Certify has joined the exclusive league of large suppliers like Deem and KDS that provide truly integrated T&E solutions. That
owes to Certify’s acquisition of Nu Travel’s online booking tool, following Certify’s June merger with three expense firms. The
expense companies’ combined client base paired with an in-house online booking tool positions Certify to compete with the
leader in the space, Concur. “It’s always important that the No. 1 player in any space has a strong competitor, ” Certify CEO Bob
Neveu said. “If you look at any running race, two [athletes] run individually but they run against each other and they run faster.”
Expense management suppliers typically rely on integrations with multiple online booking tools, capping the clients they can win. Those partner-
ships also complicate procurement decisions for travel managers. After all, most customers prefer a one-stop shop solution, according to Neveu.
“Prior to the acquisition, Certify and pretty much every other expense company out there had the ‘E’ covered, but few did travel,” Neveu said.
To offer an integrated solution, Certify would need to “build it, buy it or partner it,” he said. “We had been working on the partner piece, and we
thought about building it but realized it was just a long way away with a lot of challenges.” This year, the elements fell into place. In June, K1 Investment
Management acquired a $125 million majority stake in Certify and merged it with the private equity firm’s three other expense firms: Expense Watch, Nexo-nia and Tallie. Combined the four expense companies’ corporate clients number 7,500, second only to Concur. While Neveu says the companies will maintain
their own brand identities, he also has said Certify technologies could cross over.
K1’s investment also provided Certify with cash to acquire a travel booking technology. Certify had partnered with Nu Travel since 2010, and in July,
the pair announced an integrated T&E solution for the midmarket and larger companies called Certify Enterprise Travel. It turns out the companies
were fleshing out their merger in secret at the time. They announced the tie-up in September.
The move is an opportunity to provide an alternative to Concur but also a distribution play. Concur has turned the travel management company market
into a distribution vehicle for its expense product, but as the company has bolstered its services and products, some started to see Concur as a competitor
to TMCs—something Concur and some of its TMC partners have adamantly refuted. So Neveu sees an opportunity to be an alternative for TMCs, as well.
Marriott International may have been the first hotel company to enact a 48-hour cancellation policy
across its organization, but Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta pushed the envelope on pricing
strategies within the hotel industry.
As happened in 2014 with 24-hour cancellation policies, Marriott and Hilton moved nearly in
unison for 48-hour cancellation windows inside
of which travelers would face penalties. Marriott
took the lead in June and Hilton followed in July.
Hilton added muscle to its penalties by dictating
a 72-hour cancellation windows in some high-demand markets.
The policy changes sent corporate travel managers digging through data to try to assess the
impact such penalties would have on their programs. However, Nassetta isn’t content to leave
the policy at 48 or even 72 hours, and he’s been
vocal about that fact.
During the company’s most recent earnings call, he said Hilton is testing “changes in how we price all our products, sort of taking it from
the 48- or 72-hours to seven days and then seven days and beyond
with a flexible or semi-flexible product pricing approach.” If the tests go
well, Hilton plans to roll out more changes in 2018. Nassetta’s stance is
consistent with his past remarks and with pricing strategies tested by
Hilton in 2016, including a $50 penalty for any canceled reservation at
select properties and flexible and semi-flexible pricing structures.
In a vacuum, Nassetta’s comments and Hilton’s pricing experiments
wouldn’t be a problem; Hilton may be a market leader, but it doesn’t
match the scale of Marriott. However, the industry—Marriott included—
has been paying attention and is poised to follow Hilton’s lead as its rate
structures more and more closely resemble those of the airline industry.
If the hype is to be believed, blockchain will revolutionize
the travel industry by replacing existing distribution and
payment methods, making processes cheaper by cutting out middlemen like the inveterate global distribution
systems and banks. By design, blockchain has the power to decrease
fraud, speed the transmission of data and payments and improve traveler tracking.
In 2016, T&E management provider KDS was one of the first companies in the business travel industry to accept bitcoin, which is the first
major use of blockchain technology. Travel management company Gant
followed KDS in September of this year. Both wanted to be ready when
demand from clients emerged. Blockchain startup Winding Tree partnered
with Lufthansa in October and plans to launch a blockchain-based hotel
and airline distribution products.
In July, Innfinity Software Systems said it would redevelop the back end of
its online booking tool using blockchain. Senior developer Jonathan Carmody
said blockchain would enable clients to link content and offerings in new ways
that aren’t currently possible. ShoCard is developing a traveler identification
method to connect other identification data like passport and I.D. information
and improve airport security and traveler tracking. AirPlus CEO Patrick Diemer
said the payments company had been examining the technology, American
Express and Visa each plan to implement blockchain for crossborder B2B
payments and Mastercard has filed a patent application with the U.S. Patent
and Trademark Office for its own blockchain solution.
There’s a sense that the travel industry and indeed the larger economy are on the brink of something. We just don’t know quite what yet.
Nor do we know who started it all. The identity of the technology’s creator, is unknown. The first papers describing bitcoin were published on
a cryptography mailing list in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto. However, no
one has confirmed the person’s true identity and some even consider
the name to apply to a group of people even though Nakamoto has self-identified as a Japanese man born in 1975.