TripActions Zahir Abdelouhab, Vice President Southern Europe, TripActions How is the

beginning of 2022 going for TripActions in France?

Zahir Abdelouhab – We’re just getting started, we’re starting to have interesting discussions with clients, the team is in place, we officially opened the offices in January: we’re in the thick of things. The official launch was supposed to take place at the beginning of February, but due to the restrictions imposed in the last few weeks we have chosen to postpone the event to March 31.

Why this timing: why launch now on the French market?

Zahir Abdelouhab – TripActions is six years old: that’s a lot and a little at the same time. We had a base in the United States that we needed to consolidate, and then there was the health crisis and all the uncertainties that this entails for a company that was only four years old at the time

That didn’t stop you from gaining nearly a thousand clients during the crisis

Zahir Abdelouhab – Yes. And we went from a valuation of two billion to 7.2… Crises are moments of uncertainty and complications, but they are also gas pedals for emerging players, and offer opportunities. According to a McKinsey study, in 18 months of crisis, we have experienced a five-year technological leap! And the business travel market will not escape this. We opened up Europe last year, investing first in London and winning our first accounts in the UK market. And now, naturally, we’re doing it in France and Germany. TripActions has a huge focus on Europe, and particularly on the French and German markets. We are in a logic of investment, but also of listening to the local market. And we will do whatever it takes to adapt the product and strategy to meet the needs.

How would you introduce TripActions to French professionals who are new to this new player?

Zahir Abdelouhab – TripActions is a Silicon Valley player that aims to revolutionize the world of business travel in a broad sense. We intend to do this with a single platform that brings together the business travel part, with the TMC and OBT components, the expense part, and also the payment part with a “smartcard. The objective is to offer a seamless user experience for everything related to business travel. Today, this is our primary motivation: to make business travelers happy. The satisfaction rate is over 95%, knowing that adoption is intimately linked to satisfaction. It’s about generating satisfaction, which generates adoption, which generates economies of scale and which simplifies the life of all the transversal services.

What fundamentally differentiates TripActions in the business travel market?

Zahir Abdelouhab – TripActions has entered a market that is very competitive.

he business travel market was quite static in terms of its offer, with a relatively high dissatisfaction rate. Customers feel that the business travel world has not moved fast enough from a technological point of view compared to leisure travel. The excitement surrounding the arrival of TripActions is related to this new experience. Our genesis is very different from many players in the market that were created a long time ago on a travel agency model. Our model is based primarily on a “tech” company that has put technology at the service of business travel, with human service focused on high value-added tasks. In building our offer, we started from the user experience, the traveler experience. I think that’s where the craze comes from: customers want to see new things, new approaches.

What does this mean in concrete terms for the business traveler?

Zahir Abdelouhab – We are regularly asked about partnerships with suppliers and content. Our answer is simple: we have agreements with suppliers, of course, but our approach is agnostic. The content we offer is independent of our supplier agreements. We have no advantage in positioning one content over another. Our point of view is focused on the traveler, relying on artificial intelligence for usage patterns in particular. If a user lives near Orly and prefers easyJet because of its travel policy, for example, we won’t give him priority to Air France at Paris-CDG because our margin would be better: we’ll mainly offer him this company at this airport. The business model doesn’t always put the user at the center. TripActions’ business model does.

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What are the other concrete uses of AI?

Zahir Abdelouhab – Artificial intelligence is mainly used to detect consumption habits. The market is wondering whether telecommuting will replace business travel in the long run. But on the contrary, telecommuting means that employees are much more dispersed across the territory, or even between different countries, which means more travel to meet. The real question is: “where to meet for a team based between Paris, Marseille, Dublin, Madrid and Frankfurt for example?” A meeting in Paris may not be the most relevant, especially given the price of hotels and flights. The tool analyzes the different parameters that come into play, and generates proposals.

As far as payment is concerned, what is this “smartcard” that you mentioned earlier?

Zahir Abdelouhab – It’s a payment card that will apply the company’s policy in real time, by identifying where the user is, what he is doing, and whether or not the payment is valid at that moment. For example, when paying a bill at a restaurant, the user will be able to see where he is, what he is doing, and whether the payment is valid at that moment.It is based on the user’s agenda to identify that he is with a client, that the lunch spending limit is not the same as for a team meeting, and the card rules adapt in real time. Artificial intelligence also does continuous fraud detection. AI is therefore a major differentiating factor for TripActions in this payment area. It’s not a “Yes card”: it doesn’t say yes all the time. And the expense is created automatically: a pop up appears on the phone, you add a photo and it submits the expense. We also offer the possibility of banning certain signs. For example, at TripActions, it is not possible to use the payment card in a fast food restaurant, for ethical reasons. It’s not our job to define company policies, but our role is to provide them with all the tools they need to make life easier for travelers and those who follow them on a daily basis: travel managers, finance, HR, etc.

TripActions’ approach is not unlike that of Egencia in its early days…

Zahir Abdelouhab – Egencia was innovative in what it did at the time, as the first digital agency. It was a different time, the value proposition was a little different. What differentiates us fromEgencia is that we use much more recent technologies and we remain independent, which means that we are not constrained by content. We reference everyone, including Booking. In addition, TripActions invests heavily in support and human resources. We don’t believe in eliminating the role of the human element. We want 80% of low-value tasks to be done by technology in self-service, with a seamless experience, and 20% of the time, when human intervention is needed, to be done by highly skilled agents. The acquisition of Reed & Mackay, which manages a VIP clientele, is a step in this direction. It’s really about offering the best of both worlds: the best travel agents for a premium VIP offer or to manage crisis situations, and high-performance technology.

moving the lines, and making business travel a world in which users are happy

Aren’t you afraid that one day you will become the “Egencia” of a future player?

Zahir Abdelouhab – We are not afraid. We are only at the beginning of the story, there is still a lot to do, in France but also globally. On the American market, we do not consider that we have arrived, quite the contrary. We are only six years old, and our ambitions go far beyond what we have already done in the United States. What we want to do is to change things, and make business travel a world in which users are happy. Our arrival on the market is positively perceivedt, including by many of the incumbent players because it will allow them to challenge their internal teams on the development of new features. We don’t want to step on anyone’s toes – that’s healthy competition – but we want to take the market in the right direction, both in terms of technology and pricing. If we can move the lines on these topics, it’s already a victory, and if new players bring good ideas, it will only be positive.

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Will TripActions’ profile push you to seek out accounts that used to work with Egencia, or will you venture into the territory of other TMCs, like American Express GBT?

Zahir Abdelouhab – We don’t play on the ground of any particular player. Our value proposition is different. The world of TMCs is rich, the customer needs are very disparate, as is the degree of maturity. We are not better than this or that agency, we simply think, humbly, that our proposal corresponds better to the expectations of certain clients.

Your youth is an asset. Isn’t it also a hindrance for major accounts who may be reluctant to entrust travel, expense and payment to a single player, new to the market?

Zahir Abdelouhab – We already have some major clients, such as Heineken. The expense, travel and payment components can be dissociated. On mid-market accounts, many companies want to simplify what often looks like a real millefeuilles. Depending on the case, there may be a TMC, a hotel supplier, an OBT, an expense provider, a payment system, a payment card, etc. SMEs do not want to manage such complexity. Some large accounts will want to keep this level of detail to manage each link in the chain. In these cases, they can start with our travel brick, and then extend the experience to the other components. There are a lot of fixed ideas about the positioning of each player, but it is important to remember that there are several thousand accounts in France with totally different typologies, with great diversity in terms of geographical coverage, business lines, habits, and therefore needs. Therefore, no one player will be able to perfectly meet all the needs of all companies overnight, but there are different approaches, and TripActions’ approach is echoing today.

Have you identified any specificities in the French market?

Zahir Abdelouhab – I think there is a need for local support, which is a real issue in the French market. So we are going to recruit local teams, whether they are technical, sales or marketing experts, but also French-speaking agents. It is also important that the tool is in French. We plan to go to the regions and meet with local players to find out what their needs are. We also want to go further than “just” providing the technology and the service: we also need to act in the recommendation, for example on the definition of the travel policy, the card policies…

no fee per transaction but a single fee per trip

In what way Is your business model different?

Zahir Abdelouhab – There is a need for simplification and optimization in the business travel market. Our approach, our line of conduct, is based on notions of transparency and fairness. This guides our entire supplier strategy. What sets us apart in the travel sector is that we do not charge a fee per transaction, but a single fee per trip. This brings much more transparency and visibility on the real cost of the trip, and guarantees much better cost control, because there are no surprises. This aspect of pricing is part of our DNA, and we also want to move the lines on this subject.

TripActions talks about saving 30% on travel budgets. How do you achieve this?

Zahir Abdelouhab – We do case studies with our clients, and we find that we manage to generate savings in the range of 15 to 30% depending on the client and usage. These savings are mainly generated on content, because we have much richer and more agnostic sources, which therefore give access to more competitive prices and significant economies of scale.

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What are your development paths? Could you diversify your activities, for example towards meetings & events as other TMCs have done?

Zahir Abdelouhab – We already cover a very wide scope, wider than any other player: in addition to travel, expense and payment, we already do meetings & events, and we cover employees’ personal travel. In France and in Europe, we have to accompany our first customers, make sure they are satisfied, and make any changes they would like to see in the solution. These requests do not put us in difficulty, on the contrary: they push us to improve. We do not claim to have achieved perfection. We have to be able to develop new modules, new features. That’s our DNA. We release new features every month.

Can TripActions grow in Europe by acquiring other players, as you did with Reed & McKay?

Zahir Abdelouhab – We have ambitious growth plans. TripActions’ management is constantly looking at potential internal and external developments. I don’t have visibility on a specific type of player that we have identified, but it is a possibility.

You mentioned supplier independence, but Lufthansa has invested in TripActions…

Zahir Abdelouhab – Lufthansa has decided to change its positioning and to address end customers directly, offering more than just air travel, potentially hotels, on the German SME market, which is very important. The idea is to “bypass” the TMCs by assuming this role themselves. Lufthansa did not have the tools to do this. That’s where TripActions comes in, which Lufthansa will use as a white label. However, we don’t favor Lufthansa’s content, it doesn’t change our positioning. We just provide the technology to Lufthansasa, which has therefore gone from supplier to client.

What about the environment, on which many travel managers are asking for measurement tools and actions?

Zahir Abdelouhab – Concerning the carbon footprint, if we don’t have a tool that allows us to measure the impact each time someone travels, to compare, to set a budget, to control, it is impossible to manage efficiently. Like any new subject, we have to go step by step, properly equipping companies to enable them to achieve their CO2 reduction objectives. The first point is to be able to measure the CO2 cost of each journey. We do this very well with the TripActions tool. The second point is to budget. In the platform, each user will be able to consult his or her carbon impact, and the cost that this induces for the company in terms of compensation. We can therefore define budgets per employee. Third point: control. For example, we can offer an alternative to air travel. This is something we are working on and which will be released very soon.

So you can play a role as a prescriber?

Zahir Abdelouhab – Exactly. We really want to encourage the traveler to make these choices, by relying on gamification. In concrete terms, it’s a matter of telling the traveler: “if you stay below a certain CO2 threshold, you will be rewarded”. This can be done in many ways, depending on the local legislation and the objectives of each company. Gamification is also used to save money on reservations. In the United States, for example, companies have no problem with giving money to the employee as a reward for savings. A portion of the savings is returned to the employee in the form of “travel vouchers”, as TripActions also includes a “Lemonade” component, which is for personal travel.