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A new ground transportation reservations platform has drawn interest from travel managers looking for a more comprehensive solution and pricing competition. Founded in late 2005 by U.K.-based limo company Burgundy Global Group, GroundScope this year began marketing its system to corporations.
Ground transportation services--limousines and other chauffeured sedan services, but not car rental--generally account for just a few percentage points of total T&E expenditures. But some travel program managers are seeking ways to better manage those high-touch services and reduce the base rates charged by suppliers. One potential avenue is helping those suppliers lower their costs by using more efficient technology that seamlessly links to global distribution systems and other travel management processes.
"The services, technology and platform are all important pieces that are finally starting to come around," said Cynthia Shumate, director of travel services for Estee Lauder Companies. "The car services industry has not yet completely understood its potential to manage and cut costs on its end."
"A complete solution is long overdue to appropriately handle limo, stage rates, tolls, parking, etc.," added Pfizer director of global travel and meetings services Phil Dunphy. "It is just not there yet. We have workarounds, but no one has provided one total solution."
According to managing director Jason Waplington, GroundScope's online booking and management platform for corporations can handle many of those elements. "The system allows firms to essentially outsource the management of ground transportation," he said. "Most corporations use multiple vendors to deliver international services, and they need to ensure that prices for similar services are the same, quality standards are being met and safety concerns and corporate travel policies are being addressed."
That GroundScope is a subsidiary of Burgundy Global raised skepticism among Burgundy's ground transportation service competitors and Ground Travel Technology Team (GT3), a better-known provider of automation and switching technology for travel management companies, corporate administrators and, more recently, corporate online booking tools.
"GroundScope is owned by Burgundy, a service provider, and that itself can be viewed as a problem," said GT3 travel services division president Gregg Tuccillo. Positioning itself as "vendor-neutral," GT3 is owned by a group of venture capital and private equity firms.
"GT3 is an independent, standalone company for a reason," said Scott Solombrino, president and CEO of Dav El Chauffeured Transportation Network. "It has maintained an arm's length relationship [with suppliers] to avoid any inference that anything improper is going on." The GroundScope development, he added, "is very suspicious and we won't be a participant. [Burgundy Global] cannot be in both spaces because there is way too much proprietary information being transmitted. There is always room for more people in the game, but not for someone with a conflict of interest."
In response, GroundScope's Waplington said the subsidiary is completely independent from Burgundy, including a separate management team. "Strict contractual terms govern our corporate relationships with our clients that ensure we operate independently," he explained. "There is no contractual or operational ambiguity between GroundScope and vendors such as Burgundy's fulfillment business."
GroundScope claimed to already have some corporate clients. Its entry into a niche market decidedly dominated by GT3 "appears to be good for competition," noted Pfizer's Dunphy, confirming that Pfizer currently is out to bid for a ground transport reservations system. Dunphy last month told The Beatthat his company would implement a "light rollout" of Rearden Commerce's ground functions. In June, Rearden announced a partnership with GT3.
"We can use the competition," added another global travel supplier manager. "GT3 charges whatever it wants."
GT3's Tuccillo countered that transaction fees charged to travel suppliers are "less than it costs them to take reservations themselves through an 800 number." Because suppliers are receiving information directly from passenger name records, he added, the data can be more accurate than telephonic reservations.
Tuccillo said GT3 offers access to 3,500 providers, many brought into the system by its corporate clients. He also suggested GroundScope has GDS capabilities "using a third-party tool and passive segments," whereas GT3 uses live segments in PNRs. In response, Waplington said certain systems in which GroundScope is investing "allow originating bookings, amendments and cancellations to be made via GDSs."
Meanwhile, GT3 recently began using an XML-based rate querying tool to retrieve rate information from supplier systems and speed the booking process. "In the corporate booking tool environment, the user has an expectation of a confirmation in 30 seconds or less, otherwise they'll be concerned," Tuccillo explained.
Large ground transportation service providers also operate their own proprietary reservations systems that link to GDSs, but Tuccillo said GT3 processes "a high percentage" of their bookings, including about 23 percent of Empire International's.
GroundScope has not widely communicated its plans, but some Burgundy Global network affiliates offered information on the system's role in ground transportation management. According to limousine services network Executive Transport Alliance's Web site, "Members use GroundScope to receive and expedite rides, and to refer on with confidence their most regular clients' overseas rides to other local members to fulfill."
"This GroundScope platform has been custom-built for the ground transportation fulfillment market and handles all of Burgundy's work worldwide," according to an online newsletter posted by Burgundy's Asia-Pacific network, BGN. "The system is Web-based, encrypted with the latest technology. It integrates seamlessly with major airline reservation systems. It allows online booking of all ground transport movements, which is followed by fully automatic routing, dispatch, notifications, invoicing, payment and reporting."
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