When Content and Technology Converge in a Travel & Expense Solution

Before the Internet allowed travelers to book directly with airlines, they needed to go to travel agents to purchase tickets. Those agencies typically used the Global Distribution System (GDS) assembled by travel and tourism service providers like Amadeus.

Amadeus is now opening its GDS to companies in Asia through the new cloud-based Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense solution. This means that business travelers and corporate T&E teams will be able to directly book with more than 700 airlines, nearly 400,000 hotels, 43 car rental companies and 90 rail operators around the world.

“A booking on Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense is made directly in the airline system, rather than a third-party database. You share the same platform as more than 130 Amadeus-hosted airlines in Asia”

“We’ve been very successful globally with our online booking tool, Amaedus e-Travel Management, for many years,” says Frederic Saunier, Head of Corporate IT Asia Pacific. "Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense is the leading tool of its kind in Germany, in Austria, in Switzerland, and now we are developing it globally as the next evolution of our corporate IT offering.”

Amadeus cytric was launched in Singapore in November, and will be introduced in Hong Kong, India and Japan in 2017. CFO Innovation’s Cesar Bacani recently spoke with Saunier. Edited excerpts:

There are already many cloud-based solutions in the market. What’s so different about Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense?

We offer a single platform that includes pre-trip approval, online booking tool, expense management, and duty of care.

Our main priorities are around three areas. The first one is mobility. We all know that mobile is like a second skin of the Asian traveler. We offer a lot of features on one mobile app, and we make sure that through mobile we give travel satisfaction. So mobility is one point of priority for us.

Another point of differentiation is our agile approach, which allows us to bring a lot of innovation and to deliver short-cycle releases of about 60 days. That’s very short, if we compare with the competition.

The last one is the content, which is probably the No. 1 differentiator. You probably know how powerful our community-based platform is, the fact that we are offering this Altéa Community platform to distribution and to airlines.

This means that a booking on Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense is made directly in the airline system, rather than a third-party database. 

You share the same platform as more than 130 Amadeus-hosted airlines in Asia, including Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Garuda Indonesia. We recently announced that Malaysia Airlines will be joining the Amadeus Altéa family in 2017.

With the rise of low-cost carriers (LCCs) in Asia Pacific, having this content is also vital for reducing corporate travel costs and providing the best choice for travelers. Amadeus partners with more than 90 low-cost and hybrid carriers today, making 80% of total global LCC and hybrid seats available in Amadeus.

If a vendor is outside the community, such as an airline that is not among the 709 carriers that partner with you, it will not appear on Amadeus cytric?

We have a lot of corporations that want to integrate external content [from the likes of] sharing-economy providers. Our platform allows the corporation, in a very simple way, to integrate this external content.

We have taken that into consideration to make sure that, in addition to the [Altéa Community content], we can have any external content. It’s not just the well-known sharing-economy providers like Airbnb, Uber or Grab. We can integrate any external content. That’s again a key differentiator of Amadeus cytric.

For example, low-cost carriers are predominant in the Indian market. When an LCC is not available on the Amadeus GDS, we make sure that, through API [application programming interface], we can offer the full content from it.

You will be able, as the traveler, as the booker, to get availability and other content, and you would be able to book inside Amadeus cytric.

Amadeus would not have a formal contract with the external content providers as you would with the members of the Altéa Community?

The corporation which is going to adopt this external content takes full responsibility. Very often the corporation signs a contract with this external content company. They have their own process of selecting the content.

“We launched in Singapore on November 8. In 2017 we will launch the product in Hong Kong, in India and in Japan”

It’s fair to say that Amadeus cytric users will have access to more airlines, hotels, transport companies and so on, compared with competing T&E solutions?

I’m not here to talk about my competitors; I’m here to talk about my product. But yes, it’s fair to say that if you want to have the right content, you need to have some expertise in the market . . . as you know, Amadeus is a leading company in that environment, so it’s very important for us to make sure that we have the right content to offer to our customers.

Another point is that the industry is evolving very fast. Airlines are becoming increasingly innovative in bringing new fares, in bringing add-ons, and we need to speak to that. Because we are at the crossroad of the entire industry, because we are catering to these airlines like no one else, yes we have the best content.

How does the solution work in practice? Do I just download the app on my smartphone?

As simple as that. You log-in with your name and password, and you will have access to your travel policy and your content. On the desktop, you open your browser and access the website.

You can access the app the usual way or you can do it through Microsoft Outlook. The advantage in using Outlook is that the travel becomes fully integrated in your calendar. 

We are very excited about this innovation with Outlook. We know that most of the travel is for meetings.

Everything is on the public cloud? Aren’t there concerns about security?

We have been operating in Europe for a long time and [a data breach] has never happened. We’re a German company. Security is really a point of focus.

With our GDS, we process a lot of data, a lot of bookings, and we have the largest data center in Europe. We also invest a lot in R&D – €661 million in 2015. So security and creating a secure environment is a point of focus.

Whenever I speak to CFOs, they always talk about the cumbersome fapiao, the pre-printed paper receipts issued by the tax authorities in China. How are you approaching this issue?

We are doing this step-by-step. We launched in Singapore on November 8. In 2017 we will launch the product in Hong Kong, in India and in Japan.

How to incorporate fapiao [into the solution] is a very important consideration in China. We will certainly develop capabilities in cytric to address that, but we’re not there yet.

Why can’t users just take a picture of the paper receipt with their phone and then submit the scanned copy to finance?

We have to comply with the local rules. Hopefully, in the future, all Asian countries will accept the scanned receipts [for tax and other government purposes].

In 2017, Amadeus cytric will be able to read and pre-populate all the data [in a physical receipt] into your expense management system. It will be in English, but later we will be able to read and extract in Japanese and Korean.

We are working on Chinese capability. If your receipts from your China travel are not in English, then you can manually input the amount, date and other information.

“We don’t have a pricing catalog. We have a customer-based, customized approach. Every project is slightly different”

Analytics is an important tool in the T&E system because it can provide CFOs with forward-looking information and insights into company spend for consolidated buying and negotiating early-payment and bulk discounts. Is there an analytics engine within Amadeus cytric?

Yes, there is. There are two categories of reports: the 20 regular reports, which include the user report and the booking report, and then we have the exclusive analytics report, which gives you a more visual analysis of the data.

In the analytics report, you can separate the different vendors; you can separate the different categories such as by hotel rates or by staff. You can generate the report on a weekly basis, on a monthly basis, on a quarterly basis.

You can also set up a travel management dashboard, which gives you [real-time] at-a-glance information.

Is there a notification system that tells finance that something wrong may be going on?

That’s related to the approval system. If there is anything suspicious, you [as approver] can reject the request or ask for more information through the desktop or mobile.

When you set up your travel policy, you can put some thresholds for restaurant charges, for example, and if the traveler goes beyond that, it could be automatically rejected. That will generate a notification to the approver and the person requesting approval.

How much does the solution cost?

We don’t have a pricing catalog. We have a customer-based, customized approach. Every project is slightly different. It depends on the size of the company, the volume of transactions. It’s a transactional model. It doesn’t make sense for me to give you a number.

What I can tell you is that I think we have positioned the product in a smart way. We are trying to make sure we are competitive. So far, the feedback we are receiving is positive.

Is there flexibility for a pay-for-performance arrangement, where you as provider get paid a percentage of the cost savings actually generated?

Not today. But we love innovation in Amadeus. If tomorrow a corporation comes to me and says, I want your product and here is the way I would like to work with you . . .  We are open to innovation.

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