Tag Archives: travel procurement

Forget the Bus, I’ll Travel To My Meeting By Drone!

What will business travel look like in 2017?  We’re not going to see people riding around in personal drones (yet) but it’s starting to look more like The Jetsons all the time.

Technology is having a big impact both on the way employees travel and how managers help them move around the world with ease. Sunny Manivannan and Ethan Laub of our travel and expense team, and Jack Miles, a long-time procurement executive and business advisor share their thoughts on what the year may bring.

1.    Travel and expense management goes mainstream

For firms with good governance and a cost management mindset, travel and credit card spend has always been a focus. Due to rising costs, and a new generation of technology for automating in this area, we will see laggards start to pay attention and begin to focus here as well. –Jack Miles

2.    Loosening of T&E policies

Companies with modern automated tools will relax their travel and expense policies, paradoxically because they now have so much granular T&E data. This might come as a surprise, but we see the T&E spend culture at customer organizations undergoing a once-in-a-generation shift. Given the rise of knowledge workers, the competition for talent and the focus on employee happiness in today’s leading organizations, companies are trying to find ways to give their employees more flexibility. With the data now available to administrators, companies can relax their policies in certain areas and give their employees more flexibility while still protecting the organization from fraud. -–Sunny Mannivanan

3.    Savvier negotiations as hotel costs rise

Travel costs–typically one of the top four expense categories in most firms–will rise as consolidation in the hotel industry continues. Given Marriot’s acquisition of Starwood and other hotelier consolidations, expect to see an increase in average room night cost. Companies with a focus on sourcing for this category will use their data to look beyond room night cost and add in ancillary costs such as food and beverage, parking, and conference and event spend if they have it to give them more leverage in negotiations. –Jack Miles

4.    Airbnb makes inroads with corporates

Airbnb will continue to grow share in business travel as its integrations with corporate travel agencies and booking tools starts to pay-off. Three major travel management companies (TMCs) signed partnerships with the homesharing platform last year, driven at least in part by corporates expressing interest. According to Lex Bayer Airbnb head of global payments and business travel, Airbnb’s average business trip booking is six days. Again, it’s about giving employees options, and a home may better suit travelers in town for a longer-term project than a hotel room.  –Ethan Laub

5.    Ground travel prices fall

Ground travel (Uber, taxis, limos) is one area where prices will decrease. Black car services will continue to lose share to Uber and Lyft, as the car sharing titans roll out more corporate-friendly controls and reporting. Gaining corporate clients has been harder for pink-mustachioed Lyft, according to sharing economy expert Arun Sundarajan, but it scored a major win when Apple announced them as a preferred partner last spring.

Besides increased competition, lower costs are also driving prices down. Newer, more fuel-efficient cars make up a bigger share of fleets, and fuel rates are currently low. There’s one thing that could cause rates to plummet, rather than just tick down: driverless cars. Fuel isn’t the biggest cost. Neither is the car–cars these days are made so well they can easily last for ten years or more. The biggest cost is the driver. Without drivers, rates for rides could fall by as much as 90 percent over the next two or three years, some analysts say. –Sunny Manivannan and Ethan Laub

6.    Expensing of a driverless ride

 Speaking of driverless cars, here’s a bold prediction: 2017 will mark the first time we see an expense line filed for an autonomous car ride. While Uber had to halt its test of autonomous vehicles in San Francisco last December, there are more than a dozen companies either publicly or secretly working on autonomous vehicles. It’s only a matter of time before this technology makes it to the business market. Our question is, what will this expense line look like? What will the amount be? Who will be the vendor of record?

Perhaps there’ll be a time in the not-too-distant future where transportation isn’t something employees even expense. It will simply be a public utility like electricity, where every company simply pays per employee-mile at the end of each month. –Sunny Manivannan 

7.    Virtual assistants everywhere

Since we’re getting all futuristic here, we’re going to go out on a limb and predict that in 2017, every employee will have an assistant, not just executives. These assistants will be virtual, not physical. With Apple’s Siri, the Google Assistant, and the Amazon Echo, consumers have been exposed to the grand idea of a digital around-the-house helper a la Rosie the Robot. And, many business travelers have already experienced a degree of this with mobile apps that do things such as automatically fill out your expense lines based on geolocation data.

This concept will really take off in 2017, with employees having access to really intelligent, self-learning assistants, no matter where they are. And, we will be able to call on these assistants with the touch of a button, a few taps on our keyboards, or simply our voices.

Sunny Manivannan is senior director of special projects at Coupa. Ethan Laub is director of product management. Jack Miles is principal consultant at Mainspring Advisors, a business strategy consulting firm. This article was originally published on the Coupa blog

Could Direct Bookings Help Drive Value for Procurement?

Travel procurement tends to get people hot under the collar. But should procurement be more open to direct bookings to drive greater value?

Hotels direct booking

This article is based on a study conducted by Software Advice, available to read here.

In the hotel room booking wars, online travel agencies (OTAs) seem to be giving up a little ground. This represents a great opportunity for small, boutique and independent hotels.

Hotels that sell rooms through OTAs must pay a commission, so direct bookings mean higher profit margins. For many years, hotels gave up that extra profit in order to reach a wider audience.

However, new data shows that many rates are now cheaper when booking directly through the hotel website.

What Is Causing Cheaper Direct Bookings?

The true cause of this shift is hard to nail down, though some experts think a combination of a couple key factors may be leading to cheaper direct bookings:

  • Effective regulation against rate parity clauses. Regulations against rate parity clauses – contract language that forces hotels to maintain the same rates on all distribution channels – may be having an effect. This means some hotels could offer lower rates on their own website.
  • OTAs are willingly easing up on commissions. OTAs often charge hotels an average of 15 to 25 per cent per booking, so it’s easy to see why hotels would want travellers to book direct. It’s possible the OTAs believe reducing commission rates won’t matter, since their volume of business is so high.

This shift is an opportunity for small and independent hotels to educate potential guests, and market these cheaper direct booking rates to them.

Taylor Short, Hotel Market Researcher for the hotel information systems reviews companySoftware Advice, believes that incentives could be the key to attracting customers.

“Hotels and resorts want to attract organisations and groups for the revenue and sales potential when the group is on property. Because of this, hotels will often use software to manage incentives offered to guests, such as free wifi or rate discounts, for those who book in groups,” says Short.

“To compel group over individual bookings, hotels will try to tailor packages to the groups they see most often. For a business networking group, for example, they may offer free transportation from the airport, discount on drinks, or a round of golf. There are things to offer that can help deliver a better, more personalised experience.”

Driving Direct Bookings

Shifting consumer habits to looking at a wider range of options presents an opportunity for small hotels to educate travellers that booking directly can be cheaper and more valuable.

There are a number of tactics smaller hotels can use to help drive customers to websites, and boost brand loyalty. These include:

  1. Compel website visitors to book direct with pop-ups or calls-to-action (CTAs).
  2. Offer incentives on the website.
  3. Arrange OTA widgets so that rates capture visitor attention.
  4. Focus on what they can offer vs. bigger brands.
  5. Prepare for the long game.

Changing Habits and Procurement

So if consumer habits are changing, it’s probably fair to say business travellers are looking for similar options. But where does this leave procurement?

Travel procurement is one of the ‘hot buttons’ for organisations. Procurement need to find the right balance between value for money, and ensuring that their staff are getting a good experience.

Every year, millions of pounds are spent outside of travel management systems. This maverick spend, which can be up to 20 per cent more expensive than through authorised sources, further hinders procurement’s position. Maverick spend comes in all shapes and sizes, and organisations need to be aware of why it is happening so they can combat it.

However, as travel options, in particular accommodation, open up with businesses such as Airbnb, procurement needs to stay in step with changes. This doesn’t mean allowing staff to book directly themselves, but not staying with preferred suppliers because they happen to be on a list.

The difficulty for procurement lies in how organisational travel is booked. Large organisations tend to use a travel management system, or agency, to collate bookings.  Smaller organisations might be more flexible. However, if processes are in place, then it’s likely to be more difficult to justify a change.

However, it doesn’t stop procurement looking at smaller hotels who may offer added extras that employees will enjoy. If direct bookings could offer greater value, then it’s worth considering working with these suppliers in the future.

Would You Couchsurf to Make Business Travel Savings?

Splitting travel savings with employees may be the best way to encourage travellers to treat every dollar of company money as their own.

Couchsurfing - Travel Savings

A New-York based consultant, Geoff, has to visit a client in Seattle. He logs onto his organisation’s travel management system to book his flight and hotels.

The app recommends a flight that’s within budget and suits his timeframe. However, Geoff ignores this, scrolls through a list of other options, and selects a flight leaving later for a cheaper price.

Similarly, he chooses not to go with the 4-star hotel recommended by the system. He instead chooses a slightly cheaper hotel that’s still convenient to his destination.

Upon arrival in Seattle, Geoff walks past the cab rank to the bus stop. He’s thinking about where he can get a cheap but healthy meal to avoid ordering room service.

As he makes each travel-related purchase, he’s scanning receipts into his travel app, which subtracts the costs from his total travel budget.

Geoff is behaving like he’s spending his own money rather than his organisation’s travel budget. Why? Because in essence, it is his own money. His company has an arrangement in place where employees are allocated 50 per cent of the savings if they come in under their allocated travel budget.

It’s entirely automated. At the end of his trip, the travel management system takes the difference between the budget and Geoff’s actual costs, splits the savings, and adds half to Geoff’s next pay check.

Sharing travel savings encourages a cost-conscious culture

Why aren’t more organisations sharing travel savings? Possibly, it’s due to a myopic attitude where travel managers are reluctant to part with any savings whatsoever, preferring to allocate every dollar straight back to the bottom line.

However, there’s a much bigger prize at stake. Building a cost-conscious culture and creating that critical mind-shift where employees start treating company money as their own.

Shared travel savings might also fix the multi-billion dollar “open booking” problem. In the US, for example, 50 per cent of hotel bookings and 24 per cent of airline bookings occur outside corporate travel programs. This presents a significant compliance challenge and visibility problem.

Creating a policy wherein shared savings can only be claimed when bookings are made through the approved system would provide a major incentive for employees to comply.

Where can employees save on travel costs?

Here are a few ideas for frugal travel across transport, meals and accommodation:

Flights

Even if your organisation allows you to fly business class, do you really need to? What about flying at a different time of day to get a cheaper fare? A common reason employees go outside approved travel management systems is a belief they can find a better deal themselves.

The TripScanner start-up (acquired last year by Coupa) provides a clever way around this issue. Employees can book travel options via any website they like, so long as they sync their purchases with TripScanner. The software then automatically checks each booking against the company’s travel policy.

Ground transport

Can you take the train or a bus rather than a taxi? How about Uber? There’s always going to be a trade-off between the convenience of being taken directly to your destination and having to walk from the bus stop. However, with the prospect of an extra $25 in your pocket, employees might just choose the bus.

Meals

Consider grabbing a cheap meal rather than paying inflated prices for room service. Keep in mind that “cheap” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “unhealthy”. Eating well and affordably takes planning, as room service is most often ordered when busy travellers run out of time.

Accommodation

This is where your company’s travel policy need to be absolutely clear, because accommodation (and to a lesser extent, transport) involves a safety factor.

Having an approved list of hotels will stop truly frugal employees from trying to save drastically by booking hotels in undesirable parts of town. Or even (in extreme cases) going for an unconventional option such as Couchsurfing.

Setting it up

There are some things to bear in mind when setting up a system such as this.

  • Better planning: Saving money when travelling takes planning, because needlessly expensive flights, taxis and meals are usually chosen due to tight schedules.
  • Get the budget right: Travel managers need to do their research to get the travel budget right for their organisation, as setting it too high will mean losing money unnecessarily. Fortunately, there’s software available to help with this task. A sophisticated travel management system will allocate a unique budget to each trip, rather than a blanket dollar figure for all travel.
  • Make sure your travel policy suits your risk appetite: Travel policies can vary wildly, from tightly-controlled lists of accommodation options, to a free system where employees can do as they like. Again, encouraging frugality may cause some employees to select unsafe options, which is why couchsurfing or ridesharing may need to be excluded from the system.
  • Frugal travelling isn’t for everyone: For some, saving money when travelling might not be a priority. Having a comfortable flight or good night’s sleep in a nice hotel might be much more important than winning back a few hundred dollars extra per month, and that’s fine. Again, it’s important to set the budget as accurately as possible, and be clear in your travel policy about what happens if employees go over budget.

Does your company share travel savings? What are your tips for beating the travel budget?

The Carrot and Stick Approach to Open Booking

Open booking is a massive problem for organisations globally, and one of the largest compliance challenges facing procurement.

Open Booking

In the US, over 50 per cent of hotel bookings, and 24 per cent of airline bookings occur outside the parameters of corporate travel programmes. The issue costs organisations $36 billion per year, and is one of the largest compliance challenges for procurement.

But what can be done about it?

Travel Management

Ethan Laub knows travel software. He founded a startup called TripScanner, a travel booking system giving clients the ability to book on any travel website while achieving compliance with their organisation’s travel policies. His startup was acquired by Coupa in mid-2015, and Laub now works at Coupa as a Director of Product Management.

Here at Coupa Inspire, Laub is running a session on open booking. Most of the audience members manage travel in some fashion, and all of them are frustrated by compliance issues. The consequences of open booking are potentially very serious. According to Laub, it can effect:

  • Risk management: if there’s an emergency, you need to know where your employees are and be able to contact them immediately.
  • Sourcing: open booking hampers procurement’s ability to negotiate discounts with travel providers.
  • Policy: making sure people are spending smart and within budget.
  • Visibility: not having any data on travel spend, hampering your ability to make decisions. 

What drives open booking?

Laub asks for a quick show of hands on why people would decide to avoid the corporate travel system. The top five reasons are:

  1. Better Deals: employees who claim they “got a better deal” outside the approved system.
  2. Conference Booking: conferences with hotel discounts where bookings must go through the conference portal.
  3. User Experience: people are increasingly confident in booking personal travel and are unfavourably comparing the quick and easy experience with clunky corporate travel booking.
  4. The Sharing Economy: people preferring to use companies like Uber and AirBnB, often unavailable on the corporate site.
  5. Airlines and Hotels Pushing Direct Bookings: otherwise individuals can’t claim loyalty points, free Wifi, or other perks.

What’s the solution?

Having established that open booking is a serious issue, and explained why people are avoiding company travel sites in droves, Laub recommends travel managers take an approach that best suits their organisation’s culture.

Stick Approach

  • Prohibit open bookings and refuse to reimburse.
  • Flag out-of-policy post-bookings.
  • Escalate repeat offenders to managers.

Carrot Approach

  • Improve User Experience

Over the past 10 years, consumer sites have become increasingly user friendly, while the policy-focused corporate booking tools haven’t kept up. There are a lot of attractive, easy-to-use applications on the market that can improve UX for your site. Some tips:

  • Ensure you have as few steps as possible
  • Explain to travellers why things are the way they are (policy)
  • Communicate the realities of the travel program.
  • Nuance the site to enforce your policies behind the scenes: users shouldn’t be able to see the out-of-policy options
  • Show fare comparisons to prove your negotiated fares are the best option.
  • Reward savings

If the employee comes in under their travel budget, the company shares half of the savings with the employee. This can be considered part of the gamification process of employee management.

  • Clear guidelines

Ensuring that you have clear guidelines for your employees is key. Employees need to understand when it is okay to book outside of the system, and when they need to be following process.

What does the future hold for business travel management?

Check out this video from Coupa that shows the exciting future of corporate travel artificial intelligence. This system anticipates all of your needs and is so intelligent that you’ll fall in love with it – in the case of this hapless user, literally!