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Should travel managers be ‘spooked’ by the new data gatekeepers?

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It was Jeff Katz, the founder of Orbitz, who got me thinking about this during his keynotes at The Beat Live and BTN Innovate. Jeff’s pitch was simple: in the current information society it’s basically a case of winner takes all. The power – a lot of it – resides in the hands of just a few players; and yes, we’re talking Google, Apple, Facebook, Uber and Airbnb.

You’ve got to hand it to them. Those guys at Google are such wizards that it’s impossible to know what potions they are cooking up behind the scenes! Sure, not all Google spells work, but when they do consumers are mesmerized. Take Google Now, for example; its ease of use, and usefulness seems to outweigh any worries over privacy. Let’s not forget that Google is a good wizard; they’re never evil, remember?

At Apple it’s a similar tale though this is a different beast altogether! Apple uses its vast quantities of data not (as far as we know) to play big brother but to integrate hardware and software into a magical, immersive experience so that users are caught hook, line, and sinker. It works and I should know; my digital life has been under Apple’s spell for as long as I can remember.

This brings us to the two relative newcomers on the gatekeeping scene – Uber and Airbnb. These two have powered the so-called sharing economy and their rise, in a relatively short space of time, has been nothing short of meteoric.

Take Uber: it appears unstoppable on its mission to become the world’s biggest ground transportation company; one stat bandied around at the CAPA Corporate Travel Innovation Summit was that today Uber controls over 50% of ground transport for US business travelers. I can’t say I’m that surprised. Uber has created an enchanting user experience.

Airbnb could be even more interesting because it has chosen to own the experience – and a local experience to boot – rather than the transaction. In this way, they are able to own a much broader swathe of the travel market; the recent addition of around 40,000 short-stay lets, for example, means they are also becoming a distribution provider of apartments.

So where am I going with all this you might ask?

Recently a corporate travel buyer put it to me that there was no reason for Google Now not to become their business travelers’ app of choice. Sure, consumers love Google Now but my question is this: can it work for corporate travel management programs?

I think not. And the reason is this; because I don’t believe Google’s (or for that matter Uber, Apple, Facebook or Airbnb) goal in life is to help you deliver a better experience for your customers – your business travelers.

It boils down to data and who owns, manages and sucks the blood out of that data. These guys’ primary goal is not to help you build a travel app that keeps your business travelers happy and safe on the road, while driving fresh revenues for your business. Their primary goal is to bleed their data to better their core business, whatever that might be.

Sure, there can be no doubt that many of your business travelers probably use Google, own an iPhone, share travel experiences on Facebook, love Uber and may even prefer an Airbnb local experience to staying in the cookie-cutter hotel in your program.

But trust me on this: they aren’t going to be interested in helping you with the finer details of procurement optimization, talent management or with driving higher engagement with your travel program nor creating a better travel experience that propels your company forward.

They are gatekeepers of their own data and why wouldn’t they be? How do you think they’ve got so big, so fast?

Ok, I’m not saying don’t work with them. I’m simply saying be careful with what you share. Your data is the lifeblood of your business; don’t let them suck it out of you. Don’t let those big guys smash your pumpkins.

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