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Just when it seemed like small and midsize enterprises were getting some love from the market with "pre-travel management" tools, larger clients look to be moving in on the goods. Shep, a browser extension originally positioned as a travel management "lite" tool that accommodates simple price-based policy, is finding a niche in the enterprise market with companies looking to solve managed program leakage, the startup's CEO, Daniel Senyard, told BTN.
While leakage is troubling in terms of realizing negotiated rates and compliance to preferred partners, those elements aren't the real problem, he said. "The real problem is not having the duty of care data. If our browser extension facilitates savings, compliance and duty of care, then it's not such a bad thing."
Wait. Did someone say Shep was a bad thing? Actually, yes, Senyard admitted, especially for established programs.
Plenty of corporates and travel management companies are reticent to open booking options for corporate travel up to nonpreferred channels, and that's exactly what Shep's browser extension does. In a Chrome desktop environment, Shep recognizes when a traveler initiates a hotel or flight search on a consumer travel site and pops up a window that guides the user through the booking with defined pricing parameters, captures the data and sends it either to the corporate client or to a TMC for reporting.
The concept challenges buyers lest travelers previously coerced into using preferred channels flee en masse to consumer sites. "But it's happening whether travel managers want to allow it or not. A growing number of travelers are going outside the program," said Senyard. "You might as well manage it." Some TMCs, on the other hand, don't want to introduce the option, he said, because it means "that all this time up to now there has been a gaping hole in the program."
Not everyone is averse to the idea, however. Shep has partnered with Flight Centre to pass off-channel booking data back, shoring up blind spots for mutual clients. Senyard said a large corporate client is piloting the solution in a managed environment. Within two years, the company wants to move all bookings through the channel to allow employees the freedom to book where they want. That client wants all the data passed back to its TMC to manage, which could include rebooking these itineraries. "Some TMCs will do it as a big customer service. Some won't," said Senyard.
"Realistically, we will be doing a lot of direct selling" to large enterprises, said Senyard, who also envisions a lot of collaboration with TMCs. "We are looking to position Shep almost like travel data insurance. You know [external booking] is inevitable, and you need the data to look after your travelers. You also want the data for [negotiating]. These are good reasons that don't include throwing out the traditional booking tool."
Shep isn't the only company to go down this road—or, perhaps, climb up this hill. Asked why he thought his company would succeed in the same open booking or off-channel space that seemingly has proved slow going for Concur TripLink and Traxo, Senyard reframed the question. "We all have limitations. Where all these companies are right now—people see us as competitors, but we can actually work together. We have a client that uses Shep on the front end to guide behavior and [has] TripLink bringing in the data. We have another company piloting this month that is similarly using Traxo to capture the data. All these companies have a place," he argued, "and if you can find tools that complement each other, that is the way the world is moving in terms of building the right solutions."
Over the next two quarters, Shep aims to get existing enterprise clients up and running and to refine the product to work seamlessly in those ecosystems. Senyard said it took a while to become compliant with Europe's General Data Protection Regulation and the team is working to address limitations like static policies and the fact that it operates only in the Chrome browser. While the company will continue to provide a product to small and midsize pre-travel management customers, the sales and marketing push is shifting to enterprise.
"For the SME market, travel management is a nice-to-have,” said Senyard. "We want those clients, but we also want to find buyers who want to be a part of the next wave of innovation. We want to find those travel managers at the front of the pack looking to solve problems and not just hammering compliance."
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