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Short's Travel Management plans next month to implement the first corporate client on a home-grown corporate booking tool designed to be simple to use and administer. Featuring detailed searching, alerts for better fares on alternate dates, in-display comparisons to average ticket price benchmarks, policy controls and flight sorts that detail the price with and without bag fees, Short's Travel Online is slated to debut for Texas state government employees. The TMC, co-headquartered in Waterloo, Iowa, and Overland Park, Kan., plans to roll out the domestic booking tool to other clients within the month, according to Short's chief executive officer David LeCompte. Other TMCs are also interested in the tool, but LeCompte said the first priority is to roll out Short's' own corporate customers. Speaking to Management.travel, LeCompte explained why the TMC decided to build its own booking tool as well as continue to offer Concur Cliqbook to clients who need additional policy controls. An excerpt follows.
Why did you decide to build your own booking tool?
A global cellular company came to us last summer to develop airline booking technology for fulfillment on a loyalty rewards program. They needed it in a tight time frame, but we put it together and ran 24,500 tickets through it. In October we started reprogramming and redeveloping the tool to include corporate travel policies for air, hotel and car. Talking to customers and non-customers as we did market research, a lot of booking tools have complexity that is just too complex. Middle-aged admin assistants can't use the tools. We think there are customers out there who are in a similar position and want easier booking tools with clever design to provide control. Obviously without a third-party fee, we are able to give a client a pretty competitive price. We're not entering the marketplace as a low-cost solution. We might actually charge for some features.
Why was the admin function important to clients?
We want our admin tool to be so easy that a CFO in a company who knows travel but not all the details can literally go in and set up all their own account travel policy controls in a matter of minutes. Obviously we can set this up for them, but our goal is to make it that simple. We created this system to onboard a client within a matter of minutes and set up this policy control. In our first iteration we have a pretty easy-to-use admin piece, but we're also re-skinning that. This is the fun thing about owning your own technology; we're re-tweaking it to make it even easier.
Which global distribution system are you using?
Right now it's interfacing with Travelport, but we're going to definitely add Sabre to the mix. With our Groople acquisition, we have some direct connects so we have some experience to apply. That's probably a next step, when prudent. Obviously there are certain carriers interested in direct connectsand we'll jump on that band wagon when appropriate. But right now, there is still parity in between the GDS and direct connect. We're still not finding enough fares outside the GDS. With Swabiz, we're currently in development with Booking Builder to bring that to the table. We've been approved on that, so probably within the next 30 days that will be available.
What other features did you add?
The majority of travelers set their meeting date, then look for flights. Maybe you should pick your flight first, find the flights that will best meet your schedule, then pick the meeting date. Talking to travelers, we realize that not all trips are flexible, but we think over 50 percent are [flexible]. Our FindIt button looks at specific flights and times, but looks on multiple days over a 14-day window. It's looking for the exact flight prior to and after departure. Some specific airlines have done something similar, but we've allowed you to search all airlines. On average we're giving you eight other days where the flights are cheaper. In preliminary results, we're finding an average maximum savings of $155 over eight different travel dates. If a corporation has 50 percent of flights where dates are flexible, do the math on that.
Explain how the competitive benchmarking component could benefit a corporation?
Part of the problem is that at the point of sale, you don't really know if your $500 fare--even if it's within policy--is lower than the average ticket price within the company. If you're not consistently booking under your average ticket price, you're never going to bring your average ticket price down which ultimately results in savings. With competitive benchmarking, [admins] can create groups of people within their organizations to benchmark and select five or six things they want to benchmark. For example, average ticket price or Y-up fares. By displaying information at the point of sale, it's basically showing them past booking history. You need something at the point of sale that says your behavior is driving up company costs and you will be noted. It's not an exception code, not a policy [violation], but says you're $183 over the average ticket price. That's more specific and actionable. We've bounced this off several travel managers and gotten mixed results; some love it, some say "I don't think our organization has the stomach for this." We're OK with that. We're not trying to be everything to everybody, but find people looking for creative ways to reduce their costs.
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