We look at new ways of buying and selling travel products - particularly hotels and accommodation - which may affect the corporate world in the near future
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The whole idea of Airbnb may seem a long way from the world of corporate managed travel, with its negotiated rates and strict travel policies.
However, the hosting website is becoming a leisure travel phenomenon and could have an impact on how corporate accommodation is booked – particularly for longer stays and within industries where travellers are looking for more than a standardised hotel room.
The website offers a full range of accommodation options: from an apartment for a single night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month. Owners and hosts can build up trust with potential guests through online reviews and having pictures taken of their properties by a network of 5,000 photographers.
Users can trawl the Airbnb site to find suitable properties to match their needs, and then contact the owner if one fits the bill.
Airbnb now has a presence in 192 countries with more than half a million properties listed on its website – there are around 7,000 properties available in London alone. Maybe this is one for the few companies that have truly embraced Travel 2.0.
The lack of enthusiasm from buyers for the concept of Hotel Tonight was palpable during the first BBT Forum in London last October.
But it is the kind of mobile-based app that may well appeal to a tech-savvy generation of travellers, particularly those who like to do things their own way, especially when a trip has to be extended at the last minute.
The idea behind San Francisco-based Hotel Tonight’s app is simplicity itself – it only allows bookings to be made from noon for that night’s accommodation. Bookings can’t even be taken on the company’s website, as that is only a static information site.
Charlie Osmond, from hotel review website Triptease, highlighted Hotel Tonight during his presentation at the Forum: “It only shows ten hotels for the location and makes it really simple to book one at the last minute. They can usually get a discount for distressed stock from the hotels.”
While buyers at the Forum said this app was unlikely to be applicable to business travellers, it is the kind of disruptive technology that the business travel community does need to replicate, and find an answer to, if it wants its travellers to stay within company policy.
Travel 2.0 – giving employees the freedom to book how and what they like – continues to be a concept in vogue, although some buyers may dismiss it as a fad with no practical relevance to their company.
Travel analytics specialist Scott Gillespie, managing partner of consultancy T Clara, recommends Rocketrip as a way that buyers could begin to embrace the concept. He describes the website as “an early-stage platform for enabling a light version of Managed Travel 2.0”.
Among the features offered by Rocketrip are budget templates for spending on travel components, such as flights, hotels and car rental, which can be formulated into a travel policy and also include negotiated deals and preferred suppliers.
Buyers can set down criteria for the cost of trips and Rocketrip will set a “sensible real time” budget. Once the bookings have been made, employees can send their receipts to Rocketrip, which can provide detailed reports to the buyer. The site also offers rewards to employees who save money on their trips, based on the saving made between the Rocketrip estimated budget and the price finally paid.
The online hotel booking service has won recognition from the Global Business Travel Association through its Spotlight on Transformation award for helping buyers to reduce their accommodation spending, even as hotels put up rates and travellers are tempted to bypass the travel management team, and book direct with properties.
The system allows travellers to pick from a cluster of hotels in the city they are travelling to. Trip Bam then checks the prices for all of these hotels up to the time of travel so, if a lower rate is found, the traveller can cancel the original hotel booking and take the cheaper option.
Unlike many of these web-based services, Trip Bam is working closely with travel managers by supporting corporate negotiated rates, thus reducing the chance of employees’ bookings leaking out of the programme.
Robson Grieve, executive vice-president at Concur, said: “Innovative tools like Trip Bam are part of a significant and growing trend across the travel industry today, empowering travellers to make better decisions which, in turn, help companies improve the bottom line.”