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How three business travel start-ups overcame the crisis

Only 8% of European travelers expect to resume business travel at the same pace and with the same habits as before the health crisis, according to a study published in November 2021 by the consulting firm Roland Berger. That doesn’t seem to worry Zahir Abdelouhab, vice president of Southern Europe at TripActions, a business travel management company founded in 2015. “The observation is alarming for those who can’t reinvent themselves, the old business models. This is a boon for us.” The American unicorn, which went from a valuation of 2 to 7.2 billion between January 2020 and October 2021, opened Paris offices in January. It claims to be recording a higher volume of bookings today than before the crisis. Zahir Abdelouhab explains it by the forced stop of travels, which would have given the opportunity to companies to think about their needs and to turn to more adapted offers.

For Okarito, a business travel booking platform launched in 2018, booking volume has increased six or sevenfold since Covid. “We realized during the lockdown that a whole fringe of companies were forced to continue traveling in France,” recalls CEO Rémi Duvoux. We contacted them and they told us they didn’t know how to book their travel: traditional travel agencies were either out of work or completely closed.” The Okarito solution is simpler and less expensive, targeting companies that don’t have large needs. It also identifies itself as a direct competitor to BtoC sites, such as the SNCF. “SMEs sometimes go directly through these sites. We allow them to centralize everything on the same tool, and it’s simpler for the accounting”, says the founder. Simplifying accounting also means that employees don’t have to advance their travel expenses, “which has a positive impact on their well-being.

Based in Clichy, the business travel agency Supertripper, created in 2015, offers to this end to remove all expense reports, with a management interface that allows the financial director to keep control. “We intervene upstream of the expense with an approval system: we give the right to such and such a type of hotel, such and such a class in the plane for such and such a team,” explains CEO Maxime Pialat. The American TripActions, for its part, launched in December 2021 a smart card called Liquid in which it is possible to directly integrate all travel policies, for automatically created expense reports with each payment, and a more fluid employee experience. The unicorn has also developed dashboards to “see in real time where employees are, in which countries they have been over the last few weeks, where they have been, and where they are going.The unicorn has also developed dashboards to “see in real time where employees are, in which countries they have been over the last few weeks, where they are going”, which is very useful in times of pandemic. Indeed, “companies needed the expertise of travel agencies to ensure business travel during this period of crisis,” says Julie Panadero, coordinator of learners and experts at ESCAET, a business school specializing in tourism.

Business travel agencies, CSR coaches?

It is certain that “companies expect simplified solutions to manage the mobility of their employees while respecting their travel policy, the duty of care or their CSR approach”, Julie Panadero continues. Especially since the desire to travel in a more responsible way corresponds to both the needs of the company and the desires of employees. Supertripper has thought about this and did not wait for the crisis to work on a calculation model that takes into account even the breakfast served at the hotel or the model of the plane used. This allows customers to have a complete analysis of their impact before booking,” says Maxime Pialat. Thanks to a partnership with the GoodPlanet Foundation, the start-up’s clients can aim for carbon neutrality by buying shares. These sums of money, on which Supertripper takes no commission, fund environmental actions. TripActions also offers, at the time of booking, to know the carbon impact of a flight. As a user, “we can also see how much our company has paid to offset this impact,” says Zahir Abdelouhab. In addition, we have a partnership with Neste, a Finnish start-up that allows you to buy biofuel for planes.”

Beyond digital, which has always been present in the sector, “what the crisis has revealed is the advisory role that business travel agencies can provide,” concludes Julie Panadero. For the CEO of Okarito, “We need to accompany companies in a more digital management of their business travel, especially by helping them to create a fair travel policy.” Travel management companies are therefore looking at their CSR score, a way to bring added value and perhaps continue to exist.


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