Sébastien Delannoy, Senior Director Business Development Northern Europe at SAP Concur
What changes in the market should the partnership announced on October 5th between SAP Concur and VoyagExpert address?
Sébastien Delannoy – A few years ago, there were two distinct models within organisations: on the one hand, travel, with travel agencies and purchasing departments managing this activity internally, and on the other hand, expense accounts, managed by finance departments, with an accounting and ROI perspective… From 2017-18, we have seen a rapprochement. This is the genesis of the partnership we are announcing today, because we are of course trying to keep up with our clients’ developments and even anticipate them. At our customers’, the two subjects have been combined. Invitations to tender that initially only concerned travel have been interwoven with elements related to expense accounts, and vice versa. We have therefore evolved in our partnership management.
Why did you choose VoyagExpert?
Sébastien Delannoy – We asked ourselves the question a year and a half ago: what type of partnership would allow us to make sense to our clients who have structured themselves accordingly, and to present a united front? We audited travel agencies, from large international networks to more local structures, and we quickly realized that unfortunately it is not quite the same world in terms of service offer and proposal. So we turned to VoyagExpert for a few obvious reasons: the agency had already developed a lot of skills around Concur. VoyagExpert had embedded a tool to book travel, and had made it a real expertise around IT, software and travel transformation management for its customers. This led to the company winning major accounts. There is also certification, and investment in employee training. This is a real strength, because offering a point on which few people are certified, and bringing quality to the end customer would have discredited us quickly. VoyagExpert combined these different criteria, and this finally allows us to bring a partnership that is much more in line with what the market expects. We are convinced that working with partners like VoyagExpert meets today’s needs, but above all anticipates tomorrow’s needs.
Concur calls it a “world first”. Is the scope of the event, which looks like a simple extension of your partnership to a new “brick”, really so considerable?
Sébastien Delannoy – It’s a first in the sense that our major global agency networks, which represent a huge volume of business, such as American Express GBT, BCD Travel or CWT, do not have this positioning. It’s effectively the addition of the expense report module to the travel module that was already being used, because it’s the “natural” module.
for travel agencies. But this is the first time within the group that an agency, and even more so a local agency, is able to provide a global offer on all platforms, in all regions of the world. And even our largest agency networks don’t have that. This is why the evolution of the partnership is important.
Does this partnership reflect a profound change in demand?
Sébastien Delannoy – Until now, travel was seen as a commodity within organisations. Today, especially in France, it is increasingly considered as it should be: a brick in a digital transformation project. In this project, there are publishers, it is natural, but there are players who were not considered legitimate until now, including travel agencies, who are now involved. Five or six years ago, a player offering an expense report service, particularly an agency, was seen as completely illegitimate. Today, these players are beginning to take their place in this area because travel & expense management has really evolved within organisations.
How do you view the evolution of the competitive landscape, with the acquisitions of American Express GBT, the integration of Expensya with Travelperk, or the withdrawal of Sodexo from Rydoo?
Sébastien Delannoy – In many cases, the consolidation we are seeing concerns travel agencies integrating technology. For a simple reason: this is what organizations are asking for today. A service offering that includes a technology component. So there are two movements: travel agencies that want to integrate, acquire technology, and even innovate around this technology because they want to be a “TMCT”, a Travel Management Company & Technology. At the same time, many local players, publishers of expense management solutions, have reached the end of a cycle. They realised that this involved a lot of investment and R&D, and the logic becomes complex when you are not backed by a large group. And there is a third type of movement: players who were far removed from this sector, such as the Sodexo group, which strategically was particularly impacted by the crisis in the field of corporate catering, and realized that some acquisitions were quite far from its DNA and reviewed its position. We have chosen a mixed approach: the link with agencies is becoming more and more obvious, since it was a commodity and is becoming a service offering with a technological brick, and so the natural players – even if there are few of them who meet all the criteria – remain the travel agencies. But there’s a huge difference with a move by American Express GBT, for example: we believe that being a software company is a business in itself. As far as Concur is concerned, being integrated into the SAP world, we are now present in the financial departments, purchasing departments and general management, with a whole suite of software including the travel & expense brick. We have a very strongThis is all the more crucial as changes in travel patterns have accelerated significantly compared to a decade ago. This is all the more crucial as changes in travel patterns have accelerated significantly compared to a decade ago.
Are other partnerships planned in the short term?
Sébastien Delannoy – By definition, we study all the partnerships that could make sense for our clients and for the market, whose developments we try to anticipate. We are in a business sector that has reached the end of a cycle and is reforming. We’re looking at a lot of partnerships, whether it’s technology, service… We’re always looking for new partners, as long as those partnerships really bring value to the market and to our customers.
How did you get through these 18 months, and how did you cope with the fall in travel & expense transactions?
Sébastien Delannoy – Covid has obviously had an impact on us, to put it mildly… But we have brought our teams together and refocused them on our priorities: business development, customer support and customer satisfaction. Some of our offerings have seen an incredible acceleration. In times of Covid, many companies have focused on one fundamental element: finding or regaining cash. One of our offers includes recoverable VAT, especially abroad, which identifies all the pockets of VAT recovery within the travel activity that are not or hardly operated by companies. Before the crisis, this was an interesting subject, which may or may not have been a priority depending on the industry and the organisation. In times of crisis, it has become a fundamental element in identifying any recoverable cash. So we have seen a huge use of this tool.
Many companies have had to reorganise or even reinvent themselves during the crisis. What about Concur?
Sébastien Delannoy – Being part of the SAP group has allowed Concur to better resist the crisis, and we have managed to size our teams to best support our clients. We have been able to scale our teams to better support our clients. In fact, our relationship with our clients has been strengthened. Because we have been two or three times closer in terms of frequency of contact. And we have been able to confirm and strengthen certain organisations that we were beginning to experiment with in certain markets, and which have now been made permanent.
Is the recovery on track, and is the return to pre-Covid volumes becoming clear?
Sébastien Delannoy – We can make assumptions and projections, but no one can predict a return to 2019 or 2018 levels. What is certain is that there is a recovery: that’s for sure. Since the course of 2021, organisations are starting to travel again, to go and see their partners, their clients. More than 60% of travellers say they are putting pressure on their internal departments to allow travel again. This is a strong point: some organizations may have underestimated the loss of seeing these people. It’s obvious that you can’t do everything by videoconference. There are some very strong signs that we’re not going to be able to do everything by videoconference.on the European market, with the Business Travel Show and now the IFTM Top Resa being held in person. Events are picking up, the recovery is relatively sustained. Will it be linear, sinusoidal? What will be the crossover point with the 2019 activity? I don’t know. But clearly with us there is a recovery in the market, especially in France.
Video conferencing will reduce the volume of internal travel and meetings
In the longer term, will videoconferencing replace some business trips?
Sébastien Delannoy – Yes, videoconferencing will reduce the volume of internal travel and meetings. Reunionitis is a very French phenomenon: companies used to hold a lot of internal meetings, not necessarily involving travel by plane or train. This will decrease, with the will of the employees, and what they have discovered during the crisis, in terms of work-life balance, in terms of the usefulness of these meetings as well… On the other hand, while at the beginning of the crisis some people mentioned a decrease in travel by a third or even by 50%, according to the exchanges I have had over the last few weeks, this will not concern meetings with clients. After 18 months of remote meetings, the organisations have taken stock and realised that not everything can be done by video. And when there are negotiations, or a new partner, you have to see your contact.
As the IFTM Top Resa begins this Tuesday, what is the prevailing feeling: impatience, uncertainty?
Sébastien Delannoy – It’s very good news for the market, for all the players working in the business travel sector. There is a real desire to get back in touch with our customers, our partners, the market players. So there is more impatience than excitement!
I’m Michelle, and I love to travel. As a former hotel expert for one of the world’s largest hotel chains, I’ve stayed in nearly every type of room imaginable (including many that were not so desirable!). Nowadays, I am fortunate enough to be able to explore the world on my own terms. From international flights to learning different languages, there is nothing too far out of reach!