BERLIN – Today I had the opportunity to speak at GBTA 2014 in Berlin, and what a wonderful time to be in here – to witness Sunday’s incredible celebration of the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. So much has changed. Berlin has transformed from a city that represented the challenges of the Cold War, to a city that represents a vibrant, transparent, globalizing new world.With each day the separation of East and West Berlin is erased from the infrastructure of the city and the hearts and minds of Berliners. The era of propaganda and unnatural separation is over.
Our industry can learn from this remarkable city. The business travel industry is, in fact, evolving as well. It’s evolving from an era of closed systems, proprietary technology and silos, to an era where vendors work together to solve problems, where customers are at the center of all of those answers, and where transparency reigns over opacity.
Customers aren’t interested in the petty sniping of vendors and suppliers over who gets to control what.They want answers to their problems. They want collaboration in their supply chain, and complete transparency into how things work. That collaboration, that transparency, that openness, is in many ways the story of the new Berlin, and the how we think business travel is evolving today.
That’s a stark contrast to the past, for many of us. For the last 21 years, since we founded Concur, I have been studying European business travel. When I first approached the topic I spent months studying the disparate markets trying to understand what was happening.What did my untrained eye see?
I saw low online booking adoption rates, incredibly distributed inventory, and siloed systems that did not communicate well with each other. So, to solve the problem, we set about attacking it in much the same way that others had.In fact, I would argue that most online booking alternatives in Europe have traveled a similar path. We have all realized that content is incredibly important.We had to have rail content in each major market, we had to address the challenges of the disparate hotel content in those markets, and we had to have a solution for low cost carriers that deliver a small percentage of travelers, but are nonetheless important. And we had to drive a user interface that was pleasing to our travelers. Over the last ten years, most of the industry got that memo, and worked to varying degrees of success to execute that plan.
So how did we do? While some might argue that everything is going along swimmingly, we at Concur would beg to differ.The industry can – and should – do better. We know some things now that are not about software and technology, but about the state of the market, and human behavior. We know that this isn’t about a user interface. It’s about understanding the user experience in its entirety.
We learned that sometimes, even if rail content is available in the booking engine, some travelers want to book their rail ticket as they walk into the station for convenience.We learned that small hotel chains are the rule rather than the exception in many markets across Europe and Asia.And that people often book direct or via other hotel booking sites out of necessity.
In short, we learned that answers that might have worked in other markets - say North America - won’t work here, or in Asia, or for any global booking solution. “One-size-fits-all” doesn’t work when you are planning a travel strategy.Period.
What we learned is very simple. 21st century business travel solutions require the collaboration of an entire market – working together.One vendor’s innovation – no matter how bright or ambitious will not solve all problems.And let’s be clear - that includes Concur.It's not Concur "or" something else. It's the power of "and." We must be humble enough to understand the role we play, and to understand that we cannot each play all roles.We all have to aspire together to build an ecosystem that works together seamlessly. That benefits you, the travel buyer, and your customer, the traveler, first - and that all of us stand to gain from. That world is not far away, and we believe we can build it together.
As an industry we have to step back, and acknowledge that just because we have a hammer, not every problem presented to us will be a nail.Just because we have an online booking tool doesn’t mean it is the right answer for every situation.Or that we can force all travelers to bend to our will.
We see a world where we can give travelers the solutions they want, while at the same time giving you all the control, compliance, visibility, and duty of care you need. We see a world that is connected, transparent, and effortless.An entire industry working together.