TravelSolutions by Campbell, a large travel management company in Dallas, recently saved $45,000 in 60 days on what would have been a $160,000 lodging bill, according to CEO Bill Campbell.
The reason: early adoption of tripBAM, an online service that shops for lower prices for existing hotel reservations.
The technology, which launched in 2013, shops right up until the time of a guest’s arrival, searching for better rates on the existing booking as well as at a cluster of nearby hotels. If savings are detected, tripBAM either notifies the traveler or automatically rebooks at the lower rate.
While TravelSolution’s results with tripBAM are a strong argument for a particular solution, Campbell said he sees a larger lesson for travel management companies about how to thrive in today’s competitive marketplace.
Lessons for TMCs
“The travel management community is struggling to find ways not to be ‘me too’ with their competitors. Many corporate TMCs look like one another, and are all transaction-based.
“Meanwhile, corporate clients are asking, ‘What will you do for me today that’s different from yesterday?’”
Another reason TMCs should be open to innovation? A younger corporate workforce that prefers using services and apps.
“We saw their approach as a form of gamification that would appeal to our younger travelers. The site is interactive and fun, so it becomes sticky,” Campbell said of tripBAM.
“This really creates differentiation for us,” Campbell added. “We’re typically an early adapter and pursue a market-disruptive strategy. If we can push the market in a certain way it will help us succeed.”
When tripBAM founder Steve Reynolds bounced his idea off Campbell last year, the time was right.
“This solved in a large way the growing problem of hotel attachment” (when travelers book hotels outside of policy), Campbell said.
“We were seeing hotel leakage of 30% to 40% [in travel policy compliance], and we needed to reverse that to be a valuable partner.”
With the new tool in hand, TravelSolutions, an affiliate of BCD Travel, added a few more weapons to its arsenal, including the ability to leverage tripBAM data in future negotiations with hotels and enhanced supervision of travelers.
Campbell spent six months preparing for the move to tripBAM and his firm was a beta tester for two months. For the test period, TravelSolutions set a parameter of $20 savings before travelers were notified by tripBAM of lower available rates.
“The traveler is kept in the loop by being notified of the original cluster of hotels and then notified if a relevant savings is discovered,” Campbell said.
“We then do a spot check to make sure it’s an apples-to-apples comparison. For instance, if the first rate came with free breakfast or other amenity, we would have to be sure the lower rate included the same thing.”
Early response from TravelSolutions’ customers was not all positive.
“First off, they were worried about insuring that travelers follow policy. But this actually brings them into policy.
“Besides, the hotels in the cluster can all be part of the customer’s hotel program,” Campbell said.
After a successful two-month trial period, “there has been no hesitation from beta customers in continuing,” according to Campbell.
A company-wide rollout by TravelSolutions is imminent. “We have completely integrated this into our regular processes,” said Campbell.
The TMC has a large number of home-based agents, and they have fastened onto the new technology as well. “It takes them less than 10 seconds to start using it.”
Campbell said tripBAM “really shines” in markets that are hard to predict.
“I’m going to Austin for a weekend when there’s a big sports event. We created a cluster of 10 hotels. You know that some of those will be stuck with rooms a week out, and that’s where the savings will come in.”
Help with hotel programs
At tripBAM, Reynolds said that although the original concept was targeted at consumers, the response from TMCs has been so strong that the firm has shifted its strategy.
For TMCs and their corporate clients, tripBAM doesn’t replace hotel programs, but it helps companies to focus their programs, Reynolds said.
“A company might have negotiated rates with 2,000 properties, but maybe 200 consistently have the appropriate rate, so it might be time to narrow the number of RFPs.”