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Concur NDC Bookings via GDS Continue a Slow Ramp Up

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Part 1: Concur Travel president Charlie Sultan talks…

  • Travel tech and booking tool innovation
  • What’s available and what’s missing from the new Concur Travel experience
  • The complexities of delivering global NDC through the GDS

SAP Concur Travel continues to roll the new Concur Travel
tool out to customers. BTN editorial director Elizabeth West interviewed for 5Qs
with Business Travel News Concur Travel president Charlie Sultan.  They talked about content and user experience challenges
the new tools are bridging for clients, the limitations of a booking platform in
the face of uneven NDC airline and GDS implementations per market, and also the
need for certain features which weren’t brought over in the first phase of the
rollout, but that buyers have identified as essential before than can adopt the
new experience. Below is an edited version of their conversation. The conclusion
of the interview will appear on BTN tomorrow along with the video interview in
its entirety.

BTN: Buyers continues to struggle with corporate booking tools and the
broader tech set that brings travel content together and offers the user
experience to their travelers. When you look at the travel technology
landscape, what do you like to see in terms of innovation and competition? And
does anything concern you with the direction of innovation right now?

Charlie Sultan: The pace of innovation right now is probably unparallel
to anything that we’ve seen, and I think that’ll probably make it more important
for travel buyers out there to be looking for real technology partners and
maybe that changes their criteria of what they’ve been looking for a little
bit. … At its core, the booking tool provides a place for travel managers to
administer travel policy, display discounts from preferred suppliers so that
the travelers have a place to book their business travel in compliance with
policy. The savvy companies that want to benefit from one integrated experience
figured out that putting their travel and expense together with one company
made them more productive, made the employee experience so much better.

Over time travelers have really come to expect a modern
looking user interface on both mobile and desktop, which is one of the main
changes that they’ll start seeing as they start adopting the new Concur Travel.
But there’s really obviously a lot more than just the new look. … But obviously
I think anyone who has a program that is growing that has maybe a global
footprint that has more complexity to it, understands that there’s a lot more
than just what is on the glossy surface that matters and you really need
someone who can manage the unparalleled complexity that the space is bringing.

BTN: So there’s been a lot of talk about more self-architected
solutions for travel buyers who want to take pieces of technology and put the
ecosystem together themselves. I thought you might have a comment about that and
what you see as the future of that trend.

Sultan: One of the things that we’ve done over time is we’ve
created a customer paradigm where our customers probably have the most choice
of any of the other solutions out there. So if you want to choose your own TMC,
we give you that option. If you want to choose your own GDS, you have that
option. If you want to choose from one of more than 700 partners out there who
can do different things for you, whether it’s VAT recovery, whether it’s
gamification, whether it’s messaging, we have those options. We’ve really tried
over time to listen to what our customers are asking us for and realizing that
listen, one company cannot solve all of the problems, and so we need to have
ways that people can customize their programs and grab some of the best in
class solutions without necessarily being wed to one set of TMC solutions or
one set of GDS solutions or one set of booking tool solutions.

So we’ve tried to open up as much as we can there to
partners to integrate. I’m guessing that what you’re talking about is a little
bit more, where some of the travel programs who have a lot of resources at
their disposal and really want to take on some of the bifurcation of some of
these services, they’re starting to do that. And, listen, for them that might
be a good solution to some of the problems.

Probably a lot of those programs are also reacting to some
frustration that might’ve occurred over the last 10 years as their perception
was that the ecosystem wasn’t moving fast enough and they wanted to take some
of those matters into their own hands. But for us it’s really about listening
to the customers, ensuring that each of those things that they might feel like
they need different solutions for, that they can accomplish that within our
system and still continue to retain all of the benefits of integrated travel
expense management and further on going into, as I talked about, the rapid
speed of innovation really, I think that’s really going to be one of the
biggest things that we see impacting programs going forward, and it’s going to
be a lot easier to manage that with one trusted industry leader.

BTN: Clients are now beginning to implement what everyone’s calling Concur
T2. How is that going? Are most companies making that transition? Have there
been any particular challenges emerging as they go through that process?

Sultan: New Concur Travel launched starting last October on
Sabre, mostly starting in the U.S. marketplace. Now it’s rolled out through the
UK, Ireland, Mexico, and it continues to roll out to more and more countries.
Amadeus will be coming later this quarter, and so more and more of the
countries in Europe will also start to benefit from the new Concur travel. Companies
[also] have a little bit of change management to do because [they want to]
communicate to their employees what’s changing in some of their tools… the new
content, new rail content, new hotel, the new imagery. We’ve got new direct
hotel integrations to GBTs hotel content to BCDs to CWT RoomIt, HRS, FCM. We’ve
got new UK rail content with more countries rolling out. We’ve got fantastic
new sustainability attributes. …

Obviously, [there’s] the user experience, which we touched
upon a little bit earlier. People are wanting to see a lot more imagery, a lot
more content, a lot more options on the first search. And then we are debuting
a lot of our business AI capabilities. And so overall the feedback has been
great.

BTN: Did all the features make it into the first phase of the rollout,
or are you prioritizing certain features to bring in?

Sultan: Anytime you’re rolling out new technology, you’re not
bringing everything that you had in the past available at once. So there are
some customers that have been waiting for some features that weren’t available
at launch that are coming later in this quarter. We continue to see growth
pretty much every week and the number of bookings coming through the new Concur
Travel. And once we enable a few more of those features later this quarter, we
expect to see another big jump in activity.

Hold reservation was a feature that we didn’t really see
as being that critical to bring over because a lot of the airlines have changed
their change policies [and] you can typically void a ticket within 24 hours. But
a lot of our customers came back and said that was something they were
depending on. So you’ll see that coming later this quarter or at the beginning
of next quarter. Pre-trip changes was really the big one that we also saw the
customers were asking for. And so that’s on the public roadmap for Q3, so
that’s going to be ready as well. Multi-City search was another, which
honestly, in the new experience for those that have migrated over, it is not
something they can’t use, but it’s a feature where it sort of takes you back
into the old look and feel and the old experience.

Then the matrix was something that a lot of customers
[preferred]—the matrix that kind of showed you all of the different airlines in
one little quick screen. A lot of the testing we had done indicated that wasn’t
really the cutting-edge view, but I think a lot of our customers were really
used to it, really liked it. So we’re bringing back some version of the matrix
later on this year.

Those are sort of the key things that customers were
telling us, “Hey, once you have that, I’ll be ready to move.” But then there’s
a lot of other customers who’ve been very excited to move. They wanted NDC
through the GDS, they wanted some of the better UX, they wanted some of the
hotel aggregation that’s happening. And so a lot of those customers have moved
and they’re very excited to be able to have the same experience on mobile and
desktop as well.

BTN: You mentioned the NDC component. To this point, Concur really
served most of that NDC content through Travel Fusion. Customers wanted it
through the GDS and you’ve got Sabre out now. Will Amadeus and Travelport both
be implemented with NDC by year’s end?

Sultan: Amadeus will be the next one going live, and so they’ll
be live within the next several months. And with Amadeus, obviously they’ll
have NDC content as well. They’ll have Air France and KLM in addition to the
American and the United connections that are already there. … We’re actually
trying to put together a matrix to help our customers out because not all of
the GDSs have all of the airline content in all of the markets for NDC. So as
that’s becoming available, we’re making sure to integrate it. But like you
said, we’ve had NDC content for several years now, and so now this is just a
matter of trying to make it available through the GDS for those that want it
that way. … Where the GDSs may not have the content or where the TMCs may not
be quite ready to enable it, we also have our TripLink product, which allows
the travelers to go directly to the supplier sites and save really anywhere
from $25 to $150 on some of those NDC transactions.

BTN: NDC bookings through the GDS are still vanishingly small right
now. What effect should a successful Concur T2 rollout have on GDS-powered NDC
bookings?

Sultan: To be honest, I’ve been a little bit surprised at how
slow the rollouts have been because it seems like through every step in the
process, there’s been something else to point to that is missing. And given the
vast savings, certainly with American Airlines, I think United as well [and
with] Lufthansa you sort have two factors at play, right? You have these
distribution cost charges that Lufthansa originated and it got added on by Air
France and got added on by BA and others where they’re charging 15 or 20 euros
[to book through the GDS]. So I thought that might be something that would
drive customers over, and it has driven some customers over. Then I think we
heard disproportionately from all of our TMC partners, “Hey, it’s going to be a
lot easier when this is available through the GDS.” And so we prioritize that.

We sped up our efforts to get that up and live. And I’m
still surprised at how few customers have taken up that opportunity. I do
believe that … infamous list of 160-plus things that GBT put out that they
needed fixed. And to everyone’s credit, to American’s credit, Sabre, Amadeus,
United, everyone else, they’ve been chipping away at that list. From our
perspective, we’ve demoed it, we’ve shown it, we’ve booked through it. … It
doesn’t have every single feature that the legacy EDIFACT has, but shopping,
booking some of the servicing, that’s there. I do expect to see more and more
travel managers who start looking at some of these price differentials, start
taking a bigger and bigger dip into the pool. And certainly as they start
migrating to the new Concur Travel and more and more customers move that way,
that’ll be a more seamless option for them as well.

__________________________________________________________

Look for Part 2 of BTN’s interview with Concur Travel
President Charlie Sultan tomorrow.



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Travel

Lumo Wins BTN Europe’s Innovation Faceoff

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Flight disruption management technology Lumo emerged as the judges’ top choice at the Business Travel Show Europe’s Innovation Faceoff in London on Thursday.

Lumo impressed the judging panel for having “hit our hearts with machine-learning and predictive analytics, and we loved how your brought that to reality,” Microsoft travel technology manager Steve Clagg, part of the panel of judges, said of Lumo in the presentation of the award. Beyond that, the judges said the scope of capabilities Lumo has built using those analytics made it a standout in the competition.

“A lot of companies, they go for gold in a single pointed solution,” Clagg said. “You took this capability and looked at all these different places and touchpoints in the ecosystem, from the traveler experience to supplier empowerment to TMC [enablement] to corporate program optimization, and you found ways to empower all of them.”

Among those touchpoints, Lumo’s variety of options include a browser extension that can sit above such booking tools as Concur or Cytric and show those booking travel at the point of sale the likelihood that their flight will be delayed. About 10 percent of disruptions can be avoided by making better choices at the point of sale, Lumo co-founder and CEO Bala Chandran said in his presentation. Lumo also is capable of messaging travelers when delays are likely so they can take action.

For travel managers, Lumo is capable of providing a program-wide view of how disruptions are affecting a program, Chandran said. A travel manager, for example, could identify travelers in their program who have had a particularly difficult run with disruptions and pre-emptively reach out to potentially burned-out employees, or identify particular regions or airlines that are having the most problems.

For travel management companies, Lumo has a tool that can identify if a period is coming when a significant number of clients likely will experience disruptions so they can ensure they are sufficiently staffed to properly handle it, he said. 

“Agencies don’t have sophisticated disruption management tools today, and it’s mostly reactive, Chandran said. “This is an add-on where an agent now has more information, getting them prepared for what’s coming down the pike.”

Lumo also works with airlines, helping them with strategies such as crew placement, he said.

The judging panel encouraged Lumo to continue expanding its scope, applying its analytics to areas outside of disruption, like sustainability, which Chandran said is already in the works. “You’ve got all this data and hard-core processing power applied to it,” Clagg said. “We’re excited to see how you can grow and expand use of your analytics.”

That would be a continuation of Lumo’s continually broadening scope since its launch as Flightsayer.

“As someone who has been doing this since 2016, most startups take a full decade to mature,” Chandran said upon accepting the award, “so it’s been a long time coming to get to the point of where we are.”

Judges gave an honorable mention to Eco.mio, a Berlin-based, sustainability-focused startup that integrates with booking tools and helps steer travelers to make sustainable choices. That might be in the form of economic incentives for travelers or nudges, such as showing a photo of the company’s CEO sitting in economy class when a traveler is booking a business-class ticket, said co-founder Sarah Benarey.

The judging panel “loved the approach” and were “really impressed by the input integration, the mere scope of OBTs that you are working with,” Clagg said. “It really differentiates you from other competitors.”

Besides Clagg, judges for the Faceoff included Carine Morin, ServiceNow’s regional travel manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa;  Partnership Travel Consulting founder and CEO Andy Menkes; Troop CEO Dennis Vilovic and Travlr ID founder and creator Gee Mann, the winner of last year’s Business Travel Show Europe’s Innovation Faceoff. Other participants this year included travel management technology provider TripStax, demonstrating its quality control module; ground transportation bookings and expense platform GroundSpan; business travel open API platform Zenmer; extended stay travel marketplace 3Sixty, hotel sustainability data platform Alō Index, corporate housing provider and platform Dwell Optimal; and midmarket-focused payment, expense and travel platform Mesh.



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Concur Survey: Buyers Brace for ‘Challenging’ 12 Months Ahead

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Business travel managers were nearly unanimous in declaring 2024 a “more challenging” year, facing demands including budget reductions, expanding responsibilities and a more demanding traveler population, according to an SAP Concur-sponsored survey of 600 travel managers across six global markets.

In terms of budget, 42 percent of respondents said their job will be more difficult over the next 12 months due to company directives to cut travel costs. Within the Asia/Pacific region, that percentage was 48 percent, according to the survey, which was conducted by Wakefield Research April 5-26. Some of those cuts are coming at the expense of sustainability initiatives, with 36 percent of travel managers indicating it would be difficult to meet expectations for more sustainable travel options with inadequate budgets. 

About a third of travel manager respondents said they have been asked to take a more strategic role at their company but have not received any additional training or education to do so, the survey indicated. That was more common for travel managers in the Americas and the Asia/Pacific region compared with Europe.

The most frequently cited challenges for the year were increased safety concerns and employees not using company booking tools, each cited by 38 percent of respondents. A companion survey of 3,750 business travelers across 24 markets showed 64 percent prefer making changes directly through suppliers rather than through company tools.

Business travelers surveyed were largely positive about business travel itself, with 76 percent saying they enjoy it and 67 percent considering it essential for career advancement. However, about a two-thirds said they have not had equal opportunities to take business trips compared with their colleagues—an increase of 4 percentage points for the same question in Concur’s 2023 survey—based on a variety of factors including seniority, age, gender, accent and whether they work from the company’s office.

Many travel managers, meanwhile, are seeking greener pastures, with 41 percent saying they likely would look for a new position in the next 12 months.

“Even among those looking to remain in their current role, 41 percent intend to push for changes to that position,” Concur said in the report, “demonstrating that staying put won’t necessarily equate to staying silent.”



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Agent Diary: A bit of planning goes a long way when it comes to booking your own cruise

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Thompson Travel’s Sharon Thompson spent seven nights with family on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas



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