NewsTripconomics aims to be the omnipresent tool for corporate travel managementThis article was originally published onBy Karthick Prabu | March 21, 2013 One of the expense categories that you as management within a company will have to worry about is corporate travel.Given the nature of business travel (eg: last- minute travel), corporate travel expenses could shoot up resulting in you writing a fat cheque to the travel service provider.So, how do you maintain your company travel expenses as low as possible?Do you have visibility on the entire travel booking management that's happening in your company? Can you define travel policies for your employees and allow them to book in accordance with the policy?Above all of these, the corporate travel management software should be easy to use/manage, affordable and accessible anywhere.Singapore-based travel startup Tripconomics vows to address these challenges with their cloud-based corporate travel management application.Keson Lim, co-founder, tells us why he started Tripconomics: "Throughout my working life, I’ve always had to travel frequently, and was exposed very early on to the concept of business travel. In addition, family and friends, coincidently had roles as travel planners in large organisations where they were responsible for negotiating rates and making hotel bookings for both inbound and outbound travellers. About 5 years ago, I joined a growing TMC based in Mumbai, to assist in their expansion plans for South East Asia, starting with Singapore. This provided me with valuable insight from the other side of the table. However, we were managing many of the processes manually which was labour intensive and error-prone. Hence, it was always been my desire to automate those processes, bring our service online in a self-served, semi-managed offering to our clients. It was only after meeting the current team did we feel that we had sufficient complimentary skill sets to pull this off successfully.Share this quote The self-funded Tripconomics was founded by: Low Xiao Hui - user experience and design. She has 11 years experience in servicing some of the largest retail brands in Singapore.Calvin Cheng – technology and engineering. He is a 3rd time founder with five years product development and project management experience.Chng Nai Yun - online growth and marketing. He co-founded a fashion startup in the UK, where he was responsible for online growth and marketing, the company was acquired after 2.5 years.Keson Lim – business development. He has three years corporate travel experience servicing clients in South East Asia. Also, he operated serviced apartments in Singapore for a year. Q&A with Keson Lim:Describe what your start-up does, what problem it solves and for whom?Tripconomics is a great way for businesses to reduce travel expenditure and manage business travel and travellers online. We are to corporate travel management what Salesforce.com is to customer relationship management.Travel planners currently do not have an easy way to compare their organisation’s negotiated rates vs public rates like those offered by OTAs or on GDSs. Our system allows travellers and planners to compare rates in a single screen.All businesses want lower rates. We consolidate the booking volume of all our clients and negotiate with hotels directly for the best possible corporate rate.Businesses with unmanaged travel programs lack records on travel spend. We provide real-time, detailed records of all transactions made.Our service best suits organisations with at least 100 room nights booked per annum, are unsatisfied with their existing negotiated rates or want negotiated rates in foreign cities where they currently lack significant booking volume.Why should people or companies use your startup?For the value we offer, the cost to use our service is really a steal (US$ 9.99/month per organisation for unlimited users/travellers).Companies on the Tripconomics platform are in a win-win situation. Instead of their negotiated rates being the lowest they would pay, they now become the highest they would pay, except in the event that Tripconomics fails to offer a significantly lower rate.Companies know Tripconomics is only rewarded only when it performs, by offering rates lower than what they have been able to negotiate with the hotels, in the absence of which, they could still use the system to make bookings at their negotiated rates.By booking through Tripconomics, and contributing to our overall booking volume, it places Tripconomics in a position where it can negotiate better rates on everyone’s behalf with this consolidated volume.Companies will be happy to know that all involved in the booking decision (travellers, travel planners) have all the information and resources to make a booking at a cheaper rate whenever one is available.Research has shown that a business traveller will outspend a leisure traveller in a hotel, so hotels working with us will benefit by having higher spending travellers.Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?Developing an experienced sales force to aggressively gain market share in Singapore and the region is our primary strategy.Beyond that, another important aspect is inbound lead generation via online and offline marketing efforts which will be led by Nai.We place tremendous value on offering a great product and great customer service, which is essential in retaining existing customers and reducing churn, this we believe will in turn increase word-of-mouth referrals which are highly qualified leads.How did your initial idea evolve? Were there changes/any pivots along the way? What other options have you considered for the business if the original vision fails?We’ve only really started working on the product about four months ago, and have only been in beta for the past month, hence, I would say the initial idea hasn’t really evolved too much, in terms of the core value that our customers will receive.In terms of the user experience and how we display results, we have adapted and made changes along the way based on feedback we have been receiving throughout our development stages and since we entered beta.We participated in THack Singapore 2012, and introduced TripEvents there, we believe that too has a fair bit of potential and have plans to spin it off as a standalone application in the future.Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges do you hope to have overcome?To have self-serve travel management on the cloud be as ubiquitous as Google Apps for Business for productivity tools or what Salesforce has done for CRM systemsWe aim to educate as many companies as we can reach, about the importance of having at least a semi-structured travel policy in place, and the benefits and savings that can be achieved by automating mundane travel processes and having access to data on their travel spendTo assist our clients save a combined S$10 million per annum in hotel feesTo assist our partner hotels to increase the percentage of business travellers their rooms are sold toWhat is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?There’s plenty wrong, boy where do I start? As for start-ups, there’s still plenty of areas with room for improvement and disruption.The incumbents in the online travel space have had 10 years of refinements/marketing engine behind them. New entrants are coming into the space fighting an uphill battle on search ranking.One of the key takeaways from WIT 2012 was that the online marketing space was dead for travel, especially with the introduction of Google’s Hotel Finder.The result of this meant that travel start-ups had to go further up the buying process away from the wallet which is why you see the emergence of so many inspiration/social/trip planning type start-ups.This was the only space left untouched and yet, now it’s as crowded as hell.We’ve seen this game before in other industries. This has happened to the online retail space. In the 2008-2010 years, there was a spate of ‘social shopping’ type websites which have largely died down. Social shopping is a big problem that no one has really solved well yet.In the travel context, this would probably be called ‘social travelling’. The nature of the industry lends itself well to this as travelling is a very sociable activity.Having said that however, these start-ups still need to find a way to monetise their traffic.The tried and tested way is for commissions/affiliate model which again are held in the hands of a few. Once they have enough volume, they will try to bypass the inventory suppliers and go straight to the source. To do this successfully almost always requires funding as it’s a very costly undertaking.With regards to corporate travel, there’s been little innovation whatsoever, with many of the major players stuck on legacy technology platforms.With the popularity of group buying and crowdsourcing, its a wonder more companies haven’t banded together to negotiate their rates with hotels.Also given that OTAs have been around for a long time, and business travellers have been known to book outside of policy/approved channels for a variety of reasons ranging from lack of choice, outside of preferred area, last-minute bookings while on the go, selection via mobile devices etc, it’s an area that requires balancing the interests of travel managers and travellers, and Tripconomics aims to bridge this gap.Tnooz View: It is obvious that Tripconomics isn't a disruptive idea, but that doesn't matter for the reasons that Keson had mentioned above. The key lies in execution of the Tripconomics business model. As Keson says, corporate travel management is an extremely crowded space. There are many decade-old players in the market. In this competitive sector, the startup will have to execute certain things differently to penetrate the market and succeed. One such factor is their pricing model of $9.99 per organization. This in our view is attractive. Right now, the features that Tripconomics offers are limited (understood they are just four month old). But, when the company rolls out new features, mobile apps/websites, other product extensions, will the pricing remain the same? If yes, then corporates are going to love it. Another interesting feature we noticed is their freemium model, three users in the company can use it for free. Even when businesses use the freemium model, Tripconomics will still make money through hotel commissions. So, apparently its a win-win-win for the corporate, Tripconomics and hotel. The user interface is sleek and simple without clutter. Tripconomics estimates that the hotel commissions for business travel in the US is $ 6.25 billion per year, and in Singapore it is S$ 56.9 million per year (based on 2011 STB figures). Competitors of Tripconomics not only include the traditional business/corporate travel maangement companies, but also the OTAs, travel agents, and hotels selling directly to corporates.Share this quote Snap poll [poll id="104"] NB:TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.