The End of Travel Data Darkness

Ending Travel Data Darkness with a Switch

Ending Travel Data Darkness with a Switch

This is the year in which travel data darkness begins to die.

By data darkness, I mean the opacity of travel booking data made outside of company-approved booking channels.  Exhibit A – hotel bookings made on Given that most companies can’t see 40-50% of their hotel bookings, this is a big black hole for most travel managers. And safety/security managers. And tax managers (more on this later).

Sure, you may get this data via the corporate credit card, or eventually via the expense report, but by then that data’s wattage is pretty dim.  Surely you need brighter data – more detail, in real time, regardless of how or where your travelers book.

No problem.  The solution – conceptually – is so close and so simple. And it has tax benefits to boot.

It’s your company’s e-mail server.  More specifically, your e-mail forwarding rules engine.

1. Tell that engine to detect every incoming itinerary from all your employees (OK, that may take a little work). Once detected, forward a copy of the itinerary e-mail to your favorite itinerary management service, like TripIt or Worldmate or TripCase.

2. Get those guys to provide real-time reporting back to you (the travel manager).

3. Share that wealth of data with your stakeholders – your TMC, safety/security folks, and your tax compliance folks.  In fact, the tax folks may (probably should) pay for the costs.  It’s their butts on the line to keep track of how many days employees spend in “non-home” cities, states and countries.

This “itinerary copy/forward” idea isn’t mine.  The bright boys at Blackspark, a Toronto startup, came up with it first.  They needed a way to get the travelers’ data into their tax compliance monitoring software.  I’ll write more about Blackspark soon.  Meanwhile, here’s a good case study covering this issue and their solution.

Go on, flip that switch. No more travel data darkness.  Open bookings get tracked effortlessly. Hotel leakage gets a big dose of sunlight. Traveler safety goes up. Tax compliance risk goes down.

What’s not to like about this bright idea?

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23 thoughts on “The End of Travel Data Darkness

  1. Scott –

    I will be the first to admit, I do not know these apps through business use, but my own personal use. So my knowledge is limited, but I am intrigued enough by the idea to ask:
    I have never seen anything from WorldMate or TripIt related to reporting (#2), at a personal level, or as an aggregate across an enterprise. Do they offer this as a feature for an enterprise user? Could they even export their data sets in a way that can be imported to your own reporting capability?
    Also, at least on an individual level, I have had some issues with TripIt and WorldMate tracking things. Will a cancelled reservation (hotel, car, air, whatnot) extract the trip from you reporting data, or will a replacement trip create a situation where you have two reservations in conflict? These tools seem very one initierary – one trip biased. Handy to remind me to get to the airport, but do they offer more to the enterprise?

    • According to Ramon Tavares, Co-Founder at Blackspark, their borderFile product is integrated with TripIt’s API. More broadly, the TripIt for Teams product offers real-time reporting on trips administered by admins and travel managers. I suspect TripCase and WorldMate either have or could quickly acquire the ability to generate reports on trips from travelers sharing the same domain name, e.g. (How hard could it be, says me!) I’ve asked Emily Tate, the TripCase product manager to weigh in here.

      You ask good questions about the synchronization of trip data. Perhaps Ramon from Blackspark will comment on that, as it must be an issue they have resolved in one way or the other.

  2. Thanks, Scott! Yes, Todd, our borderFile product integrates directly with the TripIt API, which allows us to aggregate travel data from multiple employees across the enterprise. We then provide a multitude of reporting and dashboard capabilities for tax compliance and other issues important to Finance and Global Mobility managers.

    In addition, TripIt for Teams does have some nice organization tools for travel managers, although this product is not required to integrate with our solution.

    Regarding cancelled trips, there is logic built in to TripIt to detect duplicate itineraries, for example, but it does seem to require the end user to resolve the conflict within their TripIt account. For cases that are missed or not resolved by the traveler, we have facilities within our solution to allow travelers (or managers) to “clean up” the travel data. Most effectively, if the enterprise is a Concur Travel & Expense customer, then users can simply authorize their Concur account to copy their travel data to their TripIt account. In this case, the exchanges and refunds handled elegantly by the Concur T&E system will be reflected in TripIt and, by extension, borderFile.

  3. 1. Basic rule for any distributed system designer: never built a system on emails ;)
    2. Accessing employees email is not something easy … and legally could be hard to implement in certain countries
    3. the main issue is always the coverage … It’s good to have reports, but what if data are not all there or simply not accurate (cancellation not taken into account)?

    TMCs already have that information from their mid-office and could push this information to a reporting system or external systems. Concerning the leakage, this is may be another tool to add in the current tookit: browser plugin (procureapp), email parsing (worldmate tripcatch, Google Now, superfly for miles and points), and dedicated API.

    • @William,
      1. TripIt, WorldMate and TripCase would presumably disagree.
      2. Which countries, and specifically why?
      3. Au contraire. TMCs generally do not have data booked outside their systems.
      4. Style points for our brevity!

      • To be honest, I’m not opposed to managed travel 2.0. But today, technology is not there yet. The end to end process is not achievable without some patches. End to end data privacy could not be achieved. That’s OK in B2C, not in B2B. So the “end of data darkness” is not there. Let’s say, it is the dawn of a new era where managed travel will become data centered.

        0. Open booking is about travelers, not companies. And legally, data pushed by a traveler are own by a traveler. A company could not ask TripIt, or any other of its kind, to delete a user from its web site. That’s one of the KEY ISSUE: user provisioning and de-provisioning from a company standpoint. One solution is to have a third party doing the link or there should be specific contracts in place and adapted API between companies and such suppliers.

        1. How can you enforce people to send an email (or they forgot to do it)? You can’t, so now you want to get the email right at the source. Why not? Then How can you ensure the email was received? By an email … Email overload!

        Not sure they would disagree … They all offer an API, not based on email… I’m sure they would prefer to receive information in XML or JSON and with a transaction oriented protocol. You can not trust email. Sending your credit card to an hotel by email is still common in this industry, but should have been forbidden for years.
        Sending travelers booking confirmation with all information about the booking (price, dates, name of people, loyalty card number) is also a risk. You know the power of big data and the value of such data for advertising and more.

        2. Germany for sure. Nordics and France will also be difficult. Not sure about Spain and Italy. Concerning USA, I do not know, but I suppose it could be.

        3. Yes, but what is the value of these data? If you do not get ALL DATA and if most of them are not “right” with “amount” or “date” inaccurate, I do not see the value. What if your booking is not recognized (like my latest one at the new Yorker hotel in NY?). More job to do, you have to enter it manually, somewhere (but where in Tripit, in the expense, in …). Accuracy is NOT a point we can debate. And we all know how travel data are awfully difficult to manage due to lack of standard and quality. If it works sometimes and sometimes not, companies can not trust the dashboards or reports produces. Of course, at some point in time you have expense reporting, but it’s very late in the process (and requires then more control).

        4. Security. Well you all know how hackers do act. Buying everywhere on Internet, especially in some “unknown” countries is at risk … Not impossible to manage, but requires a proper organisation in place.

        What is needed is a full end to end process, ensuring accuracy and data security, not adding more costs and control internally and able to interact with several (open) travel tools and services. The process should manage Trips and total cost, not individual bookings and provide status of each “segment” of a trip (audit trail). Safety and security contracts will be more complex and more expensive, that’s obvious, since risk is bigger. Additional fees will have to be forecasted concerning disruptions management (no more on central point to help) and litigations with suppliers will have to be tackled by company, or let to the travelers (with the loss of time, and stress it can generate). At some point, there will be a need for some interoperability standards also.

        Disclaimer: all ideas and opinions presented here are mine, not reflecting the one of my company or anybody else … Blame me!

  4. SAP is now pushing their overhauled cloud-based T&E offering, SAP T&E OnDemand. Have you folks built anything specifically intended to mine work-location data from any kind of SAP-based T&E solution?

    • The TripIt / Concur T&E Cloud environment is the first platform that we have integrated with borderFile directly, but we will be looking at other vendors and their API facilities over the coming months.

  5. sounds like a new way for corporations to get in trouble with with the i.r.s. and other branches of the
    united states government.there is no such thing as a free lunch anymore scott!if you want to go to
    jail,then continue on.maybe,maybe not?

    • Mike, can you clarify why this approach might create tax problems? All I see is how it can reduce tax problems…pray tell, good sir!

      • it seems scott that you are not listening to your speak about is useless until it is formed into coherent information!using cloud by any company or consumer opens up a lot of big time risks.your bloggers are trying to tell you this.unsecured data can be taken and and used for any reason by anybody!you feel
        the cloud system is totally secure?i do not,and believe me,i know what i am talking about.yes,i did work for the government,good sir!

  6. Scott – great discussion.

    @welkaim is right, Superfly launched Superbox to get access to user loyalty data but that is just the first step. We do not disclose upcoming product releases but we believe there is a lot of potential in the data buried in your inbox, especially when crossed with other data.

    Access to data is ‘king’ but the ‘prince’ is in the analysis. As Mike Burns mentioned, looking at a boat-load of unstructured data without the analysis or the necessary privacy controls is useless.

  7. Hats off to Ramon and team for the innovation and to Scott who is pushing us all to think! Things to consider when evaluating new ideas:

    1) Initial innovation is a big step (and risk for the innovator) which should be recognized (congratulated) and can only be properly evaluated by piloting & testing.
    2) Let’s not race to the least common denominator. Worrying about Nordic’s, Eastern EU, etc. are not the low hanging fruit. Innovations are vetted in large, manageable markets where ROI is the largest – then if validated; other tuck in opportunities exist – yes?
    3) Open Web refuses to be contained and controlled. Risks – sure; ask Henry Ford about car crashes (I didn’t think so).
    4) Hallmarks of managed travel will not disappear: Discounts, Preferred Suppliers, Data & Traveler Security.
    5) Every company has unique business and cultural attributes. Flexible choice is welcome!

    It’s clear to me that we’ve reached critical mass in Travel 2.0. TMC’s will see corporate RFP’s demanding these services – are TMC’s ready? Are security firms? Is your reporting system provider ready? Get involved or become involved.

    –Phil Hammer, ProcureApp Inc.

    • Well said, Phil – worthy of an “Amen!” from this corner.

      Your 4th point:
      “Hallmarks of managed travel will not disappear: Discounts, Preferred Suppliers, Data & Traveler Security.”
      gets me thinking – what do other folks view as the hallmarks of managed travel? Well worth a separate post, no doubt.

    • Thanks Phil and I agree. We are focused on innovating and giving the customer as much choice as possible when it comes to choosing an implementation method. Each company has their own set of criteria for security, privacy and other policies. Whether they desire a direct API integration, or prefer to have travelers provide data in a more manual process (or even a combination thereof), our aim is to support their choice and not force a solution architecture upon them.

      At the end of the day, the travel data is available and there are many ways to retrieve and aggregate it for analysis and decision-making. There is definitely an A-Ha! moment for some companies when they see a real-time dashboard showing their employee travel to specific locations of concern, with their own thresholds for risk and compliance overlaid. Having the ability to include open bookings in the data set is critical for a complete and accurate picture.

      • a personalised handheld mobile gps application feeding the data and info to a central point(cloud system),would give the enterprise the ability to approve or turndown a travel procurement.this would
        work even in a nonsecured and potentially dangerous environment.but i guess the employee in
        dodge city,without a wyatt earp,knows the best most times.

  8. I question the core issue raised by William El Kaim, which is that there is no value ‘if you do not get all the data.’ He describes several factors than might prevent MT 2.0 companies from collecting 100% of bookings using the email strategy Scott started this thread with.

    That noted, however, it seems illogical to dismiss a potentially huge advance in the ability of companies and TMCs to capture data, support travelers, and enhance travel management, just because its not theoretically perfect. Surely there is great value in capturing 90% – 95% of direct bookings – compared to zero – especially if a TMC can then add profile data to the ‘shell’ data in an email, and integrate that booking into management reports.

    • That is correct, Tom. With regards to the tax compliance issues we address, there is a very real and significant benefit to having as much of the picture as possible, even if not 100%. The reason is that the company has an obligation to produce the travel and business activity details if asked by authorities in the host country or state. Even if the company’s activities in the location are not creating any exposure, they cannot respond to this audit without significant cost and disruption to business if the data is not readily at hand. Of course, if they do have exposure in the host location, the consequences of having no data are far more severe and onerous!

      With regards to employee profiles, our solution ties directly to the company HRIS to maintain that data; you are also correct in saying that this information is essential to include in the context of reporting.

  9. Scott, I applaud your unconventional thinking. This is how innovation happens.

    As a buyer anxious to get the other 50% into my data warehouse I’m open to any suggestions. Let’s not kid ourselves any longer: The sites offer a better experience to many travelers. Resellers dumb down the experience by stripping away information the consumer needs to make an informed purchasing decision – loyalty status, product descriptions, and often the best rate. If the traveler gets the experience and I get the data everyone wins.

    Automatic email forwarding? Ingenious 2.0 solution as you remove the reliance on employees to manually forward the itinerary to TripIt, TripCase, etc. But wouldn’t this also throw all group, meeting, incentive, and event activity into my data warehouse? And personal travel? I don’t want all those ski trips and Caribbean escapes in my warehouse.

    Still, there’s an interesting idea here. Let’s keep it in the oven a little longer and see what comes out.

    • It’s a good point, Greg.

      One way to achieve this is to have employees periodically clean up their travel data by using the Business/Leisure checkbox within their TripIt account. This designation will be picked up by our borderFile system, allowing personal travel to be filtered from the data set for reporting.

      As Scott mentioned elsewhere, employees may also use a separate email address for personal travel and choose not to use this address with their TripIt account, or use it with a separate TripIt account that isn’t linked to borderFile.

    • Great point Greg,

      Further to Ramon’s comment (and I can only speak to TripIt and Concur Travel & Expense as it relates to MT 2.0) – Currently the API’s provide filtering at the point of data synchronization in terms of what specific data elements you need to grab for your warehouse. This should address filtering of group, meeting, incentive and event activity – but it does not address, as Ramon noted, filtering of business vs. leisure without traveler involvement.

  10. Excellent discussion and, whether one agrees or not, one this is essential to have. Sounds similar to all the discussions about 10 years ago when US airlines started floating the balloon on unbundling! This approach is evolutionary and is a progressive step forward in proactively managing spend and travel. While there are many issues about data security and how the data will/can be captured does everyone remember the similar discussions surrounding Prism and the airlines use of data, security etc. when it first hit?

    One can look forward and try to proactively resolve the issues in a positive manner or stand pat, say “It will never work” and be caught wondering what happened when all of a sudden you realize the train passed you by and you need to catch up. The travel industry during the 80’s, 90’s the early 2000’s and still to this day was and is busy building new infrastructure around new concepts and ways of doing business (data/technology) – now, in many cases the fruit of that labor is being realized, developed, streamlined and taking the next evolutionary steps. Thinking progressively and about how to tackle problems/issues doesn’t always provide a quick answer but NOT having the discussion and simply saying “nope, never gonna happen” certainly doesn’t do anything to move the ball forward and help create progress.

    I enjoy the conversations and diversity of opinions, thoughts and ideas that are provoked in your blogs Scott. Kudos to everyone for participating as well!

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