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Paris - Business Travel News here in October at
the Association of Corporate Travel Executives global conference conducted a
roundtable discussion with three European travel buyers to explore how social
media and mobile technologies impact managed travel and the latest developments
in online booking—including persistent frustrations around booking rail
tickets—and expense management. Moderated by BTN contributing editor Amon Cohen and director of research and
media strategy David Meyer, the conversation included Capgemini global travel
manager for travel and events Cyriaque
Benoist, Pfizer travel manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa Kate Dolman and Accenture director of
global operations Margaret McGrath.
An edited transcript follows.
BTN: How much demand
is there from your travelers for you to provide social media and mobile tools?
We have created a pilot with [mobile technology firm] conTgo. We are testing
what the value would be of pushing information to travelers. As an example, we
have negotiated local taxi agreements in Norway. If you arrive at Oslo Airport,
you will receive an SMS giving you the number of the cab firm to dial, which
means you are benefitting from agreements negotiated locally. We have measured
it and found we are getting a €5 to €10 improvement per trip, so we are giving
better service to the traveler and at the same time creating more compliance.
There is strong demand for this added-value information during
the trip. Once travelers have arrived at their hotel, we can send them an SMS
saying: "Just remember the negotiated price is this one, breakfast and
Wi-Fi are included, and you can compare it with the rate on the invoice at
check-out very easily." We are getting very good returns from this type of
BTN: We hear about
all sorts of sophisticated new apps, whereas conTgo is, for this function at
least, simply a text message service. Do you think that is all that is needed?
Benoist: I think
it is a very good step. What is important is that you are creating a link
personally with your supplier. You don't need to be very sophisticated, you
need to be efficient and timely—before check-out, not two hours later. When you
are real-time, personal and simple, that is a very good proposition.
BTN: What about your
travelers, Margaret? Is there much demand to provide mobile services or social
I wouldn't say there is high demand for it, but we do have an internal social
media site and a lot of dialoguing takes place. I don't think we have been able
to really exploit what that might mean, so right now it's more that early
evolution. We're not using it proactively.
BTN: Is it something
you are researching?
McGrath: We are
interested to understand how we can use it in a more dynamic way, and we are
working with others on this. We are talking to our travel management company
and we are talking to our online booking tool suppliers. We are also talking
with our own chief information officer's team, so we are in that very early
stage of understanding the capability and how we could use it so that it is
relevant and worth people's time. There are so many things going on that it is
hard to know sometimes how not to overwhelm people. Keep it simple.
BTN: What is the
internal system you are using?
Kate Dolman: We
are in a very similar situation. We're really aware that we need to have
policies around contacting people because they get so much information from a
wide range of sources. We need to think about the relevancy of what we are
putting out, and the wallpaper effect, because if you are constantly putting
through information in that medium then it can become just another offer for a
hotel. But if you get hold of travelers in emergency situations where we would
be quite worried about them, that is probably a worthwhile focus.
thing I find very interesting is how much information about their personal
lives people are prepared to put on social media sites, yet you cannot get them
to fill in a profile. It's crazy.
BTN: Do you have a
sense of how many of your travelers have smartphones or tablet devices?
McGrath: Yes, I
would say that.
BTN: Presumably they
must be using lots of apps and mobile sites independently. Does that create a
problem for you?
Dolman: In terms
of compliance, I'm sure anything that is easy for them to use in their personal
lives and will transfer to their working lives will have a knock-on effect on
the compliance of our booking channels. Generally, I think we have other
mechanisms in place to capture the big stuff, but it would be categories like
hotels where there would possibly be a hitch.
BTN: Is there some
way of addressing that further down the management chain, to gather the data or
find out where employees have been going, even if they have been using
independent channels to book?
systems. That is the most effective method we have at the moment. Everything
has to go through our payment system, so we can see how they booked and whether
they booked out of policy.
BTN: Do you use that
method to match up data?
Dolman: We are
introducing Concur's integrated travel and expense management system. That's
end-to-end and is going to give us greater visibility.
Benoist: One way
also could be to create a selection of the apps you are validating. Travel
agencies are starting to do that. Carlson Wagonlit Travel is promoting a
selection of relevant apps, and I think internally we should promote our own
selection. We could promote it through our intranet or electronic newsletters,
making clear which apps are permitted.
BTN: Could you tell
travelers which apps they are not allowed to use, like those in which users
reveal their location to others, or ban the use of social networking apps for
the purposes of commenting on suppliers?
could do that, but how would you control it?
would you want to go down that path? People are going to find them. In the
best-case scenario, you build a managed travel program which makes sense, is
simple and provides additional value, such as an expense tool that simplifies
travelers' lives. It's about being smart, honest and building your program
where travelers see value. People use hundreds of apps, and there's just no way
you can stop them.
BTN: It's an
interesting point that you may want to make your own program more attractive
than the external alternatives, but sometimes that must be very hard. For
example, Eurostar has launched an app through which you can get a mobile
boarding pass, but that service is not yet available through the TMCs. It must
create great temptation for your travelers to book Eurostar independently
McGrath: We faced
that in France, because when [French national railway company] SNCF set up
e-ticketing, the capability in our online booking tool was not there. The TMC
followed behind and was able to do it, but the booking tool could not, and that
was a big challenge. You have to face those situations, which means working
with your suppliers. If travelers have to deal with the paper version of a
ticket or go to a kiosk, then you have to provide some other added value to
keep them in the program.
Dolman: The other
conundrum is that if you go out and say "nobody do this," and they didn't
know about it in the first place, they might think about doing it.
Benoist: We are
clearly moving from a situation where we are imposing things on travelers to
where we are influencing them, so you need to be able to sell your approach and
convince them. There will be a fight between us as a company and the supplier,
because we are all reaching for the same target, which is the traveler. The
traveler will be between, and we will need to be the biggest influence.
McGrath: You have
to be very smart at marketing. You also need to demand support from the
supplier. Take the American Express card, for example. I am sure that any
company which uses it experiences the constant complaint of why is it not
accepted more widely, so Amex has brought out an app that will use geo-coding
to tell travelers, wherever they are, the nearest restaurant or supermarket
that takes the card.
Benoist: That is
a good example of how to convince people who, for example, say Amex does not
have good acceptance. If you provide the locations, you can say, "I
guarantee that in every city in Europe you will find a restaurant that accepts
Amex." You are using technology as a new selling point.
BTN: Do you feel
expense management systems are becoming more responsive to your needs in
Benoist: We are
seeing progress. We have adopted a strategy of full integration of our booking
tool with our expense reporting tool. We, too, have chosen Concur and we will
deploy it in the United States and all countries in Europe.
BTN: Do you think the
concept of integrated booking and expense management works as well in Europe as
in North America?
because it is important to us to have one single point for the user so they can
manage all of the chain from the booking at the beginning to the expense. If
you are able to do that from one point, it is very user-friendly.
another value-add. You talked about leakage and why people would want to commit
to the managed program. To be able to have that complete end-to-end simplifies
life even further. We don't have the opportunity to do that today, but we see
the value for sure.
BTN: Cyriaque, why
Concur as opposed to KDS or some other integrated solution?
offered us key functionality, especially for the U.S. market, which is our
number one country for travel spend. We have KDS in France.
specifically on online booking, do you continue to improve adoption within your
companies, or have you reached a plateau?
Benoist: There is
a plateau because there is not yet a tool in the market to deal with complex
trips, although this may become the case two or three years from now. With
complex trips there remains a strong added value from the TMC, because if you
have spent 15 years practicing your craft, you are very well-suited to deliver
BTN: But do you think
the definition of a complex trip might have changed? Perhaps in the past you
would have booked only point-to-point trips on an online booking tool.
Benoist: For me, "simple"
means point-to-point and "complex" is all the other ones. The split
in most companies is around 70 percent simple and 30 percent complex.
BTN: What sort of
adoption rate do you have for point-to-point?
Benoist: In most
regions we are close to 90 percent, which is a plateau because there is a good
reason why the other 10 percent are exceptions.
Dolman: We do the
same thing, asking people to go online for simple bookings, and we are getting
good adoption. If people do go outside the guidelines and book multi-sector
trips—which they can do—we have a safety net where the agency will check the
reservation to see if they can make any savings. There are markets that I think
could be doing better, for whatever reasons, such as culture.
We introduced it in Egypt, for example, and [the adoption
percentage] shot straight up to the high 60s, but then it proved to be like a
Christmas toy: Everyone had their fun, and after that, the percentage went down
quite a lot. The ability is there, and the type of travel is there. It's all
waiting to take off, but culturally we have more administrative staff in that
market than other markets.
McGrath: We are
seeing people wanting to do more online. It's more about managing expectations
of what the tool can do. We put out messaging to call the agency for very
complex trips of four or five segments, but we still have people looking to do
that [themselves], so, like Kate, we have the secondary check, depending on the
number of segments and the price. It's a question of finding a balance. In the
early days, allowing only point-to-point became a limitation, so we don't
discourage people like that anymore.
As far as adoption rates are concerned, we have some fairly
high rates, but I would not say we have plateaued. We believe more could be
done, and we are still implementing in some markets.
BTN: Where do you see
the potential for improvement?
McGrath: There is
still an opportunity to do better among very senior executives and the
executive assistants who support them. On the question of touchless bookings,
we have done very well, but there remains a need for education.
BTN: What prevents
fulfillment from being touchless?
Sometimes there is a very genuine reason why it needs to be touched on the back
end. The airlines are doing some interesting things right now that are causing
touches, but we are still also seeing people doing silly things, like calling
the agent to say they have made a booking and asking if it has been confirmed.
We do a lot of analysis of cause of touch, and there is definitely capacity for
BTN: What about
content? Do you have everything you want in your online booking tools in
Dolman: Not rail.
It's unfathomable, really. Essentially, it should be the same as the airlines:
global distribution system access and Billing and Settlement Plan payment, and
yet it doesn't even seem to be on the horizon.
BTN: Not even for
domestic rail journeys?
Dolman: It's fine
for U.K. domestic rail, but as soon as a U.K. traveler tries to book rail
across the Channel, they have to go on the phone. You can't do it online.
BTN: Who do you use
to book U.K. rail?
Dolman: We are
moving to a specialist rail supplier, Thetrainline. Before that, we let people
do what they liked. It is only now that we are identifying the spend. A rail
booking tool will give people a chance to book further in advance and therefore
find cheaper fares. Many people were doing it on Thetrainline's consumer
website anyway, so this is a way of helping them.
BTN: Last year, some
booking tool providers told us that they were going to have lots of rail
content by this point, but you're not seeing it?
have uncovered things that they didn't anticipate and it has put back a lot of
the new content. SilverRail's objective is to become the conduit that will
manage the rail environment and replicate what we experience today in the GDS
in terms of the way we buy air and the ability to compare multiple options.
That has been a real challenge because the suppliers have all been doing their
own thing. They don't want to talk to the GDSs. Now their need is changing
because of the way Europe is opening up, and they are looking at their ability
to cross-sell. It will be very interesting to see what happens.
BTN: Do you have some
McGrath: Muted optimism,
Dolman: There is
an issue over all the rail companies producing different ticketing systems. To
do a journey across Europe, you end up not just with different tickets but with
BTN: What percentage
of your rail bookings across Europe do you estimate are made online?
Benoist: I would
estimate 40 percent of our rail bookings are online, taking an average across
Europe. Until now we have used different booking tools in different European
markets. In France, we book through KDS, and we use Cytric in Germany. Each
time, there is an optimized situation. It is more difficult if you are using
the same booking tool globally.
BTN: Has that helped
you achieve lower average fares?
McGrath: For us,
rail has very high adoption if we are buying domestically. The challenge, as
Kate said, is trying to buy across borders. In France, Belgium, the Netherlands
and Luxembourg, our rail adoption is about 70 percent.
BTN: Using which
McGrath: We use
GetThere. We used to have a best-in-market strategy, and we had very high rail
adoption with KDS, which we were using in Europe. We did see a big drop when we
moved to GetThere but we have slowly been able to bring it back up. We did a
lot of development work with the new supplier. It's very high in the Nordics.
That's one of the global exceptions where we don't use GetThere, so we can get
Swedish Rail there. In Germany we have very high adoption, but it's a direct
connection to Deutsche Bahn. Similarly, in the U.K. we are with Thetrainline.
BTN: Is there
anything else you want to say about online booking?
Benoist: I see
some interest in whether a platform like [online hotel booking agency] HRS
would add value compared with the general booking tool. It would be good to
have integration of both. That is not so easy, but it is certainly something
that would be worth providing. For air, general booking tools are very good.
They find you the best fares. But hotels are so complex that I can see the
advantage of using another platform like HRS.
BTN: Why? Because
they have more content?
That is the question for me.
BTN: Is this becoming
more of an issue?
Benoist: I think
so. I am hearing in France and the rest of Europe of companies that are fed up
with running a big hotel program, so they say they will leave it to HRS. That
is a trend.
BTN: Kate and
Margaret, are you happy with your levels of online hotel adoption?
Dolman: It could
always be higher. Air works so well online. We measure adoption just on air.
Hotel does tend to be the one that is a problem. People behave differently.
They book their air, and then you want them to book their hotel in the same
way, but they don't. They feel like the big decision has been made, so you tend
to lose them.
McGrath: We are
not looking at a specialized hotel tool. I recognize the added value, but I don't
want the fragmentation. We need to be pushing the suppliers more. I think there
will be more coming in this area soon.
BTN: Moving to a
different subject, do any of you use technology to consolidate your data from
Benoist: I am
trying to select a provider to provide one single entry point.
BTN: Tell us why this
move is important to you and which types of data you want to integrate.
Benoist: We still
use multiple travel agencies, so it is to create one single point for them and
incorporate coverage from the credit card. I would also like to have a
match-back to compare data between the agency and the credit card, so I need a
third party to do that. And last but not least, I want a user-friendly,
web-based tool to share data.
BTN: Could you ask
one of your TMCs or your card company to consolidate on your behalf, or do you
feel you need an independent aggregator?
Benoist: It is
very important to go with an independent company that specializes in data
checking and data matching.
McGrath: We have
been talking about integrating our card data with our agency data. It's a
combined effort between the travel management company and our own CIO team, so
we are using some of our internal resources to work with the agency to design
something that would give us very robust reporting. Historically, when we had
more than one agency, we had one of them combine data from the others, and it
was not a good solution. We invested a lot of time in how the data would be
mapped to give us a consistent view, and it was very challenging, so a
third-party expert might be a good solution.
Dolman: We had
challenges. We worked with two agents. I can definitely see the benefit of
going down the independent route. But the area of information we are looking at
is so broad. We are not just looking at the agency data. We are analyzing the
cost of the whole trip, so it pulls in things like taxi journeys and food. We
focus very heavily on air spend, yet it's phenomenal what we spend on food, so
it will be very useful to see a complete picture of T&E spend. Hopefully we
are going to get that with the new combined booking and expense management
originally appeared in the Dec. 12, 2011, edition of Business Travel News.
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