For more than a year, SideStep has offered leisure travellers a Web search engine that scans supplier sites for a selection of travel options.
Now the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company has entered the corporate travel market, striking a deal with Carlson Wagonlit Travel Canada to provide a customized version of its search engine for a major global client.
The companies declined to name the client, but a Travel Weekly source identified it as Nortel Networks, a communications company based in Brampton, Ontario. The search engine is being deployed at CWT`s call center in Ottawa.
“This is our first partnership with a travel agency,” said Phil Carpenter, SideStep`s vice president of marketing. “The Carlson people have told us they want to make sure they can offer corporate customers the very best deals.
“For us, the partnership gives the opportunity to work with a player that knows the corporate space better than we do.”
The existence of Web-only fares has been a source of frustration for agencies and business travelers alike.
Corporations want to use Web fares within the framework of a managed travel program. Meanwhile, agencies want to provide value for customers by finding the best fares, but can`t afford to have their agents spend too much time scouring the Internet.
“We certainly are seeing more interest from clients wanting to understand the pros and cons associated with fares marketed outside traditional channels,” said Stephen Cassidy, a global director for CWT Canada.
An obvious problem with searching the Web for deals is that Web-only deals have to be booked at the supplier site. These bookings cannot be captured by CWT`s data reporting system, said Cassidy.
“In the vast majority of cases, we either can issue the tickets ourselves or secure them through a third party, typically a consolidator,” Cassidy said. “These transactions are tracked and reported.”
Although SideStep will be employed at the call center, it won`t be used at the point of sale. Rather, a dedicated group of agents will do follow-up searches after conventional bookings are made through the CRS, Cassidy said.
Agents inform business travelers that CWT will be performing further Web-based searches for lower fares.
The traveller is then notified by e-mail if a lower fare has been found, Cassidy said.
The SideStep engine customized for CWT`s client does not search every supplier site that the Sidestep engine for leisure travellers would.
“We need to contain our business dealings to selected vendors that CWT Canada sees as being strong from a number of perspectives, financial or otherwise,” Cassidy said.
Also, the customized engine features links to vendors that weren`t already in the Sidestep database. “There was a requirement for us to add certain key suppliers,” Cassidy said.