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Friday, February 3, 2023

Innovate Faceoff Notebook: Troop Tops, TripBam People’s Choice

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Judges at the BTN Group’s 9th annual Innovate conference gave top honors to meetings management travel platform Troop, while inaugural Innovate winner TripBam received top accolades from attendees.

The Oct. 24 event’s panel of judges—Microsoft travel technology manager Steve Clagg; Travel Tech Consulting president Norm Rose; Takeda global head of travel, meetings and events Michelle De Costa; and last year’s winner, Grapevine CEO and founder Jack Dow—voted Troop as the most innovative among the dozen companies demonstrating their products in BTN’s Business Travel Innovation Faceoff. 

Rose said that Troop has come “a long way” since first seeing CEO Dennis Vilovic present at Phocuswright’s conference in 2019 and that changes in business meetings trends following the subsequent Covid-19 pandemic has intensified Troop’s relevance.

“We have all these remote workers who need to get together in remote places, so it’s really driving a new model for group plannings,” Rose said.

Troop, which Vilovic said over the past year has grown from six to 40 employees, has built a technology platform that taps data sources to help companies determine and plan meeting locations. It weighs such variables as locations of employees, direct flight availability, total travel times, visa requirements, Covid-19 restrictions and carbon emissions for flights to show the most logical destination for all attendees.

“In the end, we’re democratizing meetings management,” Vilovic said in his presentation. “Today, everyone has become a meeting planner, and people are planning meetings who have never planned meetings before, small meetings specifically.”

Even for experienced meetings managers, the manual planning process often can end up with a “meeting based on poor decisions,” he said. For example, one client was planning a meeting and intended to bring everyone into its headquarters, but moving that meeting to a location on another continent shaved 10 percent off employee travel time, Vilovic said.

The judging panel wanted “to see further integration with the rest of the planning cycle, which [they] do at some level,” Rose said. Earlier this year, Troop initiated a live connection with business travel technology provider Spotnana that can facilitate hotel bookings, and flight bookings are being finalized, Vilovic told BTN. Troop also is working with corporate card and expense platform provider Center, he said. Troop, Spotnana and Center all are under Steve Singh’s Madrona Venture Group.

In addition, Troop is working to expand the carbon emission data used for planning decisions to go beyond flights as part of its partnership with Thrust Carbon, Vilovic said.

People’s Choice Award

TripBam, which won the judges’ award at the first Innovate in 2013 for its initial hotel rate shopping platform, returned to the winner’s circle this year as the People’s Choice award, garnering the most votes from attendees. A mainstay in the Faceoff over the years, TripBam this year demonstrated its hotel and airline contract auditing capabilities.

“We take all of your contracts, airline and hotel, digitize them, import them into the system and check every booking as they flow into the system for the reshop process,” TripBam CEO Steve Reynolds said in his presentation. “When we find an issue, we database it and provide a dashboard, where you can see the results of that analysis on a real-time basis, so it’s continuous auditing.”

The missed savings opportunities can be vast, he said. For hotels, the process can identify whether negotiated amenities are being included, chainwide discounts that aren’t being applied or other contracting issues, which can add up to millions of dollars depending on a hotel program’s size, Reynolds said. On the airline side, it has identified such issues as a certain fare class not getting discounts on a key route or a point-of-sale discount missing from a certain country, which also equals hundreds of thousands of dollars lost, he said.

“You can see, at your fingertips, all the terms and conditions for deals and find an issue quickly,” Reynolds said. “Without this system, nobody would know any of this was happening.”

The judging panel also named TripBam as one of two honorable mentions in the Faceoff, alongside Amadeus, which demonstrated the integration of its Cytric booking and expense tool into the Microsoft 365 suite of tools. 

“I think the possibilities are limitless in this product and what it can do for travel management,” De Costa said of TripBam. “We work so hard on these contracts, right down to a percentage point on a class of service or hotel rate type, so to have that information exposed allows you to take action on that.”

De Costa added that the judges didn’t note “many weaknesses” in TripBam’s auditing offering but that they would like to see it move away from the self-service model of the dashboard and more to push notifications, “letting us know where to take action and what’s going on.”

The other participants in this year’s Faceoff included:

  • BTP Automation, which fully automates the hotel sourcing system
  • Coupa Travel & Expense, which demonstrated the integrated platform built from its acquisition of Pana
  • Gant Travel, showcasing its Gant Together offering that integrates meeting invite and booking tools
  • Hilton, which has added automated upgrade capabilities to its Hilton Honors loyalty program
  • HRS, which has integrated expense management platform Paypense into its HRS Pay spend management platform
  • Jyrney, the ground transportation mobility platform that won top honors from judges at the Faceoff at Business Travel Show in London earlier this year
  • Simard, the technology provider that is developing solutions around Winding Tree’s blockchain-based decentralized travel market
  • 3Sixty, which has aggregated more than a million vetted accommodation options into a platform that taps machine learning to show best options for guests
  • Unlocked Data, which consolidates data from travel management companies, expense tools, corporate cards, human resources and finance
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