a rash of announcements during the past fortnight, hotel payment solutions
appear to be the plat du jour in Europe. Both Sabre and Amadeus have announced
deals with Conferma, a United Kingdom-based company providing virtual card
numbers to automate and greatly simplify hotel bill-back. Meanwhile,
fast-growing French hotel portal Hotel Corporate System (known as HCorpo) last
week began distributing its content through the KDS online booking tool with
travelers paying for bookings through the centrally billed AirPlus Company
Account. At the same time, Best Western Hotels in the United Kingdom is
promoting a payment card that allows business customers to book hotel stays at
its properties and rail tickets through online reservations tool
more common in Europe than the United States, bill-back is a payment method in
which the hotel sends an invoice to the client or, more commonly, the client's
travel management company—rather than the traveler paying at check-out. Bill-back
is convenient for travelers and useful for companies that prefer not to furnish
their employees with corporate cards, but it is manually cumbersome for the
Group Consulting managing director John Melchior said he is not surprised to
see new hotel payment solutions emerging. "Bill-back has a lot to be said
for it from the customer point of view, but agents can never make money from
it," he said. "It's enormously inefficient for everyone involved, and
TMCs have become much more aware of the cost of hotel processing. The essence
of these solutions is to take a lot of the administration and credit risk out
of the system."
virtual credit cards greatly simplify the process by providing a unique
identifier to trace reservations from initial booking to invoicing to payment
and reporting. Conferma for a couple of years has worked with such card
companies as American Express and AirPlus International and now is partnering
with global distribution systems. Amadeus said it now is offering the Conferma
solution in the United Kingdom and has launched a pilot scheme in France. The
company also intends to make the product accessible via its e-Travel Management
corporate booking tool.
product director of product Brian Merry told BTN that he regards the continuing development of virtual cards as
extremely important not only as a bill-back solution, but as a wider payment
mechanism for corporate travel. "Virtual cards are an infant solution that
are building up and getting better all the time," he said. "There is
a challenge to them—to manage a VAT audit trail for the client—and we think
that role sits with the TMC. But we believe the virtual card process is the way
of the future. It will grow in use with low-cost carriers, and it also lends
itself to becoming the lodge card of tomorrow."
French, Swiss and Belgian KDS users now have the option to pay via the AirPlus
Company Account lodge card following last week's tie-up with HCorpo. Using that
process, travelers make their hotel booking via KDS and are issued a voucher to
present at the hotel when checking out. The room cost and any other items
included in the negotiated rate (such as breakfast or Internet access, for
example) already will have been paid through AirPlus, leaving the traveler at
check-out to settle only any additional items. Speaking to BTN at the KDS client conference in Paris, HCorpo president
Stéphane de Laforcade said upfront, centrally billed payment ensures companies
are charged the negotiated room rate and improves data by including such fields
as employee identification number or cost center code.
has an agreement running to June to use AirPlus as its exclusive payment
services provider. The company is aiming to enter the German and U.K. markets.
yet another approach, Best Western has launched a card to ease bill-back
administration frustrations for its 274 U.K. properties. After considering
co-branded credit cards, the hotel chain instead launched the Best Western
Business Account card powered by information technology services company Atos.
Clients can apply for individual cards for all their travelers or only for
those who book travel. Best Western Great Britain director of sales Will Helsby
noted that one client has chosen to use the account effectively as a hotel
lodge card placed with its TMC.
the HCorpo product, the Best Western Business Account covers all expenditures
guests incur at the hotel, including meetings expenses. Atos provides a similar
card for 14,000 clients of U.K. budget hotel chain Premier Inn. Atos is not a
financial services provider. Instead, it covers risk by obtaining credit
also owns Redspottedhanky, making a good fit with Best Western GB for clients
with a heavy preponderance of U.K. domestic travel, as the card enables
travelers to pay for accommodation and rail and managers to obtain data for both.