Q&A: Stéphane Donders, CEO, Traveldoo

Stéphane Donders is the chief executive of travel and expense management company Traveldoo, joining in January 2016.

With over 25 years experience in the b2b sector, he joins from payment technology company Meilleure Gestion (2009 to 2015) and previously spent nearly five years as deputy managing director at KDS.

BBT spoke with Donders to find out the challenges in the sector, cutting leakage and new payment technology…

The T&E expense management sector is fiercely competitive – how do you differentiate from the likes of Concur and Amex-owned KDS?

The sector is very competitive, but it is also growing at a rapid rate. Paystream recently conducted a research project estimating that the travel and expense (T&E) managed solution market would see revenues of $2.1bn by 2020.

All T&E providers have a broadly similar solution, albeit at slightly differing stages in the development plan and slight variations in functionality. Where we can add some differentiation is in the approach we take in the way we deliver, implement and work with partners/ customers. T&E suppliers put differing values on different aspects of the solution and is up to organisations to align themselves with a supplier which best shares their values.

Concur is owned by SAP and specialises in enterprise software with a long list of huge organisations as customers.

KDS is now owned by one of the largest TMCs, Amex, which offers corporations a more traditional approach to business travel.  Amex now has a booking tool but it’s too early to say what impact this new ownership will have in the future.

Traveldoo is owned by Expedia and as such has a very scientific approach to product development, ensuring that the evolution of the solution remains customer focused at all times. Although we are owned by a leading travel company, we have been able to remain independent and nimble in our approach.

What do you see as the biggest challenges and changes facing the managed travel sector today?

The four main drivers changing the way we work are: increasing transparency, reducing leakage, ensuring passenger safety and personalisation of the travel booker experience … either through the product they choose or the way they prefer to book.

Alongside this we have new challenges in the way we work with suppliers. For example, the recent announcement that BA will follow the Lufthansa route, imposing an £8 charge on all bookings made through the GDS. This will have a major impact on the whole travel eco-system and it will be interesting to see how the industry reacts.

At the end of 2016 you launched a hotel-booking app which aimed to cut leakage for corporate programmes. Has it been a success and how can buyers improve leakage in their hotel programme?

We have received lots of positive feedback regarding the hotel app, particularly from clients who reported large amounts of leakage around hotel bookings. The app was introduced in response to client concerns and has given travellers an alternative way to book accommodation, resulting in more travellers adhering to the travel policy.

There has been a lot of hype around Bitcoin over the past few years with it predicted to be the sixth largest currency by the end of the next decade. Are any of your clients using it? If not, are you ready for it? And would you need to invest in new technology to offer expense management of Bitcoin?

We don’t have any clients currently using Bitcoin and to my knowledge have had no request from clients, or partners to start any developments in this area. As with any innovative, new technology we will continue to watch as developments evolve and choose an appropriate development strategy when there are signs of market and customer demand.

Do you think Blockchain technology will impact expense management sector?

It’s early days, but I do think Blockchain has huge potential for business travel and expense management. I was recently given the analogy likening Blockchain to “Google Docs” where several people can work of the same document at the same time with no single point of failure and no single entity controlling the system. Easy access for all, with the advantage of additional security has obvious benefits and we are watching developments with great interest. As yet we haven’t identified areas for the practical application of Blockchain technology but we have discussed running a hackathon to explore these new technologies and how they may help our customers.

Have you integrated your technology into the major ‘sharing economy’ providers, and have you seen any shift in corporate travel away from more traditional suppliers?

We have integrated our technology into Uber and HomeAway, and are currently in development with Airbnb.

There has been some interest from clients, particularly regarding Airbnb. At this stage we have not seen any substantial shift away from traditional suppliers in favour of new sharing economy providers.

Chatbots and voice recognition technology – Are there any plans to integrate this type of technology into your systems? What impact could this have on managed travel programmes?

I think we are still in the early stages of evolution of chatbots in the b2b space. Business travel is such a complex sale with so many components and so much choice and information, that I think it’s hard to get all the necessary data across through one medium.  As travellers we still like to see the choice and make comparisons.

I do however see an opportunity for chatbots in other areas such as 1st level support, where queries tend to be simpler and more straight forward or in the booking process where there is a simple repeat point-to-point booking.

I also think there is an opportunity for voice recognition in expense management and this is something we are looking at for our mobile app.

What are the benefits of being owned by Expedia and having your technology integrated with them?

The Expedia mission is to revolutionise travel through the power of technology. They have a clear vision for all their brands to be innovative, fast and customer focused at all times.

As a parent company they are willing to invest in the growth of the organisation while allowing us to be independent to ensure we can react to market demands and continue to offer the high touch, level of service to our customers.

One of the main benefits of the ownership is the scientific data analysis that Expedia is able to provide on all aspects of the travel journey. We are in a fortunate position that variations of each piece of product development is tested, to analyse the customer response and ensure that we develop in the right areas with the customers at the forefront of any decision.

Over the past few years there has been large uptake in technology such as virtual payments and Apple Pay, what will be the next thing to disrupt the industry in terms of expense management and payment?

 We are watching this area with interest as ‘contactless’ cards start to become the norm in our everyday lives. Payment systems and associated functions are going through huge change and new entrants are changing the way the corporate market manage and track spend against budget in real time, combining the virtual card technology and traditional payment cards. There is also a lot of innovation happening and around mobile and the traveller user experience. The B2B market is still behind in this area, it’s an exciting time!

Vision for the future of Traveldoo…

My vision is to take Traveldoo global and to become the best at travel and expense. We have an aggressive growth strategy with a clear product development plan to take us to the next level. It’s going to be an exciting few years.

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