The Managing Director of Amadeus UK & Ireland Champa Magesh discusses corporate travel three months after the UK launch of Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense at the Business Travel Show.
What was your biggest takeaway from the Business Travel show this year?
After my visit to the London Business Travel Show in February, I came away convinced that our approach to delivering a simpler, more integrated travel management solution is exactly what corporations are seeking, not just in the T&E space but throughout their organisations. It was also clear to see how the imperative to reduce complexity goes hand in hand with employee engagement through better design and usability.
The reaction to the launch of Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense was especially gratifying. During a panel discussion, an authority in corporate travel management from the buyer’s perspective, Caroline Strachan, used Amadeus as a best practice example of a company that is listening to the needs of corporate travellers and delivering solutions that address their pain points. That kind of unsolicited endorsement is music to my ears.
How do you currently see the state of corporate travel?
Corporate travel is evolving fast. A few decades ago the main focus of a corporate travel programme was cost management, but now companies are increasingly balancing the importance of traveller wellbeing as part of their investment. What is the point of saving money on a flight if a traveller arrives so tired they’ve become unproductive after a circuitous routing or lengthy stopover?
Travellers are also demanding a greater say over virtually every aspect of their trip. But they want that control to be delivered in a user-friendly, leisure type travel booking experience, especially for up-and- coming millennial travellers and those who like to blend leisure with business. How they travel to their destination, which airline they fly with, the type of accommodation they stay at (including the sharing economy), ensuring they travel on dates that suit them due to other personal commitments, the list goes on. Corporate travel managers with duty of care responsibilities and those who create travel policies have an increasingly challenging role to meet what at times must feel like conflicting requirements.
What do you think corporate travellers are missing?
Corporate travellers are still often missing the personal touch in travel. When you fly every year to the same conference, with the same airline, why is it that you can’t get a flight alert notification via your corporate booking tool, offering you to book your ticket when the price is at its best? And don’t get me started on expense reporting. It is still a chore. But it shouldn’t be that way. With advances in technology, travellers shouldn’t have to face a decades-old view of a pile of receipts every time they get back from a long trip. I know that’s one of my main pet peeves!
Finally, always-connected businesspeople also need to have all of their travel arrangements accessible via mobile, in one app rather than a confusing proliferation of apps for different services.
And it isn’t only travellers who are asking for more from their corporate travel programme, the corporations are too. Corporations want to keep their travellers in policy for the reputation of their company, traveller safety that meets duty of care requirements and better cost management, and this is no mean feat.
What are you doing to address these challenges?
We see a gap in the market for a solution which is designed to meet both the corporation’s and the traveller’s needs. That’s why we launched Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense earlier this year. It’s a fully integrated booking and expense management solution. We saw the need from our customers and the benefits that such a solution can bring, and we developed it by combining the best features of our already existing booking tool, Amadeus e-Travel Management (AeTM), with the strength of the cytric Travel & Expense solution that we acquired with our majority shareholding in i:FAO.
Tell me more about Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense?
It is a ground-breaking solution that offers more flexibility, more user-friendly functionality and easier access to content than what is currently available in the market. I like to call it GDS and content agnostic.
Corporate programmes vary greatly from one company to another so Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense is based on very agile technology, which enables it to be customised and adapted to each customer’s requirements. That is a huge plus point that our customers have been asking for. The solution’s 6-week release cycle is a proof point of its flexibility, which is pretty unheard of in the industry.
The solution is also hugely intuitive for the traveller. Travellers are offered transparency, consistency and choice at the time of booking, meaning they don’t need to look elsewhere, so that corporations can retain the visibility they need over their travel programmes.
And I haven’t yet mentioned cytric Mobile Companion. It gives travellers the possibility to manage their trip on the go, whether checking in for a flight, approving a trip request, or scanning a receipt.
What’s the feature of Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense that you are most excited about?
I actually have two favourite features. Business Search would be my first – it’s based on advanced search algorithms which enables specific results to be displayed for each search, compliant with the travel policy, the provider preferences, and your personal search history. Our technology filters the options to provide the recommendation which is most relevant for you. In some cases, you can make the booking in just a few clicks – enabling travellers to focus on their job instead of booking their trip. We are currently trialing this innovative feature with customers who are delighted with the results.
Another favourite is Timeline, which revolutionises the way expenses are managed. Everything is consolidated from the cumbersome step by step workflow that is all too familiar for many. All expenses can be managed on one screen, receipts can be dragged and dropped and per diems, where applicable, will be calculated automatically. The tool makes expense management efficient, simple, and user friendly, whilst hiding the complex mechanics under the bonnet. For the user, it just works!
What future innovations can your customers look forward to?
There are huge possibilities for future innovation as we integrate new features into the solution and also seek to replicate and enhance winning features from one application to another. For example, we’ve been working with Microsoft for some time now and together we have delivered seamless trip planning and booking from within the popular MS Outlook email application. That’s a clue to our overarching philosophy: business travel made simple. We want to make trip planning and corporate travel policy compliance so easy, it’s a no brainer. Innovation is in Amadeus’ DNA, with more than four billion euros invested in R&D since 2004.
One interesting area we are working on at the moment is to bring our travel intelligence expertise into the solution. This will give travel managers oversight and control over their travel programme in a way they haven’t had before. We will be sharing more on that soon!
What will happen with AeTM then? Will it be decommissioned this year?
For now, both solutions will continue to co-exist. There is no decommissioning planned in 2016. Any rumours to the contrary are frankly disingenuous or misinformed.
We are working towards a one platform strategy and we have already received great feedback and excitement from customers regarding our new integrated solution. Many customers have already come to us to discuss how they will transition from AeTM to cytric because they see that we are taking corporate travel and expense management to the next level. If I sound excited about this, I am. I’ve heard what customers are saying about it.
Regardless of the booking tool used, the 11,000 corporate customers we have today will continue to receive our full support. Our technology enables customer success, and that is something we are fully committed to delivering.
Can you tell me a bit about your global plans for the solution?
I certainly can. We are launching Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense with a market by market approach, adapting to local customer requirements. It is our desire to engage directly with those Corporations that have complex and sophisticated Travel & Expense management processes, as we will be able to better serve their needs through Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense, through a highly customised solution.
However, the solution will also be made available to Travel Management Companies (and other resellers), which will be able to serve those Corporations willing to purchase our solution through the reseller channel.
Aside from Corporate Travel, what else can we look forward to in the UK market?
Where do I start? There are so many new developments taking shape in the UK. I’m particularly excited about the flexibility of Amadeus B2B Wallet. It has the ability to save TMCs and other travel sellers from airline surcharges, earn rebates on virtual card spend and provide a credit line to ease cash flow in addition to the security benefits. Thanks to a recent strategic acquisition, another new solution that is garnering a lot of attention is the Pyton Flight Portal, providing a single point of access to more than 100 LCCs. Last but not least is the launch of Amadeus Selling Platform Connect. It’s the first cloud-based GDS that enables travel professionals to serve their customers across any device, anywhere with internet access. So if you haven’t taken a look at what Amadeus is offering in 2016 my advice is to take a fresh look today.