The 25 Most Influential Executives Of The Business Travel Industry Of 2011 - Business Travel News

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The 25 Most Influential Executives Of The Business Travel Industry Of 2011

January 24, 2012 - 03:30 PM ET

Any effort to identify a given year's most influential business travel executives always will contain an element of futility. True influence, after all, may not reveal itself immediately or in particularly dazzling fashion. Still, in a dynamic 2011, there was no shortage of people whose effect on the industry—positive or negative—demands recognition.

Generally meant to benefit their own organizations, their decisions had farther-reaching influence in a turbulent time. The industry began last year emerging from a recession but ended it with a cautious outlook. In between it experienced acquisitions, technological innovation and the continued shift to traveler-centrism. It also saw lawsuits, bankruptcies and numerous other challenges.

The 25 Most Influential Executives of 2011 is Business Travel News' 27th annual attempt to identify them. This list was determined by The BTN Group editors in December and January, following several solicitations for nominations from the industry. It is not a ranking; BTN is not measuring their relative influence against one another.

Business Travel News thanks all those who participated in creating this year's list, including everyone who pitched a nominee, participated in the vetting process or granted an interview.

Click on each individual's name to read their entry.

 

Ed Adams, Directravel

Rock Blanco, Prime Numbers Technology

Jeff Clarke, Travelport

Andrew Cosslett, InterContinental Hotels Group

Richard Crum, AirPlus International

Michelle De Costa, Sapient

Christoph Franz, Lufthansa

Sam Gilliland, Sabre

Aaron Gowell, SilverRail

Dave Hilfman, United Airlines

Steve Jobs, Apple

Ray LaHood, U.S. Department of Transportation

Mick Lee, Citi

Michael McCormick, Global Business Travel Association

John Mica, U.S. House of Representatives

Ronald Nelson, Avis Budget Group

John Pistole, U.S. Transportation Security Administration

Lee Preston, Illinois Circuit Court

Tom Ruesink, Ruesink Consulting Group

Madia Sargent, Kraft Foods

Steve Sear, Delta Air Lines

Steve Singh, Concur

Randy Smith, STR

Jeroen van Hek, ING

Michael Whitesage, Prism Group

 

 Ed Adams 

CEO  

Directravel  

He's back. Longtime travel management company owner and entrepreneur Ed Adams last year engineered investments by private equity firm Silver Oak Services Partners in Directravel and Corporate Travel Services. In doing so, Adams and his money men began recreating the rollup concept that he in another life implemented to build Navigant International, which Carlson Wagonlit Travel bought in 2006.

He instantly became the buyer to watch in travel management company M&A. Adams last year said that he aims to combine several midmarket corporate travel agencies into a $1.5 billion travel management company.

During an interview this month, Adams said that even as he fishes for new acquisitions—and some already are on a hook—he also is focused on implementation. "It's great to buy them, but then you have to integrate them and look for that best-practice approach and the standardization," he said. Discussions about how to bring together the first two acquisitions are just beginning. Adams said he is looking to have common reporting and mid-office systems, but the company will not attempt to standardize on one global distribution system.

To help in the effort, Adams just before the new year hired former Navigant and CWT tech exec Darryl Hoover to serve as CIO of the company, which for now is using the Directravel moniker. Also once a member of the Navigant fold, Lisa Buckner continues in her role running operations at CTS. Longtime Directravel executive Pat Fragale runs operations there. Adams referred to the two operational leaders as handling the Midwest and East, respectively, implying that he plans to explore the kind of regional structure Navigant had.

— Jay Campbell 

 

Rock Blanco 

President 

Prime Numbers Technology 

In 2007, travel tech veteran Rock Blanco set out to create the world's largest travel management benchmarking database. His company, Prime Numbers Technology, through its Travel GPA brand may not have accomplished that in absolute terms, but "as an independent, third-party developer," Blanco said, "my objective was to acquire as much content as I could and get it to be reliable and dependable so that subscribers could see the value and travel smarter. I truly believe we have accomplished that."

Blanco's record of innovation during a 25-year career includes helping to develop the first-ever Web-based travel reservations application on the Sabre platform while at Aquarius Travel and designing iBank, the industry's first Web-based pre-trip and travel reporting system, which Cornerstone bought in 2000.

The latest innovation, the Travel GPA benchmarking database, encompasses 45,000 organizations, representing annualized travel expenditures of about $5 billion. Data is aggregated from travel management companies, corporations, global distribution systems, credit card companies, expense reporting systems, human resources departments, financial data feeds and other sources.

In addition to internal and external benchmarking, Travel GPA allow users to monitor, analyze and optimize airline, hotel and car rental corporate travel programs; determine best practices and savings opportunities; customize alerts to monitor traveler behavior; compare their carbon footprints to peers; and generate scorecards with rankings for 90 key travel metrics.

It goes beyond flashy dashboards. Over the years, executives at some mid-size agencies have credited Travel GPA with helping them bid for accounts against mega TMCs by equipping them with what they called the industry's best data. At the time of launch in 2007, Blanco said, "Today, about the best you can do is benchmark against your own numbers and your own accounts, and that's pretty lame."

After making significant inroads since then by attracting more than 100 agency users and striking industry partnerships, Travel GPA in 2011 had a banner year, generating a 200 percent year-over-year jump in revenue. It picked up such U.S. TMC clients as Christopherson Business Travel and began expanding outside North America by forging relationships with GlobalStar and Israel's Amsalem Global Travel Management.

In a watershed development, the company struck a deal with Travelport, which described Travel GPA's benchmarking database as "the global travel industry's largest." Travelport made available to U.S. and Canadian corporate and travel agency subscribers the benchmarking database and analytics service, noting that the system provides "the efficiencies of a common-use environment to compare, analyze, control and reduce travel spending." Blanco said the Travelport deal was "a testimonial to where we had come as a start-up and defined our credibility."

Prime Numbers Technology last year also leveraged its technology as a web service with an application programming interface through which other tech providers can bring Travel GPA content into their applications. The company also released the free iStats app, a "scaled version" of the Travel GPA report card. To date, Blanco claimed more than 3,000 installations "with no marketing effort whatsoever." The company expects to soon release additional Travel GPA components as mobile apps.

By the end of 2011, most inquiries about Travel GPA were coming directly from corporations rather than TMCs, according to Blanco. "These companies now are requiring us to pull in credit card spend, expense data, matching booked versus actual data and take the scope of Travel GPA to a whole new level," he said, noting that the company intends to focus "on predictability, where the analytics become smarter than the individuals using it, and we can look for patterns."

— David Jonas 

 

Jeff Clarke 

Chairman and Executive Chairman, respectively 

Orbitz, Travelport 

Travelport was all over the headlines in 2011. Until the summer appointment of Gordon Wilson as chief executive, Jeff Clarke served in that role alongside his position as chairman of Orbitz. In addition to a variety of product and service-related initiatives at both companies that can be credited to Clarke, Wilson, Orbitz CEO Barney Harford and their teams, it was the Orbitz-Travelport relationship itself that apparently sparked one of last year's biggest, and still ongoing, developments—the American Airlines Direct Connect-inspired conflict with global distribution system providers and travel agencies.

Many noted the irony of American in late 2010 picking on Orbitz, the formerly airline-owned online travel agency that last decade launched the first direct connect of its kind, a GDS bypass called Supplier Link. But the subsequent investment in Orbitz by Travelport, which makes most of its money from GDS bookings, led to reduced use of GDS bypass and, at least according to American, precipitated the AA-Orbitz falling out that factored into 2011's business actions, litigation and regulatory investigations. Clarke during an interview this month declined to comment due to pending litigation.

In terms of the strategies behind the tactics in today's distribution saga, one broad change that Travelport has been trying to facilitate—more than any other GDS operator—is the transfer of distribution expenses to travel agency intermediaries (and presumably their customers) from the supplier set. Clarke has framed this transformation as an effort to get users of technology to pay for that technology. Makes sense on its face, but unraveling decades of financial dependencies has proved no small task as Travelport's TMC users this month rejected the Agility package, launched in late 2011, designed to provide new value but also new cost.

Clarke declined to comment specifically on the Agility program, but the former Computer Associates and HP executive made the following general assessment: "It's a change in the business model, but it's not a radical change. I come from an industry that builds great technology and then charges for it. It's surprising that when a company like Travelport makes the decision to up our game in innovation and technology, and then to charge for it, that that makes news."

Being a major player in travel technology and management, Travelport's health as a company has influence in the market. Clarke last year intimately was involved in an "amend and extend" refinancing that delayed some of Travelport's debt obligations and, he said, allowed it to continue investing appropriately in products and services. The move diluted the share of the company that Travelport's private-equity owners maintain. Now 40 percent of the firm is owned by a changeable list of dozens of investors in a tradable security, and Travelport has new independent board members.

Also in 2011, Travelport launched its Universal Desktop agent user interface with pilot user Flight Centre of Australia, which Clarke called "the most significant new product [release] to subscribers that has been provided in the last decade."

— Jay Campbell 

 

Andrew Cosslett 

Former CEO 

InterContinental Hotels Group 

Andrew Cosslett in 2011 decided to step down as CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, ending six years of leadership that included a complete overhaul of an iconic brand to make it more palatable to business travelers and the launch from scratch of a new brand that since has emerged as one of the industry's best-rated.

Under Cosslett's watch, IHG invested about $1 billion to remake its Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express brands, a project that included removing 1,000 underperforming hotels, adding communal lobbies for travelers and improving bedding and bath amenities.

Other major chains more recently have embarked on large overhauls—Starwood Hotels & Resorts for its Sheraton brand and Carlson Hotels for Radisson, for example—but Holiday Inn's renewal already has had a palpable impact on business travel. In BTN's 2011 U.S. Hotel Chain Survey, for example, the Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express brands rose to the top of the midprice tier. They earned higher satisfaction scores among travel buyers than in 2010 while overall scores for the midprice tier declined.

Cosslett also oversaw the launch of the Hotel Indigo boutique-style brand. North American travelers surveyed by J.D. Power and Associates this year rated it the top upscale brand, besting such bigger chains as Hilton Garden Inn and Courtyard by Marriott.

IHG during Cosslett's tenure also was at the forefront of numerous hotel technology trends. It was one of the first hotel companies to develop a mobile app for booking, subsequently expanded across each brand. From 2009 to 2011, IHG's revenues derived from mobile channels increased to more than $130 million from $2.5 million, according to officials. Holiday Inn also tested technology in a few markets allowing travelers to use mobile phones as keys.

Following Cosslett's departure, several of his strategies are continuing at IHG with former CFO Richard Solomons now at the helm. Next on the agenda: a multiyear overhaul of IHG's upscale Crowne Plaza brand that will include spiffing up current properties, expanding into more gateway cities and removing hotels that fail to meet brand standards.

— Michael B. Baker 

 

Richard Crum 

President and CEO 

AirPlus International  

Sitting in the "middle of airlines changing how they distribute, price and sell, and buyers having to live with changes to policy, traveler behavior and how they were going to track costs," AirPlus International realized early last year that "even absent an ancillary fee reporting standard that a lot of groups were working to build," it could apply knowledge to devise reports that would help buyers track such spending, according to president and CEO Richard Crum. Airline data files contained "not just clues, but evidence of what each charge was for," he said.

Partnering with Concur and Continental Airlines, AirPlus was among the "party of three" that created ancillary fee spending reporting for mutual client eBay and the rest of the AirPlus client base. "It's taking the mystery away," and often used more for internal education and policies than for airline negotiations, Crum added.

Meanwhile, AirPlus at year-end introduced an advanced version of its carbon footprint tracking and offsetting option, and, in the United States, debuted purchasing card options. AirPlus also aligned with European banks in France, the Nordic region, Spain and Switzerland to launch a partnership that offers one contract, one contact and consolidated data, as well as payment products tailored for each market.  

In Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Benelux countries, AirPlus introduced a debit card as a means for customers to avoid credit card surcharges introduced by parent Lufthansa Group.

Crum said he's been talking about such fees for a "long time and didn't always get a lot of kudos from competitors who didn't like me talking about the reality that the model of merchants paying 100 percent of costs," with a large portion passed back to clients "in rebates, financial incentives and signing bonuses, is an unhealthy way to do business. We talked mostly in 2011 about Europe, but I don't think we're that far away from it being a reality in the United States."

— Mary Ann McNulty 

 

Michelle De Costa 

Global Travel Manager 

Sapient 

Business Travel News in 2011 named Michelle De Costa its Travel Manager of the Year for her work as Sapient global travel manager in "rethinking how she should communicate," proving the value of travel management and "helping pioneer the use of social media in managed travel." In addition to that recognition, De Costa's reward for previously taking a broader view of her company role as a communicator was, well, a broader role in her company as a communicator. She now blogs internally on behalf of finance, real estate and procurement as well as travel.

It is not necessarily a path other travel managers would want to take, but it illustrates how emerging technologies are shaking things up and how a travel professional might apply his or her skills to new opportunities. De Costa was not the only travel buyer to do this, but she also showed peers how social media could be harnessed to support the travel program through compliance, promotion, intelligence gathering and supplier relations.

De Costa shared these lessons and others related to corporate housing, duty of care, policy compliance and other travel management issues throughout last year during about a dozen in-person industry events, webinars and advisory board meetings. Even her boss, the vice president of global procurement and real estate, made industry appearances to discuss how the travel management function, as De Costa shaped it, interacts with his own.

— Jay Campbell 

 

Christoph Franz 

Chairman of the Executive Board/CEO 

Deutsche Lufthansa 

When BTN in October 2011 hosted a travel manager benchmarking discussion in Paris, participants took turns denouncing the Lufthansa Group of airlines for announcing payment card surcharges on bookings through travel agents. If new Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz had been in the room, he may have considered this a little unfair, given that KLM and British Airways already had made exactly the same move. However, this vignette also would have confirmed for him a bigger underlying story: Corporate clients kvetch about Lufthansa because they fear it as the most powerful beast in the airline supplier jungle.

Lufthansa exercises its strength not only through the airlines it owns (core Lufthansa plus Swiss, Austrian Airlines and Brussels Airlines), but also through its dominant role in Star Alliance and the transatlantic joint venture Atlantic Plus-Plus. In one example of this control, Lufthansa confirmed to BTN that it loads corporate fares in Europe on behalf of all Atlantic Plus-Plus carriers (also including Air Canada, United Airlines and its Continental Airlines subsidiary).

Lufthansa-owned airlines in 2011 merged many of their sales teams and Atlantic Plus-Plus added Swiss, Austrian and BMI British Midland to offer what it described as "metal-neutral corporate contracts" and "seamless combinability" on the same corporate fare.

Critics point out that Lufthansa has links with so many other airlines (a transpacific joint venture with All Nippon Airways launched in June 2011, for example) that it limits competition. They cite Lufthansa's home market, Germany, where long-standing rows over financial clawback and data disclosure clauses in the core airline's corporate contracts came under investigation by the country's competition authorities.

Lufthansa has indicated it will alter those contracts this year, and Franz gave signs after he assumed control from Wolfgang Mayrhuber in January 2011 that the group is reaching the limits of its power. Franz declared that additional acquisitions in Europe are unlikely, thus ruling out previously anticipated moves for SAS and LOT Polish Airlines. In December he agreed to sell loss-making U.K. subsidiary BMI to International Airlines Group, the holding company that includes British Airways and Iberia. Franz also has initiated cost-cutting measures and curbed route expansion after expressing concerns about weak economic conditions in Europe and costs borne by the aviation industry, including those stemming from the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme.

— Amon Cohen 

 

Sam Gilliland 

Chairman and CEO 

Sabre Holdings 

No company more aggressively fought American Airlines' Direct Connect program in 2011 than Sabre Holdings, which garnered substantial industry support, provided loads of public commentary, employed more than 100 lawyers to handle various court and regulatory challenges, inserted itself into litigation between two other parties and even altered its displays to hurt AA, prompting a slap on the wrist by the Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, no travel technology company is doing more than Sabre to support the corporate world's desire to integrate videoconferencing with travel as comparable collaboration options. Sabre is building a res system for virtual conferencing, in partnership with conferencing providers, and has joined one of their trade groups.

Given legal entanglements, Sabre chairman and CEO Sam Gilliland was more willing in an interview this month to talk about the second topic: "It is recognition that businesses have a need for people to meet, and sometimes that's face to face and sometimes that's via a conference call or a videoconference, but in any case what the travel industry really enables is the opportunity for people to communicate."

Gilliland's team also counted among their accomplishments in 2011 the issuance of the first Electronic Miscellaneous Document and other important steps toward fully enabling airline merchandizing and ancillary sales through the GDS; conversions of travel management companies including Casto Travel and USTravel from another GDS; the launch of their B2B App Store; improved integration of the TripCase mobile solution with other Sabre products, including GetThere; a new GDS profile system; and the wide proliferation of Sabre's Red desktop system.

Gilliland also represents the industry on the Secretary of Commerce's Travel and Tourism Advisory Board.

— Jay Campbell 

 

Aaron Gowell 

CEO 

SilverRail Technologies 

Even if corporate travel buyers aren't entirely familiar with SilverRail Technologies, they've most likely heard of Egencia, Orbitz for Business, GetThere and Rearden Commerce, all of which partnered with SilverRail during the past year and a half.

Through SilverRail and its growing roster of booking channels, corporations have gained new avenues to search, book and manage rail content, particularly in Europe, where demand for rail travel often exceeds availability in corporate booking channels.

When co-founder and CEO Aaron Gowell started SilverRail in 2009, the challenge was evident: "How do you build a platform that truly integrates all this rail?" he asked. "If you talk to any GDS, they'll say, 'Well, we have rail.' But if I can't see it in an air search or in someone's tool or on Expedia or through the point of sale, then something's not working. That's the guts of our reasoning and what we're trying to fix here. We're trying to make rail as easy to book as air."

Despite rail industry deregulation that opened the European market to more competition and cooperation, national rail lines weren't necessarily built for interoperability. "Rail lines were how you invaded your neighbors in Europe. You rolled your trains into their countries," said Gowell. "None of these systems were ever designed to actually work together. In fact, I think they have done everything they can to make them byzantine and as hard to interpret as possible."

That's where SilverRail came in. "We built a middleware system that reinterprets all the components of a normal rail transaction: search, ticketing, booking, fulfillment," Gowell explained. "For example, you could have two trains running into London St. Pancras rail station, and Eurostar will call St. Pancras by one code and the U.K. operator is going to call it by a different code. If the whole world runs off of different codes and there are no standards, then you can never really book anything together. For the airlines, there is a set of standards that they built; that way people can link transactions together. We essentially built a master code database for every station in the world. That allows us to do searches and link some rail providers together."

SilverRail won't disclose how many rail operators provide content through its system, but its inventory includes operators in Belgium, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

"The biggest goal is to have all of the rest of Europe on this platform by the end of 2013," Gowell said. "It will take us two years to get every single rail line in Europe done, but it will get done, and then we'll move on and focus on Asia."

Meanwhile, Gowell said SilverRail is discussing solutions with travel management companies and, potentially, global distribution systems.

— Jay Boehmer 

 

Dave Hilfman 

Senior Vice President, Worldwide Sales 

United Airlines 

In his years leading the Continental Airlines sales team, Dave Hilfman built a reputation for being candid and colorful. That reputation would come in handy when in mid-2010, as many hoped, the new United Airlines named him senior vice president of worldwide sales.

Following the official close of the United-Continental merger in October 2010, Hilfman faced the huge tasks of creating a unified sales force and reworking thousands of corporate deals. Those challenges largely were met during 2011, though he's the first to point out that much more work is needed.

"The first tough decision," he said, "was determining the structure of the new sales force, how many people around the world and the leadership in each region." The airline had to consider local regulations and labor laws, and the extent to which foreign partners would handle representation in their home markets.

"As you go through significant integration work, you have to make sure you keep everybody as focused as possible externally on clients. It's not an easy thing to do," Hilfman explained. "People are still interviewing for their jobs. You have to keep people motivated and inspired even as they are not exactly sure if they are going to be on board."

The work of assembling a worldwide sales force is "essentially accomplished," Hilfman said this month. "We're optimally staffed at this point in time." That means 850 employees spread around the globe, 20 percent fewer than pre-existing Continental plus pre-existing United.

"2011 was not an easy year," said Hilfman. "We certainly had some very interesting discussions with corporate clients. The vast majority were pleased. A small percentage were disappointed."

Evidence supporting that assertion came from BTN's Annual Airline Survey. Continental perennially had ranked at or near the top while United perennially had ranked at or near the bottom. Rated in 2011 by buyers as a single entity, the new United finished second overall.

But some corporate buyers and agency executives anecdotally have been dismayed that new contract offers or account management fell short of expectations. "We do have to make money and provide a good return for our shareholders, and part of that is how we structure all of our deals," Hilfman said. "Unfortunately, some clients won't get as lucrative a deal as they were hoping for. We want to be easy to do business with, but that doesn't mean we always say yes. When you have this size network and this many corporate clients, you may not make everyone happy. We have been very focused on doing smart deals."

The United sales team during 2011 also worked more closely with joint venture partners; Hilfman reported "significant headway in harmonizing our programs" with Air Canada and Lufthansa. But he noted that many multinational clients don't yet have JV deals and acknowledged the concerns of some corporate buyers regarding what they perceive as Lufthansa's domineering ways in Europe. "All the partners have made some changes in how we might approach our corporate pricing; some of the terms and conditions that we used to have in place might have been modified," he said. "We'll keep listening."

United last year also began adding to Continental aircraft the Economy Plus class of service—the only premium economy product in the domestic U.S. market. Hilfman said he and his team were "very involved" in the Economy Plus decision by sharing client feedback and, once the merger officially closed, analyzing United client data. "Do they like it? Are they paying for it? The numbers," Hilfman said, "proved to us that this was the right thing to do."

— David Jonas 

 

Steve Jobs 

Co-founder 

Apple  

Apple in 2001 introduced the iPod, followed by the iPhone and then the iPad, devices typically found today in travelers' pockets or carry-ons. Ironically, it was last year—the year Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died—when the impact such technologies have on travel really became evident.

That travelers can use mobile devices to book trips, check status, show boarding passes, capture receipts, complete and approve expense reports, rebook flights and convert currencies dramatically impacts productivity.

But it goes beyond all that.

In some cases, travelers are using apps that are not provided to them as part of the managed travel program, causing friction and questions about control, compliance and the meaning of the travel program. Many are taking action to keep up with always-connected travelers and to offer traveler-centric management.

The likes of Concur have adopted Jobs' attitude about marketing to enterprises—that is, if you market to travelers their employers will follow.

Plenty of travelers use mobile devices that run on the Android and BlackBerry platforms, which each adopted Apple's App Store notion. That concept in 2011 made its way into travel technology as each global distribution system provider announced or launched app store initiatives of their own. It remains to be seen whether the GDSs can harness the development capacity of a limitless number of software makers, as Apple did.

Almost every major travel technology provider now has a mobile strategy, if not apps, in the market.

According to biographer Walter Isaacson's book, Jobs "knew that the best way to create value in the 21st century was to connect creativity with technology, so he built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering. They developed not merely modest product advances based on focus groups, but whole new devices and services that consumers did not yet know they needed."

— Mary Ann McNulty 

 

Ray LaHood 

Secretary 

U.S. Department of Transportation 

An increasingly vigilant U.S. Department of Transportation in 2011 continued to propose new air consumer protections and reprimand airlines and agencies for violating the growing number of regulations.

In April, Ray LaHood, serving his first—and only, he's said—term as Secretary of Transportation, announced another set of rules, requiring airlines among other things to reimburse bag fees if passengers' bags are lost, pay passengers double the previous compensation for being involuntarily bumped, avoid post-purchase fare increases and "prominently disclose" on their websites all potential fees. Set to take effect this month, the rules also will compel carriers and travel agencies to include all government taxes and fees in every advertised price and provide applicable bag-fee information "on the first screen" when offering a fare quote.

One rule that DOT proposed in 2010 but delayed several times during 2011— requiring airlines to make optional services fee data available through global distribution systems—helped frame debates around airline-GDS deals, full content, airline direct connects and related topics. DOT later proposed a controversial add-on: requiring travel agencies to disclose incentive payments from airlines, make clear which airlines they do not sell and reveal "any preferential display of individual fares or carriers" in their fare displays.

Enforcing many of the rules already on the books—including those finalized in the first two years of LaHood's tenure—DOT in 2011 doled out dozens of fines to U.S. and foreign airlines totaling millions of dollars. Penalties related to deceptive price advertising in air travel, failing to adequately disclose to consumers when flights were being operated under a codeshare deal and tarmac delay violations. Noting the very few lengthy tarmac delays reported since rules went into effect in April 2010, LaHood in June claimed, "We've accomplished our goal of virtually eliminating the number of aircraft leaving travelers stranded without access to food, water, or working lavatories for hours on end."

In August, new DOT rules expanded the ban on lengthy tarmac delay to international flights operated by both U.S. and foreign airlines.

"The Obama administration's aviation consumer protection initiatives have resulted in an unprecedented expansion in the rights of airline passengers," according to written comments provided to BTN and attributed to LaHood. "As a result, air travel today is much more convenient and hassle-free than it was just a couple of years ago."

When asked to assess airlines, airports and travel distributors in their efforts to comply with new air consumer protections, LaHood responded, "Overall compliance has been good, but we have opened a number of enforcement investigations regarding tarmac delays and whether carriers are disclosing information over the Internet as required by our rules. Those investigations are ongoing."

In other developments, DOT in October finally approved a request by Delta and US Airways to trade some of the former's take-off and landing slots at Washington Reagan National for some of the latter's at New York LaGuardia. To promote competition, DOT required the carriers to divest via auction eight pairs of daily slots at National (where JetBlue won the bidding) and 16 pairs at LaGuardia, where Canada's WestJet Airlines obtained its first slots at the airport.

— David Jonas 

 

Mick Lee 

Managing Director, Global Travel Department  

Citi 

Citi in May 2011 launched a collaborative, internal social media site for travel that provides a forum for frequent travelers, travel arrangers and travel department staff to communicate about programs and policies and share tips and experiences. The global financial services firm, which fields 60,000 travelers in 100 countries, last year also pushed travel suppliers to commit to contractual terms and conditions before bidding on its sizable business. Mick Lee played a central role in both initiatives.

The first project sprung from a larger Citi initiative, the Citi 2.0 global social network, which counts 100,000 users around the globe. Travel Insider was the first of its kind to launch within Citi 2.0. "We were in at the beginning because we wanted to be sure we were transforming the way we manage this travel program," Lee said. "Looking at travel, at duty of care, at employee empowerment, at the re-engineering effort [that Citi is planning for 2012], at where the market is and at cost-reduction opportunities, this vehicle serves all those things."

Despite initial hesitation to provide a forum for complaints, Citi opted to "embrace the reality" of social media's role in everyday life. Team members are designated to monitor activity, verify information and promptly respond as necessary. They include regional travel managers and Citi Expense Management Policy coordinators, including administrative assistants and others involved in booking or managing travel.

Lee said she has been encouraged by instances of travelers "sticking up on our behalf, protecting the reasons behind a policy or sharing their views." She has shared in various forums the experiences and results of the project with Citi's travel suppliers and travel management professionals around the industry. A relaunch in May 2012 will include several enhancements.

Meanwhile, Lee in 2011 also continued to lead a sourcing strategy that required airlines, hotels and travel management companies to agree to certain contractual components before receiving a formal RFP. The objective was to align travelers' service needs, management's cost-saving objectives and travel suppliers' goals. Key to the project was engaging Citi's legal and data privacy departments, building a global cross-disciplinary team to thoroughly plan RFPs and convening various employee councils and committees.

Citi required airlines to commit to certain conditions regarding clearance of fare basis codes and hotels to commit to certain language regarding honoring reservations, guaranteeing last-room availability and ensuring negotiated rates are accessible. Interested travel agencies were told that signing bonuses would be tied to terms and conditions and that monthly invoices would not be paid when agreed-upon service levels are not met.

This unique and aggressive approach forced the company's suppliers to think differently and earned Lee the distinction of being named by BTN as a 2011 Best Practitioner.

— David Jonas 

 

Michael McCormick 

Executive Director  

Global Business Travel Association 

When the National Business Travel Association last year officially exchanged its "N" for a "G," as in global, executive director Michael McCormick insisted the change wasn't superficial.

"This was more than a brand change," he said. "It was a philosophical change, changing the role of what we think an association does."

Backed by GBTA's staff and board of directors, McCormick has since presided over the organization's accelerated global expansion, the introduction of numerous tools and new events and an overhaul of its educational and travel buyer certification programs.

At the same time, GBTA membership has grown within the core U.S. market and elsewhere through acquisitions and organic development. The association has become a formidable presence in Europe since 2010, when it first officially planted its flag there by bringing many Paragon partner organizations under the GBTA umbrella. It also has strengthened its position in Latin America, where it recently introduced the new GBTA Brazil, and named a regional director for Asia to oversee expansion plans there, McCormick said.

In addition to creating numerous procurement and training tools—a newly globalized modular hotel request for proposal, a customized training program for Delta Air Lines' sales force and a strategic KPI resource toolkit, to name a few—the association also launched several industry-specific events. They include forums focused on travel professionals from the sports, government and energy sectors. McCormick said to expect more of those this year.

"More and more, people want to come to conventions that have products and services tailored toward their specific needs," he said.

GBTA in 2011 also dropped its previous system of professional designations and created a three-tiered educational certificate program. McCormick said the idea is to provide a travel industry equivalent to such professional designations as Certified Public Accountant, which in turn should give travel buyers more influence within their own organizations. "If you look at careers such as human resources, the head of HR in a company is usually in the C-suite, sitting at the right hand of the decision-makers," he said. "Travel deserves that same level of influence."

— Michael B. Baker 

 

John Mica 

Chairman 

House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure 

In November 2010, 18 House Democrats on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure lost elections for their congressional seats, including committee chair James Oberstar (D-Minn.). A month later, House Republicans chose Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) to replace him. That allowed Mica to help set the discourse for national debates on Federal Aviation Administration funding, the Transportation Security Administration's effectiveness and high-speed rail development.

Previously the committee's minority leader and one-time chair of the aviation subcommittee, Mica authored the last multi-year FAA authorization signed into law. That technically expired in 2007; FAA ever since has been operating on a series of extensions, the latest of which is due to expire Jan. 31. When he was installed as committee chair, Mica indicated that a top priority would be a new and "long-overdue" FAA reauthorization.

But the Senate rejected a House FAA funding bill that would have overturned a National Mediation Board rule allowing employees to form a union by a simple majority vote and included what Mica called "modest" cuts to the Essential Air Service program. "I kind of forced the issue with one of the issues with language that the Senate didn't like to try to motivate them," Mica told BTN during an interview this month. "If I have to, I'll take whatever measures we need to get it done. I would do the same thing all over again that we did before just to move things forward."

As a result, the U.S. government in July lost its authority to collect air ticket taxes (as much as $30 million each day, according to various estimates) and FAA went partially dark, which meant suspended airport construction projects and furloughed workers.

Two weeks later, Senate Democrats announced they had accepted a temporary compromise to extend FAA funding. By mid-September, Congress finalized the 22nd FAA reauthorization extension, which Mica said "must be the last."

Mica also has emphasized high-speed rail development. Throughout the year, he was among the loudest critics of the Obama administration's plans and proposed some of his own. Mica argued for funding to focus on the congested Northeast corridor by bringing in the private sector to augment what he described as Amtrak's "Soviet-style" rail service. "Amtrak can't do it themselves," he said. "They have a terrible 30-year plan that requires $117 billion that Congress would never get for them. To get it done, you need the private-sector to have a piece of the action."

In February, when Obama announced a rail plan that called for $53 billion over six years, Mica said, "This is like giving Bernie Madoff another chance at handling your investment portfolio." Under pressure from House Republicans, Obama in April cut high-speed rail funding from the fiscal 2011 budget.

In December, Mica convened committee meetings focused on high-speed rail "that confirmed the Obama initiatives had basically imploded," Mica said.

Mica also continued to hammer on TSA, demanding change. "Steam is building in Congress for TSA reform," he told BTN. "I am a strong proponent of privatization of screening. The United States is only one of a handful of countries now left that has an all-federal screening operation. TSA needs to be reformed to be an intelligence-gathering agency rather than running a behemoth federal screening bureaucracy."

— David Jonas 

 

Ronald Nelson 

Chairman and CEO 

Avis Budget Group 

Avis Budget Group chairman and CEO Ronald Nelson made this list last year for helping to thwart a major industry acquisition. He returns this year after completing one.

Like Hertz, Avis in 2011 did not succeed in its bid to acquire Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, but it did complete a $1 billion takeover of Avis Europe, putting it on equal ground with its chief competitor in terms of an ability to support global corporate programs. Completed in October, the acquisition expanded Avis Budget's portfolio of branded rental locations to about 175 countries.

Abrams Consulting Group president Neil Abrams said only Hertz could boast similar global capabilities. Enterprise does not have a significant presence outside of the United States, while Europcar controls the National and Alamo brands in Europe. Neither Europcar nor Sixt, another major European car rental supplier, has a big presence in the Americas.

"[Avis Budget] now has a global, seamless operation, and it can control and mandate all aspects of its business worldwide," Abrams said.

The acquisition also gave Avis a strong position for developing in emerging markets, particularly India, China and other Asian destinations, Abrams said. Avis Europe had controlled the brands not only in Europe but in Africa and Asia as well.

"The reality is that Avis Europe, from a geographic standpoint, controlled most of the world," Abrams said. "[Avis Budget] now can have direct access and impact on the largest growing markets in the world."

— Michael B. Baker 

 

John Pistole 

Administrator 

U.S. Transportation Security Administration 

Since the 2002 birth of the Transportation Security Administration, each change to U.S. airport security lane passenger-search protocols before 2011 left travelers with a new hassle: requirements to remove shoes, for example, or present little bottles of toiletries in a plastic bag. For several thousand American Airlines and Delta Air Lines frequent flyers willing to share some personal history, that changed in 2011 when TSA's new PreCheck program allowed them to glide through metal detectors with their shoes, belts and jackets on and their laptops and liquids bagged.

In launching PreCheck, which provides pre-screened frequent travelers access to a dedicated security lane, TSA administrator John Pistole not only deployed a program that required no congressional approval for funding but also required American and Delta to pick up the tab for reconfiguring their technology systems to accommodate new boarding pass barcodes used by participating travelers.

The idea behind PreCheck was developed shortly after TSA in July 2010 appointed as administrator Pistole, a 27-year veteran of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. "It was framed by my experience as an FBI agent, where for all those years I traveled on airlines, post-9/11 included, without going through security," Pistole said. "I would go to the exit lane, show my FBI credentials, and a law enforcement officer typically would check that and I would fly armed. I realized distinctions were already being made between those in the industry, intel, law enforcement and security communities who were being recognized as being lower-risk."

Speed was a primary driver in developing what Pistole called a "risk-based, intelligence-driven" system that differentiated between pre-screened, low-risk frequent travelers and other passengers, necessitating some trade-offs. "Some people have asked about biometrics," which is not included in PreCheck, Pistole said. "In an ideal world not constrained by budget or time, absolutely, that would be a nice enhancement. But when we looked at the cost and the time involved in putting it in place initially, I didn't want perfect to be the enemy of good."

PreCheck launched in fall 2011 at four U.S. airports with American and Delta, the first two carriers to agree to accommodate the pilot program. "I talked with the CEOs of five major carriers," Pistole said. "It came down to corporate interest, and they all did have interest, and their individual situations. For example, United and Continental are going through the merger, and their IT systems were configured in a way that did not make sense to be on the front end. It came down to issues like that." Other airlines, including United and US Airways, since have agreed to participate.

Pistole by year-end hopes to expand the program to "dozens" of U.S. airports.

— Chris Davis 

 

Lee Preston 

Judge 

Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County 

"Defendant American Airlines, Inc. is hereby ordered to reinstate Orbitz Worldwide's ability to ticket American Airlines flights." Issued June 1, 2011, that court order by Illinois Circuit Court of Cook County Judge Lee Preston immediately ended the carrier's months-long absence from Orbitz websites, including Orbitz for Business. The ordeal began in November 2010 when AA threatened to withdraw from Orbitz–a promise it delivered a month later. That set off months of legal wrangling and marked a very public step forward in AA's strategy to deploy a direct connection for travel distributors.

Preston also signed a December 2010 court decision denying an injunction by Travelport that would have stopped AA from inhibiting ticketing through Orbitz.

Only after Travelport challenged that earlier ruling did Preston and the court conclude "that it had erred," according to court documents. That reversal was a blow to AA, which had released ads attacking Orbitz for not offering the carrier's fares.

Between the December 2010 and June 2011 orders, there was much uncertainty for the airline, for Orbitz and for the Orbitz for Business clients seeking to book AA tickets. Those clients had to pick up the telephone to get their travelers onto AA flights. Or, perhaps they just booked away from the carrier.

AA later noted that the injunction ordering the carrier to reinstate Orbitz ticketing authority "terminated by its own terms on Sept. 1." However, the carrier last fall noted "a new interim agreement with Travelport that provides for our continued participation in Orbitz, and we do not expect that to change in the near term." Litigation, however, continues.

— Jay Boehmer 

 

Tom Ruesink 

Founder 

Ruesink Consulting Group 

If gamification in travel programs seemed like a wacky concept in 2010—when it became known that Tom Ruesink's scorecard helped Coca-Cola transform travel program compliance into a data-driven, friendly, fun and successful competition among staffers—then in 2011 it took root as a potentially transformative industry practice. Data consolidator Cornerstone Information Systems in August announced it had approached Ruesink to use his methods for its own corporate travel consulting practice, expanding beyond a traditional strength in travel agency data reporting. Coke now is adopting this model, which Cornerstone calls C3, as part of what appears to be just the beginning of what Ruesink called an "overall gamification movement."

Cornerstone is "starting to get some good traction there," said Ruesink, who quickly forged a partnership with the company after realizing his husband-and-wife consulting duo lacked the scale to effectively market the concept. Yet, Ruesink continues to ply his gamification chops, and expects shortly to be certified as an expert in the subject by Gamification Summit. He spoke at myriad industry events last year in an effort to help managed travel professionals learn about a concept that is easy to understand conceptually but hard to imagine practically if you're over 30. Gamification brings gaming concepts to processes or services; in travel management, this essentially means rewards for such good behavior as policy compliance. What rewards? Gamification proponents say it can be as simple as a badge or points in competition with peers.

But "gamification is a lot more than points and badges," Ruesink said. "The scoring was the foundation, but now it's moving toward becoming a participative experience" in which travelers truly absorb the "compliance story."

"Travelers need to be involved in that story," he said. "That's the missing element right now. Hoteliers and airlines have gotten very good at ushering travelers into their systems and creating a positive experience and compelling them to participate. But there has not yet been a real movement toward telling the story that it's not necessarily about you taking the hub carrier that will help drive the ability to negotiate down the road, and that you're an important part of it of helping the corporation move business. Everyone is focused on convenience, but it can't become 'the traveler gets to do whatever they want.' "

Ruesink said he is in conversations now with a large travel management company to make it more of a "plug-and-play experience," replete with per-transaction charges, and even has advised the U.S. federal government on the concept.

"Existing tools have been set up with a mentality that tries to 'catch the negatives' by forcing users to enter a reason why they didn't take the lowest fare or sending out an email advising them of their wrongdoing," Ruesink wrote in a blog post on Gamification.co. He thinks gamification can help address one of the top concerns for today's corporate leaders—how to connect with new generations who seek frequent, positive reinforcement.

— Jay Campbell 

 

Madia Sargent 

Global Travel, Meetings and Expense Strategy Associate Director 

Kraft Foods 

Leveraging Kraft Foods' substantial global travel volume consolidated across 72 countries, including volume from its Cadbury acquisition, global travel, meetings and expense strategy associate director Madia Sargent has noticed a new supplier response, especially from airlines and card firms. "We're on the map now where we weren't before," she said. "Kraft was sort of an unknown travel program until we were able to prove it."

Armed with "incredible visibility to data," Sargent said, "we've learned what we can consolidate globally in terms of data and what we can't. We've learned how to leverage the high-level information and not get into the minutiae."

A proponent of the travel management department reporting to information technology, as at Kraft, Sargent last year shared the benefits at various industry forums. "Information systems understands and supports innovation and technology," she said.

During the past decade, the reporting structure for travel management around the industry has shifted from human resources and legal to procurement and other areas, she noted. "I hope there is a shift [to technology] because the difference is amazing. They actually care about innovating with social media and technology; they're driving me to do it," Sargent said, noting that her boss reports to Kraft's chief information officer. "If I was finance or procurement, they're not interested in spending money. You'd have to build a business case each time you wanted to do any" social media or data integration projects.

"If you're a travel manager who doesn't have a background in technology, you're at a disadvantage," she added. "I'm constantly reading up and trying to stay ahead on what's going on in technology. It's not about the agents and how they service anymore."

Suppliers have responded to the unique reporting structure to "make us the guinea pig for stuff they're working on" for other corporate clients.

Challenged to provide a "duty-of-care nirvana" outlined by Kraft's security and travel executives, BCD Travel delivered a solution that relies on central reservation feeds to security firm International SOS and policies and messaging to "stop reservations or take action based on the security level in a country." On the back end, the solution allows Kraft to text-message instructions to travelers within an hour of any incident. Kraft extensively tested the solution last year during Japan's earthquake and tsunami and other incidents, Sargent said.

At the request of sales executives who typically don't use computers in the field, expense provider Concur is developing a phone-based expense entry system, she said.

— Mary Ann McNulty 

 

Steve Sear 

Senior Vice President of Global Sales 

Delta Air Lines 

Delta Air Lines last fall for the first time secured the top overall ranking in the Business Travel News Annual Airline Survey, setting a new pace for carriers vying for U.S. corporate business.

Recently promoted to senior vice president of global sales, Steve Sear during the past few years has overseen the Delta sales organization. He has led efforts to fully consolidate corporate contracts with joint venture partners, ease the transition for clients following the Delta-Northwest merger (deemed a success by many corporate buyers) and, more recently, spearhead new reporting for accounts.

Several buyers have heaped praise on Delta's Sky Partner Review reports, launched last summer, which they say provide more details than reports offered by competing carriers. The reports show client savings and spending beyond core airfares by quantifying the dollar values of frequent flyer upgrades, waived bag fees and elite status designations. They also detail the passenger experience, including the percentage of trips without baggage-handling complaints and the number of delays and cancellations that disrupted an organization's travelers. Delta also reports the total number of bags checked by an account's travelers and the percentage transported with and without fees, giving buyers new insight into that elusive spend category.

"Our team is listening and partnering with our corporate customers, and they are in turn providing very constructive feedback on how we can enhance and develop programs that are really targeted at the corporate travelers," Sear said.

Meanwhile, Delta and transatlantic joint venture partners Air France and KLM by the start of 2011 converted 5,000 transatlantic contracts from single-carrier agreements to joint deals, well ahead of competing joint ventures anchored in the United States by American Airlines and United Airlines.

Delta's path foreshadowed those of its competitors. United continues to integrate Continental after their merger, and executives there have not been shy about acknowledging lessons learned from Delta. At bankrupt American, sales executives are pursuing joint corporate and agency deals with British Airways and Iberia, intending to offer corporations the same types of benefits already enjoyed by Delta's transatlantic accounts.

Under Sear, Delta's corporate sales initiatives in the past year also included more staffing and training in the sales support center and more empowerment for sales managers to collaborate with clients.

Meanwhile, Delta also has invested in product enhancements, both on the ground and aboard planes. As examples, the airline in the past year launched a premium-economy product on some international flights, rolled out more flat-bed seats in long-haul markets and expanded first-class seating and added Wi-Fi on regional aircraft. Its entire mainline domestic fleet already is equipped with inflight Internet access, a first among the largest U.S. carriers.

— Jay Boehmer 

 

Steve Singh 

Chairman and CEO 

Concur 

Concur chairman and CEO Steve Singh early last year secured his eighth appearance on this list when his company acquired TripIt for cash and stock worth $86.8 million, according to the latest financial filings. Although the acquisition forced Concur to report a loss for 2011, Singh said, "We never do acquisitions where it's all about the next year. We say how can we accelerate our business or the company over the next decade."

TripIt is "a huge part" of Concur's growth plans, he said. "If I look at the next three to five years, the collection of changes you'll see happen in corporate travel will probably be defined by mobile, local, social and personalization. What I love about what we were able to accomplish in the past year is to make investments well in advance of where our industry is, but in line with where our customers are starting to take corporate travel."

At year-end, Singh estimated that "four of 16" Concur users used its mobile technologies. The company has about 15 million users of travel, expense or other services and about 4 million TripIt users. "There's crossover of some of that," he said, but TripIt's real value lies in "getting new users. It's expanding our addressable market. It was a foray into unmanaged travel."

Concur in June made its second acquisition of 2011, paying £12 million for London-based expense management provider GlobalExpense. Concur also invested $40 million for a 20 percent stake in ClearTrip Inc., an online travel service provider in India, and $5.3 million for a 37 percent stake in Yapta. Late last year, Concur also launched a new version called Concurforce for Salesforce customers. Singh said Concur Breeze, introduced in 2010 for companies with 75 or fewer employees, is a "phenomenal success. This year has been fantastic for us and we think next year will be stronger."

— Mary Ann McNulty 

 

Randy Smith 

Chairman and Co-founder 

STR 

STR in late 2010 bid adieu to the term "midprice with food and beverage." The industry quickly followed suit.

Data firm STR largely is responsible for the tier classifications travel industry professionals use to view hotels. In December 2010, when the firm announced that it was scuttling the "midprice with food and beverage" and "midprice without food and beverage" tiers in favor of the more succinct "upper midscale" and "midscale" tiers, it marked the first time in about a decade STR tweaked its tier structure.

"It's an extremely difficult process," said STR Global chairman and co-founder Randy Smith. "You would think it was straightforward, as you have data on all the chains and could rank them from high to low. But not all brands are distributed evenly—some might be more urban-oriented or located in a specific region. You also have to consider the perception of the brands."

Part of the changing nomenclature stemmed from evolving hotel models. For example, few new midprice hotels feature a full restaurant and instead offer grab-and-go or part-time eating areas. Smith said Best Western's decision to split its properties into three categories also helped enable the change. STR now can divvy up Best Western across both midscale tiers, whereas before the massive chain fell entirely within one tier, skewing the data, he said.

Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn and Best Western's Plus and Premier categories now sit in the upper midscale tier, while La Quinta, Ramada and regular Best Western hotels are in the midscale tier. A few hotels remain unhappy about their classification, which Smith said the firm is addressing this year.

— Michael B. Baker 

 

Jeroen van Hek 

Global Category Manager, T&E 

ING 

When Travel Procurement in late 2011 published a profile of Jeroen van Hek, editors at The BTN Group joked about running it beneath the headline "Van Hek of a Travel Manager." It's something his peers in the Netherlands already know about the travel chief of banking group ING. Members of Cortas, a group of 25 leading Dutch travel managers, have adopted a set of standardized definitions van Hek devised to help them benchmark with much greater consistency.

Among the terms van Hek has defined are "cost saving," "cost avoidance" and "cost reduction." According to Cortas chairman Herman Mensink, "If we have true definition of a concept such as cost savings, then we can define things like missed savings. We found members had different definitions, which made a proper benchmark impossible but now we are all singing from the same hymnbook."

Mensink added that the new definitions have provided much food for thought. "Lower spend does not necessarily amount to a saving," he said. "For example, is cross-ticketing by your travel management company a saving? It makes us much more transparent."

Although all Cortas members are reaping the benefit, van Hek started the project to improve the credibility of his reporting to ING chief financial and procurement officers. While other travel managers have debated and rejected as impractical the notion of measuring return on investment in travel, van Hek pursued a different calculation: the ROI of travel management. To achieve this, he measures total cost of ownership (such as staff costs and TMC fees) and the savings produced by those resources.

Measuring savings meant first setting fare benchmarks, something established through another ground-breaking project. According to Mensink, van Hek created the first truly global corporate deal with SkyTeam, guaranteeing a discount on every route with every member carrier. It took some gunboat diplomacy to secure it. "I had to show SkyTeam I had the ability to steer business away when the relationship was not bringing us what we were expecting," van Hek recalled.

Van Hek became a buyer with ING in 2006 and started building the company's first global program. That mission continues as he is putting considerable focus on tackling ING's meetings spend, which he believes will prove even larger than its transient travel spend. BCD Travel manages travel on behalf of ING in 35 countries, and now van Hek is outsourcing meetings to the same intermediary. He also is keen to extend the benchmarking project to "involve travel managers internationally and bring in CPOs as well."

— Amon Cohen 

 

Michael Whitesage 

President 

Prism Group 

 

Since its release in 2000, Prism's SalesServer, through which corporate clients share agency booking data so airlines can assess discount programs and monitor account performance, has defined how airlines deal with corporations.

A dozen years on and adoption among the world's airlines has not slowed. In fact, with the maturation of airline joint ventures, Prism's systems are playing as big a role as ever in helping to standardize airline contracting.

"We've tripled our account base since 2007," Prism president Michael Whitesage said this month, claiming 36 airlines or alliances now use the company's system to structure and analyze negotiated agreements. "What's remarkable is we really only have six U.S. carriers. We're very much a global system that has automated best practices for travel management and contracting."

Most of Prism's recent growth has come outside of the United States. In the past year, the company signed deals with All Nippon Airways, Cathay Pacific, Etihad Airways, Iberia, Korean Air and longtime holdout British Airways, according to vice president Les Baker.

With each new airline customer, Prism spreads not just the use of its proprietary software, but also the marketshare-based contracting model airlines increasingly favor.

Prism's global ambitions became more evident with the release last year of its Sales Information Server, the firm's next-generation, web-based system, which will replace the pre-existing server-based system while adding multilingual capabilities and other functionality targeted at international airlines. The new tool speeds the contracting process and enable airlines to tap into unprecedented levels of data, Whitesage said. It also can report data in local currencies and account for other regional preferences—kilometers or miles, for example.

Prism identified Russia's Aeroflot and Japan Airlines as early adopters, with the remainder of its client base expected to transition during the coming year-and-a-half.

Prism last year also inked a deal with transaction processing and settlement firm ARC to allow airlines to manage agency agreements much like they manage corporate contracts.

— Jay Boehmer 

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