Booking travel can be a headache.
Booking corporate travel can be an even bigger one. Beyond the traditional stresses of coordinating hotels, trains and planes, business travelers need to consider staying within company budgets and adhering to company travel policies.
Nine months ago, travel search engine KAYAK saw an opportunity in this.
“We wanted a better way to plan business travel for our own employees,” KAYAK CEO Steve Hafner told Business Insider. “And there wasn’t anything on the market, so we built it.”
Today, KAYAK for Business debuted an early access waitlist for businesses in North America. KAYAK and OpenTable employees are already using the platform, Hafner said, and now companies can request integration ahead of the official product launch later this month. KAYAK’s Senior PR Manager Kayla Inserra said that global rollout is “coming soon.”
The service offers business travelers access to KAYAK’s listings with the added perks of discounted corporate travel rates and a streamlined booking process. Prospective users who visit the website today will be prompted to enter their emails in order to join the waitlist.
“With KAYAK for Business, everything is integrated,” Hafner said, noting that users will be able to access corporate policies, manager approval, and reporting and tracking from the platform. Unlike existing corporate travel management systems, KAYAK for Business will not bundle customer service and will, like its consumer counterpart, be free to use.
“KAYAK has always been free to use,” Hafner said. “It basically started as letting consumers be their own travel agents. And now we think that business travelers should be entitled to that as well.”
KAYAK for Business will be competing against the likes of Concur and Lola.com
Corporate travel online booking tools emerged in the 1990s, and by the early 2000s were recognized as “the inevitable future for corporate travel booking” for their ability to cut costs and time spent booking, Business Travel News reports.
Today, a dizzying number of corporate travel management companies – ranging from early leaders in the space such as Concur to newcomers like Lola.com, the brainchild of KAYAK cofounder Paul English – are vying for a share of the market. According to the US Travel Association, domestic and international business travelers in the US spent $327.3 billion in 2018, and the Global Business Travel Association predicts that global business travel spending will reach $1.7 trillion by 2022.
However, in recent years, corporate travel management companies have struggled to retain business travelers.
In September 2017, the New York Times ran an article on the growing segment of “rogue” business travelers who are taking bookings into their own hands. Kenneth Diederich, who spent more than half of 2016 staying in hotels for business, told reporter Harriet Edleson that he often booked his own travel through KAYAK or Priceline instead of going through his corporate travel agent in order to accrue points.
“They are used to searching for the best fares, staying in unusual places and collecting reward points,” Edleson said of these travelers.
Today, companies are working to develop all-in-one corporate travel management products for their employees, but face the challenge of convincing employees to adopt these systems, Isaac Carey recently reported for Skift. In order to get business travelers to quit shopping around, these new products will need to provide an experience superior to the online booking tools business travelers are used to, he said.
KAYAK already has an extensive base of users: 120 million people use KAYAK a month, Hafner told Business Insider. What remains to be seen is if the familiar interface is enough to convince users to use the platform to book corporate travel, too.
Hafner suggested that the free-to-use service will be especially beneficial for small companies that don’t yet have a corporate travel system in place. “Now they basically get Kayak on steroids,” he said.