform was originally launched in 2017, aiming to provide results to users in seconds in a booking environment with a consumer feel to it but with travel policy, preferred suppliers and approval built in.
CTM'S new Lite version is designed for companies with travel spend of up to £750,000 per year and comes in three packages – Silver, Gold and Platinum. All three offer the Lightning booking tool and from there businesses choose the level
of service they need based on the number of travellers and trips they do.
Flight Centre’s business travel brand Corporate Traveller also continues to chase the SME market and recently unveiled YOUR.CT – a bundle of services it says are designed purely with that market in mind.
Its General Manager, Andy Hegley, says the company is finding there is real demand from SMES for automation. He describes the market as “growing up” and YOUR.CT provides a platform of elements including pre-trip approval, booking, traveller tracking, profile management, and reports all within a customised dashboard. The technology is available via desktop, tablet or mobile.
The TMC'S sister business, FCM, has also been developing its corporate booking tools and recently unleashed Seeqa. It uses the Amadeus cytric platform and according to FCM Solutions Global General Manager, Markus Eklund, is less about “reinventing the wheel” and more about providing a “unique experience and adding value.”
Seeqa is not only about combining various sources of content including GDS, non-gds and FCM’S own content on to one platform, but also about trying to make better use of traveller and company data,” he says.
Eklund believes the industry is poor at using the information it has available such as who the traveller is, their preferences, their company preferences and what peers are booking, and should use it better to make direct recommendations.
A further interesting element of Seeqa is the integration of FCM’S artificial chatbot application, Sam, which acts as an on-trip assistant and has been learning and evolving since its launch two years ago. Its roadmap for 2018 includes traveller tracking via GPS, a version of Sam for travel managers and development of a Sam community for the sharing of information and travel tips. There’s also talk of bringing Sam onto additional platforms such as Wechat.
One thing that stands out in the FCM developments is the talk of using data. It’s not a new discussion but particularly pertinent for the SME market which is always looking for a better price and is often hard to keep in policy.
The human touch Mobile penetration makes it easier to keep in touch with travellers and some sort of hybrid of automation and human touch is where the consensus currently seems to lie.
One US start-up, Upside, aimed at travellers from SMES, believes the DIY business travel market is under-served and in desperate need of innovation. The company recently announced a deal with the Wall Street Journal to help readers with their business travel. What’s interesting is that the deal includes consultants who are on hand to assist 24 hours a day via a variety of channels to help where needed.
A white paper from Advantage Travel Management confirms this approach in terms of the ongoing need for human interaction. This is supported by recent research from Travelport around UK millennials which reveals that this age group seems to want a blended approach with 42% saying they get frustrated when they can’t access human consultants during the booking process (see page 36).
The need for travellers to be able to get in touch with consultants during a trip is also important and part of Travelport’s Trip Assist mobile product is push-to-call
reception held in the exhibition zone, offering a chance to meet with influential industry colleagues as the day closes. As well as conference sessions, there is an exhibition featuring up to 60 top travel and meetings companies for delegates to meet and network with during the event. What's more, the whole conference and exhibition area are integrated in one openplan area thanks to the use of silent conference technology that proved so popular at last year's event.
Conference programme The full TBTC event programme will be available online soon and featured in the next issue of The Business Travel Magazine whose editorial team is curating the combination of sessions based on delegate feedback.
If you are a travel manager and your business has implemented an interesting change to its travel and meetings programme and you would like to share your experiences on stage at TBTC with other delegates attending, please contact Andy Hoskins, Editor of The Business Travel Magazine. Call 020 8649 7233 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Suppliers interested in participating should call Kirsty Hicks on 020 8649 7233.