Does Business Travel need Carrots?

As business travel professionals we help company employees move around as needed, get to meetings, press the flesh and realise the value of (the non-iOS version of) facetime. As long as they arrive, alive, at B after leaving A, without costing the company too much money, we are doing OK.

Mostly, the toolkit traveller managers have been using to guide booking behaviour, to align it with company values and goals, has been heavily weighted towards the use of censure, guilt and even punitive measures. We highlight non-compliance with strident colours, we send tattle-tail remarks to approvers explaining the lost savings that the naughty traveller ignored when booking. Self booking tools, in other words, remain profoundly “stick” based.

Does it have to be this way? What of the humble carrot and its alternative philosophy of rewarding good behaviour? Well there are a couple of companies who are bringing the “reward” approach to business travel.

The first is RocketTrip, who offer a pluggable platform to help guide travellers towards savings, offering a 50/50 split on savings when traveller beat their budgets. The system can even plug into the post trip expense data to check about any additional costs which may have affected their final spend against the budget. This works primarily as a travel policy loyalty scheme overlay on the traditional ways to manage business travel.

The second is Upside, the company started by Priceline founder Jay Walker. This is less mature in terms of its integration with other parts of the business travel ecosystem, but the simplicity of its model makes it perhaps the more disruptive of the two. Upside combines air and hotel packages and uses part of its markup to fund gift cards as a reward to travelers for being flexible with their travel plans. It uses a “flexibility engine”, consisting of algorithms to sort and score travel inventory, suggest packages and propose rewards. But the model is simple, no contracts, no integrations, just tell your travellers to book on the site. This means that Upside can court a business travel audience the same way as a consumer one. Some of my favourite podcasts (admittedly American ones) are now sponsored by Upside.

The timing seems correct for these initiatives to have a broad uptake. As the line between employer and employee becomes blurry, people are open to a more “collaborative” approach to balancing costs, convenience, compliance, DoC, etc … if the benefits are to be shared. Traveldoo will be canvassing its clients to check the current appetite for carrots.

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