American Express and Carlson Wagonlit, the two biggest travel management companies in the business, agree on one thing: Mobile applications are the way corporate travel is going to be managed in the near future. Not just any mobile apps, either, but a suite of apps selected to make compliance with travel policy the easiest choice.
Where the two travel management companies differ is in how they plan to get there.
Amex is using app technology to push compliance on the front end, through approvals prior to purchase. “The best way to catch a traveler making a wrong decision is before they spend the money,” said Pedro Paredes, vice president of client solutions for American Express.
“We have tools, not necessarily through a mobile application, to help travelers as they buy,” he said. “Mobility comes in while you’re traveling, a message telling you to take the yellow cabs in Mexico rather than the green cabs, or to take the shuttle to the office rather than a car.”
American Express's Pre-Trip Auditor lets travel managers approve purchases in advance. A mobile module can push traveler itineraries and approval requests to managers’ mobile devices for faster response. And once travelers are on the road, mobileXtend lets managers text message reminders and advisories anywhere in the world.
A suite of apps
Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) is approaching the issue of compliance differently. The company is pushing CWT Market, a suite of two dozen travel-related apps, to entice travelers to make the right choices to stay within policy. At the same time, CWT To Go gives travelers mobile access to itineraries and business travel agents, and lets managers message travelers directly.
“Travelers are going out on their own to collect the tools they think they need, especially if the company isn’t driving things,” said Brandon Balcom, CWT director of program engineering. “We want to give travelers the tools they need to manage their travel more effectively and improve their travel experience.
“If I have a better experience when I book in compliance, compliance improves. Travel becomes better both for the company and for the end user simultaneously,” he added. “In today’s world, company goals and traveler goals can move apart very quickly.”
Playing catch up
Both TMCs are trying to solve the same problem: Business travelers are plunging into the mobile world, while travel managers scramble to catch up.
Balcom said CWT calls it “app madness.” Some travel managers are so far behind they don’t even know where to begin.
“A lot of travel managers don’t know where to get started in the mobile application space,” he explained. “How do they point their travelers to the right tools? How do they ensure that their travelers are competent in the company program? CWT Market helps travel managers who don’t know where to turn. It helps deliver that comfort and gives travelers a wide base of tools that everyone knows will support the corporate travel program.”
Coming up: a single platform
CWT and Amex both envision a single platform that travelers can use to source a variety of apps that travel managers know and accept. If travelers can be trained to start with company-approved apps, travel managers can create policy that is built around those apps. The longer term goal is to help companies customize apps and app platforms to enhance compliance and travel productivity.
“Suppliers are getting tricky,” Paredes said. “Four or five years ago, the price of an air ticket was what you paid. With baggage fees and upgrade fees and all the other ancillaries, suppliers are trying to get directly into travelers’ pockets and eliminate the middle man, the travel manager.
“Anything that will make the traveler’s life easier and also help drive consistency between what the traveler needs to be most productive and what the company needs to save money is where the app world is headed.”
Standardization is coming, Paredes predicted. Just as companies have made Microsoft Office a standard for creating, using, and sharing business documents, expect particular apps to become the norm for specific travel-related tasks. But it’s not going to happen next week. Apps are a tool, not a goal.
“Not every traveler uses apps,” Balcom said, “especially those now-and-again travelers who don’t use smart phones or just got one and aren’t entirely comfortable with downloading apps. We have to remember that technology is not always an enabler. There is still that segment of the population that sees things as more confusing and more difficult if you give them more technology. Apps are just another way to do business.”