In this digital age, it’s as easy as ever to buy that new sweater, order that birthday present for a friend, or book that vacation flight to Bermuda. So why can’t the same be true when it comes to business travel management? There are numerous digital solutions out there these days. Let’s first find out what exactly corporate booking tools are, note their pros and cons, and then take a look at a few examples.
How Understanding the Features of Online Corporate Booking Tools Can Help you Choose the Right Tool for your Company
What are Corporate Booking Tools?
Corporate Booking Tools (CBTs) are online services and/or products that businesses and organizations can use for their corporate travel needs. CBTs come in various shapes and sizes, each with their own features that set them apart. They are particularly useful for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) when paying for a travel management company (TMC) is too costly. But where do you start? There are countless options out there in the digital ether, so it’s easy to get lost searching for the right fit.
We’ve done the hard work for you, scouting out a few CBTs and bringing them right here in one central location. But before we get into the nitty gritty, why should you even consider CBTs in the first place? What exactly sets them apart from TMCs or open booking?
CBTs can provide savings, flexibility, and convenience for both SMEs and larger enterprises. However, each CBT is different and will be a better or worse fit based on a company’s needs and goals. Here’s a quick breakdown of the general pros and cons of CBTs:
Pros of Corporate Booking Tools
- Centralized processes. Some CBTs offer business travel planning, management, and support all through one central channel. Services and information such as booking costs, itinerary info, travel expenses, and emergency information (e.g., weather delays) are all accessible in a single digital platform, making business trips very easy for the traveler.
- Direct savings. The booking autonomy of CBTs reduces travel agencies’ workloads.
- Indirect savings. CBTs remind travelers to book in advance, which allows them to take advantage of lower fares/rates, while still complying with company travel policy.
- Travel policy compliance. CBTs ensure increased travel policy compliance by making only policy-compliant options available to employees. Increased compliance means increased savings because of in-policy booking with the company’s preferred rates. This also makes travel authorizations much easier.
- Data collection and analysis. One of the key benefits of CBTs is convenient and cost-effective business travel reporting. Collecting and analyzing data from trips helps companies study employee bookings, detect trends, minimize costs, and find potential vendor partnerships.
Cons of Corporate Booking Tools
- Decentralized processes. Some CBTs are not “all-inclusive” and don’t offer a number of services that corporate travelers need to use. This makes it difficult to keep costs low and trips optimized.
- Business model misalignment. Sometimes, a CBT’s business model does not match up with a travel agency’s business model, which can cause disruptions and inefficiencies in work flow between the two organizations.
- Implementation costs. CBTs can have high implementation costs, depending on the specific CBT’s rates and the size of the business. However, these rates can still be lower than those of many TMCs.
- Start-up complexity. CBTs are usually complex to set up, requiring specialized teams to install and manage the tool(s). This can lead to higher HR costs for SMEs.
There are countless CBT options available, but we’ve singled out a few to discuss here. The business travel world is advancing quickly, so keeping up is half the battle! Not all CBTs are created equal – that is, they each have their own unique features and capabilities that may fit your particular business needs. We’ve tried to break them down for you a bit further.
Full disclosure: we’re obviously biased because we think we have a great tool on our hands in Claire! We also believe these other CBTs offer unique capabilities. As such, we want to share these available tools’ functions with our audience and provide value to you.
Digital Booking Tools Created by TMCs and Other Travel Solutions Providers
You could be a big proponent of digital solutions in the business travel world but still might prefer to be in the hands of an individual or team during the entirety of your trip. Digital booking services from TMCs can feel like more of the “all-inclusive package” in that travelers get both the conveniences of digital solutions and the person-to-person assistance if needed. Here are some to keep in mind:
Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense: Integrating travel booking with expense management
Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense (AcTE) is Amadeus’s new online booking tool, unveiled in early 2016. AcTE replaces and builds upon the features of the Amadeus e-Travel Management (AeTM) tool. In a Business Travel News (BTN) press release, Florian Tinnus, head of corporate IT for the global customer group at Amadeus, said that AcTE is a tool “aimed at creating a traveler experience ecosystem.” AcTE retains its core functions of travel expense management while also incorporating Microsoft Outlook booking integration, on which Amadeus has been working with Microsoft. One of AcTE’s key features is its ability to eliminate manual handling of travel expenses, errors, and email exchanges (PDF). Another great feature is that clients can take pictures of receipts and invoices with smartphone cameras and add them to expense reports.
Concur: Streamlining and generating transparent expense reports
Concur is an online expense-based management service that consolidates and organizes travel-related expenses. Though Concur is a product of SAP, customers do not have to sign up for any other SAP services. Additional features can be added after customers sign up for the basic services. Concur is split into three distinct services: Concur Expense, Concur Travel, and Concur Invoice. Concur Expense automates and consolidates all travel receipts into the expense management process. Concur Travel helps companies simplify travel bookings to help control company costs, using TripLink to gather data from flights, hotels, and rentals. This data helps companies gather insight into travel costs before money is spent. Concur Invoice helps to simplify the post-business-trip process, automating accounts payable and generating transparent expense reports. As with AcTE, one very user-friendly feature of Concur is its ability to allow travelers to take photos of receipts. Using their mobile devices, travelers can upload their receipts directly into their expense reports.
Egencia: Travel platform backed by a travel search powerhouse
Egencia is a mobile travel management system that is powered by the customer data and funding from its parent company, Expedia. Its product includes an Android app and online platform with monthly updates. Egencia has over 400 airline carriers and nearly 200,000 hotels in its system and looks to continue its growth after a strong year in 2014 where its revenue increased 10 percent. One of the key features of Egencia is that it is powered by data from a well-established, customer-facing booking company in Expedia. This system also offers the Egencia Global Alliance (EGA): a network of partnerships with various TMCs to offer support and service to Egencia clients (including local languages, regional expertise, and customer service).
GetThere: Customizable system interface and virtual credit cards for business trips
GetThere, a product of the Sabre Travel Network, is an online travel management system geared specifically to help companies manage multiple vendor agreements and complicated travel policies. The main pull of GetThere is its ability for SMEs to implement their travel policies, have the visibility to monitor compliance, and its integration options for travel expenses. It also has a customizable interface that can match the appearance and feel of its customers’ intranet or internal system, retaining familiarity with its employees. Perhaps its most unique feature is GetThere Virtual Payments Processing (PDF), which serves as a virtual credit card, allowing customers to make online or in-person purchases while still making these expenses easily trackable.
Lola: All the travel management without any phone calls
An on-demand mobile platform that connects travelers directly to a team of travel managers, Lola helps both business and leisure travelers find hotels, flights, and everything in between. Started by Paul English, one of the co-founders of Kayak, the key feature of Lola is its ability to plan, book, and manage trips all through automated messaging – no phone calls here. Once you download the app (currently only available for iOS in the US), provide your phone number and email and you’re ready to create your profile. Enter your preferences for flights and hotels, then you’ll be ready to start trip planning with a Lola travel consultant. Think of Lola as an all-in-one travel agency now reinvented as a mobile platform, reminding you of important appointments and keeping all of your trip information in a central location.
TripCase Corporate: Organizing trips all in one place
Built on the itinerary management capabilities of the TripCase travel app and integrated with GetThere, TripCase Corporate is a premium service, developed by Sabre, designed for companies wishing to enhance their itinerary management solutions through TripCase. Think of TripCase Corporate as an upgrade to the consumer version of TripCase. Business travelers now get the freedom to access their latest trip details, manage their itineraries, and book trips that are compliant with company travel policy. Travel managers have access to corporate messaging, on-demand traveler reports, and configuration tools (PDF), which help them manage and improve their programs. Other services include easy company enrollment options, enhanced privacy features, and an ad-free user interface. TripCase Corporate is available through GetThere and other resellers.
While these more traditional CBTs are one way to go, there are some A.I. solutions that also offer corporate travel management functionality. These A.I. solutions are designed to make aspects of your trips easier (i.e., adding other travelers) or to plan, book, and manage your entire trip. Let’s take a look at a few.
A.I. Travel Agents and Assistants
Ever find yourself truly overwhelmed by all the options for flights? It’s a constant battle to optimize both your money and your time to book that perfect flight. You could take the redeye to Chicago to be back in time for a client meeting the next day or book a hotel and fly out first thing in the morning. Wouldn’t it be great if you had someone or something to help you make the decision? Well, look no further. Artificial intelligence (A.I.) is gaining more and more steam in the corporate travel industry.
Some tools use A.I. to help with various aspects of a business trip while others take business trip planning a step further and provide a virtual, 24/7 travel assistant every step of the way. A.I. travel agents and assistants help plan, book, and/or manage your trip, and do so in compliance with your company’s travel policy. And it performs all of this while having meaningful, human-like interactions. Here are a few digital solutions employing A.I. that are currently building some buzz.
HelloGbye: Adding your friends and coworkers to your trips
HelloGbye is an online platform that uses A.I. to have a travel bot at your side all throughout the booking process. Create a profile, set your city of origin, and you’re all set. By specifying dates, destination, and even airline, HelloGbye will help you find the right flight. This platform has two modes: money saver and timer saver. Users can toggle back and forth between the two to weigh their choices. If you don’t want to make a decision in a rush, you can save trips and access them later to finish booking. A key feature of HelloGbye is its ability to add others to your trips. This allows you to split payments among various cards – either yours or others’. This feature can be especially useful for business + leisure trips or splitting a trip with a friend. HelloGbye plans to release an app in January 2017 through a partnership with American Express.
Carla: Interactive A.I. platform that finds info quick
Developed by Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Carla is personal travel assistant powered by A.I. Utilizing natural language interaction (NLI) technology through the Teneo platform, Carla is designed to make travel booking a simple and natural process. The key driver for Carla is that mobile phones, while necessary for travel, can often complicate the process with small screens and hard-to-type-with digital keyboards. As a result, Carlson Wagonlit Travel has designed Carla to find the exact information business travelers need quickly and easily. While still in beta mode, interested travelers can begin interacting with Carla or any of the other avatars, including Jin, Mei, Aurore, and Franck.
Claire: Innovative A.I. to providing real time analytics and feedback
The 30SecondsToFly newsroom writers should all mention the obvious right off the bat: we all work for 30SecondsToFly, the creators of Claire. Claire is a personal travel assistant that reduces travel expenses, saves time, increases safety, and improves company travel policy compliance. With Claire, management teams can make adjustments to travel policy, provide real time travel analytics, and manage travelers. Travelers can book policy-compliant trips starting with just a message on Facebook, Slack, or via text. You can learn more about Claire here on our product page.
Choosing the Right Tool for Your Company
As you can see, the options for CBTs in the business travel world are plentiful and varied. Choosing the right tool for your company is an important decision and depends on various company-specific factors including time, money, manpower, and flexibility. In particular, SMEs may find that CBTs are useful because they already provide some existing functions and infrastructure, which is important especially with smaller companies or startups where the business travel process has not yet been fully established.
Whether your company uses mobile apps, A.I. travel assistants, or a fully digital booking service, it is important to stay informed of the latest trends in CBTs and adjust your business travel solutions as your company grows. We’ll be sure to keep you updated as new developments occur!
Andy is an engineer with writing tendencies. Having recently returned from a 2-year stint in Japan, he is eager to be at the center of technology and travel. Give him a nice cup of coffee, a solid playlist, and a plane ticket and all is right with the world.