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Category: Latest post

Interview with the Bleisure expert Sahil Shah, CEO of Sujester

Bleisure has become a big, essential part of business travel. Still, many TMCs are struggling with the question of how they can benefit from this mega-trend. Sujester might be the right answer!

Sahil, Sujester is a smart way to support the Bleisure trend at business travel. Can you describe in three sentences what you do?

Sujester uses curated, personalised and interactive content to inspire business customers. We provide a policy-conforming content solution to TMCs to provide to their business travellers to help them discover leisure experiences and decide if they want to extend business trips.

This provides TMCs with additional revenue through commission from experiences and potentially from additional hotel nights.

How do TMCs use Sujester?

Sujester is a flexible content solution that can be easily integrated into TMC websites and apps or as a fully standalone branded web app. TMCs market the Sujester content solution to business travellers before the point of booking.

I’m interested to learn about the size of additional revenues TMCs can generate if they use Sujester

There is potentially a sizeable uplift if a TMC can generate additional revenues for each hotel booking. If a 3-night stay is extended for a full weekend, it can increase TMC revenues for that booking by as much as 67%.

Additional TMC revenues can be generated through experiences and activities.

We’ve also received a lot of positive comments on higher customer satisfaction. Many business travelers are happy to have a one-stop-show for the entire Bleisure trip.

What are the typical challenges for TMCs to benefit from Bleisure bookings?

The typical challenge for the TMC is to educate and inspire their clients. Business travellers are time poor so have little time to decide whether to extend trips. The core challenge for the TMC is to inspire them so they think the destination is worth spending a few extra days in – and that it can be booked in a policy conforming way. 

Sujester’s core business is of course still leisure oriented. Who are your customers there?

Our core customers in leisure are travel agencies and tour operators. Over the years we have worked with travel agencies across the UK, in Australia and the USA.

When and where did you start Sujester?

Sujester was started in London in Autumn 2016. 

What is your business model?

We have a SaaS (software as a service) business model. We can either charge a fixed fee, a variable fee (depending on performance/use/commission) and a blend between the two.

About you privately: Where do you live and work?

I live and work in London, UK.

What was your most remarkable travel experience?

My most remarkable travel experience was in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Never have I seen so much flora and fauna that was out of this world. The landscapes were like no other, and I had the opportunity to see penguins and flamingoes on the same day. The Galapagos Islands would be the first recommendation I’d make to a nature lover.

Interview with Steve Clagg, Microsoft Travel Management

Microsoft’s Travel Technology Manager Steve Clagg is a very thoughtful and visionary man. In our interview, we had a closer look at the impressive numbers of Microsoft’s travel programme, its key tech projects and – of course – also at his vision for travel profiles.

Steve, I’m excited to have you on our blog. Can you share some numbers on Microsoft’s travel spend?

Absolutely, yes! We have about 100,000 employees and 80% of them travel for work. Currently, our annual spend is:

  • about 400 million USD for air travel, which translates into over 1.5 billion air miles
  • 300 million USD for hotels – that’s roughly 4,000 hotel rooms booked per day.

Our air travel also translates into 3 million hours in the air. Obviously, we have a vivid interest that those hours can be spent efficiently.

How big is your travel management team?

We have 10 internal full-time employees who mostly focus on strategic topics. In addition, there are 12 extended staff and quite a few dedicated resources at our TMC.

Is it correct that you came up with the ideas for the title and role of Travel Technology Manager?

Yes, it was essentially a collaborative idea between Eric Bailey and me to create this role at Microsoft. An important part of my mission is to look for opportunities to pilot new technologies and services.

This also includes our data strategy. It might be interesting for you to hear that GDPR has had a massive impact in the US. Unfortunately, many companies and TMCs are quite late to the game.

Which tech solutions are currently part of Microsoft’s global travel programme?

There are probably more than I can name here! Here’s a good selection:

  • The Roadmap app for itineraries and travel assistance
  • Microsoft Dynamics as CRM for helpdesk, and various user engagement tools, including Yammer, Flow, Forms, Teams, and SharePoint.
  • The Microsoft Office Stack – among others for calendar integration
  • SAP Concur – mostly for booking. We’re currently piloting Expense as well
  • Tripism for destination research and corporate benefits
  • Microsoft Bot Framework for helpdesk purposes such as policy questions
  • A consolidated data lake built on Microsoft Azure, and leveraging Azure AI, Machine Learning, and Cognitive Services.
  • Microsoft PowerBI visualisation tool for data analytics

What are your key projects for the next years?

  • Data analytics. This has a huge potential to be used outside of Microsoft’s own travel programme.
  • Smart contracts through blockchain. With this in place, there will be absolutely no need to queue at hotel reception desks!
  • Traveller identity and individualised footprints based on a profile.
  • Booking ++. The booking process can be massively improved in terms of personalisation, and new content distribution paths
  • Supplier Commodities. Maximize the value of preferred partnerships, digital transformations that increase value to all parties – employees, corporate, and suppliers.

Please share your thoughts and ideas about traveler profiles! What is reality and what is your vision?

The current reality is that the data is all over the place and very fragmented.

My vision is that a traveller owns his/her own data and is in the driver’s seat when it comes to sharing it. The profile data will be aggregated from all kinds of sources and drive the traveller experience.

I’m quite optimistic that we will get there and tools like Umbrella Faces could play a key role in this development.

The biggest challenge could be the monetisation model as commercial interests might be in the way of a traveller-owned profile. A possible solution to that problem could be non-profit models such as one sees in Winding Tree or ID2020.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and where do you live?

I was born and raised in Seattle and still live here, so the Pacific Northwest is my home. But I haven’t been here all my life.

I spent three wonderful years in Austria, where I moved on a Fulbright sponsorship in my early 20s. After returning to the US, I had several stints in other US cities like Dallas.

You seem to love traveling. What were your most remarkable experiences?

My most bizarre travel experience was actually in Switzerland! In my early days, I travelled with a friend through Europe and we were both into punk and grunge. He proposed that we stay with some people he knew in Zurich. When we arrived, I found out that they were squatters and lived in an abandoned building.

Today, I am a big fan of adding leisure to business trips. My favourite destination is the Cote d’Azur in Southern France, to where I’ve fortunately traveled for some Amadeus projects. Nice is such a wonderful town.

Thank you, Steve!

Interview with Matt Lambert, Amber Road Travel

Amber Road is, in the best sense, an unusual name for a corporate travel agency. In this interview, Enterprise Director Matt Lambert explains what’s behind the rebranding of this renowned agency.

Matt, I think Amber Road’s new corporate identity is very well done. What was the motivation behind this name change?

Amber Road was an acknowledgment of the modern contemporary travel partnership company that we have created over the last 3 years. It was also a nod to the 35 years heritage of CTI. In a crowded market place full of three letter acronyms, Amber Road sets us apart as the travel partner of choice for the next generation of business traveller, through brand association and our partnership approach.

Did the change of owners play a role in that?

In July 2017 Private Equity firm Endless became the majority shareholder of Amber Road. With their investment in technology and our people we are realising our vision to put the heart and soul back into business travel, creating inspired, positive and rewarding experiences. Endless recognised that to stand out from competition and reflect the investment the rebrand was important and were fully supportive of this.

What exactly is behind the name Amber Road?

The Amber Road was an ancient trade route for the transfer of amber from coastal areas of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. As an important commodity, sometimes dubbed “the gold of the north”, amber was transported from the North Sea and Baltic Sea coasts overland by way of the Vistula and Dnieper rivers to Italy, Greece, the Black Sea, Syria and Egypt over a period of thousands of years.

Amber Road has historic travel connotations, but equally today, modern trading still travels along various Amber Roads across the globe. Whilst the name has a great heritage, it exudes quality, passion, belief and it has entrepreneurial spirit all of which is what we are striving to achieve.

Infrastructure also includes your travel technology. Why did you choose Umbrella Faces?

Automatisation and seamless technology are essential for us. Our investors aim for growth and so all software must be flexible and scalable.

Profile data is the foundation of delivering exceptional customer service to our clients. It holds the entire configuration of travel technology together. Umbrella was first recommended to us by several of our partners like Travelport, Evolvi, Atriis and eGlobalfares.

It is simply hands-down the best profile system on the market and future-proof technology.

You then used Umbrella for a complete GDS migration!

That was a great opportunity. With Umbrella, GDS migration is extremely fast and easy to do.

The greater effort is then to clean up all the content of the data. That is a lot of work but it is absolutely worth it.

Do you have one suggestion/good idea for Umbrella that you want to share here?

The user interface of client-facing parts of Umbrella could benefit from an upgrade. And we would like to attach pictures of visas and passports to profiles.

Matt Lambert outside of work: Where do you live and what do you particularly like about this place?

I live in a small town named Brough in East Yorkshire. It’s about 8 miles from Hull, the UK’s City of Culture in 2017. This put Hull on the map for visitors and artists and we keep seeing great events here.

What was your most remarkable travel experience?

That was my first long haul trip, where I joined a group of clients on a trip to Los Angeles. We were treated like royalty everywhere and it was truly remarkable. I remember the Santa Monica Boathouse and the Halloween decorations all over the city.   

Football: Manchester City or Manchester United?

As a Hull City fan, I have had the privilege to watch them at the Etihad.  Manchester football is like politics, a subject I avoid!  It is one of the things, however, that makes Manchester a great place to have our Head Office and of course brings travellers to the city for both business and pleasure, or a combination of both if you manage to take in a match.

Interview with Magnatech

Our conversation with Paul Gioia (CEO) and Scott Millar (Director, Sales & Strategic Partnerships) revealed a great deal about the awesome TravelTech company from Montreal.

Magnatech is mostly known for its unused tickets solution. The topic is widespread in North America, but almost unknown in Europe. Why is that?

Unused tickets usually have value in both Europe and North America. In Europe, there is the possibility of a ticket refund – so the traveller receives a refund. Whereas in the US and Canada, a credit is issued for the value of the ticket minus a “penalty” when purchasing a new ticket.

Paul Gioia

With our “Ontrackplus” solution, TMCs and corporates can manage and keep track of these unused tickets ensuring they are used before expiration.

How do you achieve that exactly?

We track all of our customers’ booked tickets by scanning the corresponding GDS queues several times a day.

If a profile tool like Umbrella is used, then all unused tickets will be attached to the corresponding profile. In the case of an OBE booking, the booker will automatically be informed in the event that an appropriate balance is available.

How do you deal with non-GDS bookings?

If a corresponding ghost segment exists, we can also record, manage and report non-GDS bookings.

Scott Millar

Do you see business opportunities for Ontrackplus in Europe as well?

With our technology, the often-complicated refund process in Europe can be completely automated. This is something we are pursuing with interested parties.

What other products do you offer at Magnatech?

In addition to our flagship product for unused tickets, we also offer solutions in the following areas:

  • Duty of Care
  • Quality Control
  • Itinerary Delivery
  • Compliance Control
  • Pre-Trip Approval

Which customers are you primarily addressing with your solutions?

Magnatech is of interest to anyone using a GDS or a direct connect solution whose booking data we can read at any time.

We now work with over 30 of the 50 largest corporate travel agencies in the US and Canada.

Tell us about the company history and your participation.

Magnatech was founded in 1990. Paul joined in 2002 and Scott followed 3 years later. In 2016, we jointly acquired the company as part of a corporate restructuring. Paul is the President & CEO as well as majority shareholder.

Currently Magnatech employs 14 dynamic individuals and make up a wonderful multicultural team, which is typical of Montreal’s fast-growing software industry.

Like almost everyone in this industry, you enjoy travel. Which travel experiences have left the biggest impression on you so far?

Scott: It was actually a business trip, on the way back from Atlanta. An ice storm had paralysed all air traffic. For some reason, my flight was the very last one to be cancelled, and I didn’t realise until it was too late. As a result, I was literally the only passenger in that huge airport.

Paul: My family and I recently visited Portugal and became instant fans of the country.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Portugal, its food, its culture and its welcoming people. Albufeira is definitely one of my favourite destinations.

Thank you for the wonderful interview and your hospitality!



Interview with Nicole Wilcock, Radius Travel

Umbrella is proud to announce its profile management partnership with Radius Travel, probably the best-known global mega-network in travel management.

In this interview, Nicole Wilcock, Senior Director of Global Service Delivery, tells us why the concept of a network of local TMC champions is so successful. Plus, she fills us in on her exciting journey via Royal Air Force plane to her husband’s most unusual birthplace.

 

What is Radius’ motivation and objective of partnering with Umbrella?

Umbrella is certainly the market leading solution for profiles. Your technical and functional approach is better and more mature than other solutions, which will be of great help for our multinational customers and local partners.

The other aspect is, of course, Umbrella’s expertise in many different global markets.

 

Radius has an impressive history and track record. But how big is Radius really? Can you share facts & figures?

Of course. Radius is currently active with 123 global agencies in 72 markets on 6 continents. Together, these partners have over 37,000 employees and over $30 billion in revenue.

 

When, why and by whom was Radius founded?

More than 40 years ago, several American TMCs joined together to develop a joint hotel programme named the Woodside Travel Trust (WTT). For 20 years, it developed very successfully and is still a core element of our services. We took the next step forward in the mid-90s when we re-branded as RADIUS (which became Radius Travel in 2013) and began to service multinational clients.

We are very proud that many customers and partner agencies have been with us since that time.

 

What is Radius’ USP for corporations?

Radius speaks to customers that appreciate both local and highly personalised service. Small, owner-managed agencies naturally have a very close relationship with their customers.

From the network, we complement this customer contact and very high level of service with consolidated data, uniform travel policies, and best practices for their travel programme.

 

What’s the biggest challenge for business travel distribution in 2019?

There is a huge gap between the myth and reality regarding new ways of content distribution. This needs to be balanced with new customer expectations, which come from the very handy and mature leisure booking experience.

It’s definitely not trivial to make this look seamless. But our powerful network combined with local best practices helps our members and customers master this challenge.

 

What’s the biggest opportunity for TMCs?

We must make the customer experience as convenient and attractive as the experience for leisure travellers. I am convinced that this is a great opportunity for our partners, as their service is both highly personalized and of the quality that our customers demand.

 

What do you like best about Switzerland?

I worked for a Swiss company for a number of years and spent a lot of time in this wonderful country. I love the landscape and nature. It is so picturesque and breathtaking no matter the season.

 

What is your most inspiring/impressive personal travel experience?

Definitely a trip to Ascension Island, a small island in the middle of the South Atlantic, used by the British and Americans as a military base. My husband is one of the few people actually born on Ascension. His father was employed by the British government at that time and was stationed there for two years.

Access to the island is limited because of its military use. That’s unfortunate since the nature on Ascension is absolutely unique. You will find a lush green and practically untouched forest belt, as well as sprawling lava fields and beautiful beaches.

 

Nicole, thank you so much for your time and the interview!

Interview with Glenn Watson, Advantage Focus Partnership

Umbrella had the honour of taking part in a wonderful, very effective “speed dating” event with Focus Partnership in Manchester. The Focus Partnership is a group of 60 owner-operated TMCs in the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands.

In this interview, Glenn Watson, the mastermind behind this event, explains topics such as how Focus and its partners are preparing for new sales channels with NDC and more.  

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Interview with Alon Meisels, CEO of Atriis

When we talk to TMCs about NDC, the name Atriis is on everyone’s lips. These travel tech pros from the Israeli city of Tiberias seem to be doing a lot right. And now there is also a bidirectional profile data interface between Umbrella and Atriis. 

We spoke to the company’s CEO Alon Meisels to find out more about the technology and vision that drive Atriis’ impressive growth.

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Umbrella’s Profiles On Demand

With the Profiles On Demand API, Umbrella solves a complex problem. Customers can access their profile data at any time. But they don’t need to develop and maintain their own database with traveller information. Plus, storing the data in Umbrella fulfils all requirements of the European General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). 

Individual traveller profiles are imported from Umbrella directly into external applications. Practical examples of this include:

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Uniglobe and Umbrella

Uniglobe is a strong, renowned consortium of travel agencies with partners in over 60 countries.

We have asked Richard Moore, Director of Operations for Uniglobe British Isles and EMEA, why he chose Umbrella for Profile Management and which travel destination he has found most impressive. The answer is surprising.

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