LOS ANGELES – As the 2014 Global Business Travel Association conference got underway here this week, one theme that surfaced was the concept of disruption.
This is not the usual disruption in travel – the unplanned events, such as acts of God, that upend a traveler’s trip, requiring quick thinking by travel agents to provide alternate travel arrangements or ensure an employee’s safety.
Disruption has taken on a different meaning – that of small upstarts moving into suppliers’ spaces and, through the use of new technology, offering better deals all around, usually to the end user.
Traditional suppliers and intermediaries are being supplanted, if slowly, by such companies as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, whose mobile apps offer new ways to book meeting space, hotel rooms, unused inventory, and ground transport, while bypassing the middle man.
Their entry has facilitated the rapid rise of open (or rogue) bookings. For travel management companies, it’s a trend that threatens to upend once-ironclad relationships and commission structures.
But open booking is here to stay, as the temptations for business travelers are numerous and growing. Some companies are embracing the new landscape, and figuring out a way to cut TMCs in.
Concur enters sharing economy
Concur, a leading provider of spend management solutions and services, this week announced partnerships with Airbnb and Uber, in an effort to embrace the emerging business travel customer while streamlining expenses via a connected platform.
“With Airbnb and Uber, we are enabling in business travel what consumers already enjoy about collaborative consumption in their leisure,” said Concur executive vice president Tim MacDonald.
“Capturing this spend then gives companies greater real-time transparency into traveler expenditure and itineraries.”
To accommodate the growing number of business travelers seeking cost-effective nontraditional accommodations, Airbnb will release in coming months an integration through Concur TripLink that will allow employers to see into each booking.
Similarly, Uber’s integration with Concur will let business travelers use their mobile phones to request, ride, pay, and automatically expense Uber transportation, while letting employers gain immediate visibility into the spend.
Amex gets onboard
American Express is partnering with Concur and Uber to enable its U.S.-based corporate card clients to automatically enroll employees and capture Uber receipts within Concur.
“Disrupters are a good thing,” said Bill Glenn, president and CEO of American Express Global Business Travel in keynote remarks at GBTA’s convention. “Airbnb, Lyft – these inventions and innovations create more opportunity for us, and new business models are a good thing.”
“These new complexities are what get me and the 14,000 people I work with out of bed every day and ready to go to work,” he said.
Yapta tools for TMCs
Uber and Airbnb aren’t the only disrupters that are offering ways for TMCs to play a role in an open booking arena.
Yapta, well known to budget travelers as the app that lets you watch the movement of airline fares and snag the best deal inside that volatility, is touting its new FareIQ and RoomIQ as tools TMCs can use to watch pricing and get alerts when savings opportunities show themselves.
The tracking, which runs from time of ticketing to day of departure, can make simple bookings a bit more complicated, but cal also provide unexpected savings.
Another recent startup, Roomer, seeks to make its fortune by locating nonrefundable room cancellations and reselling them to travelers.
Targeting what it claims amounts to $8.6 billion in paid-for but unused hotel inventory, the company works with end users and travel managers to locate this inventory and resell it at a discount.
Other disrupters are cutting TMCs out of the picture – at least for now.
A San Francisco startup called LiquidSpace finds meeting space on short notice for small gatherings through a database of hotel partners. The space is available at hourly rates that are often 50% less than what a TMC might pay for a day or half-day of use – and without the usual gratuity add-on.
The catch? The bookings are off the grid, and the commission that would go to the TMC goes to LiquidSpace.
“It’s really an app for the business travelers themselves,” said LiquidSpace “enterprise wizard” Eric Zellhart.
“It’s about saving time and knowing you are getting the best deal – a convenience really, but one that could be useful to travel managers who do not have the hour to spend on collecting the information and then negotiating.”