E-Travel Takes Off

Oracle's e-Travel is on its third name in seven months, but its message has stayed consistent: Use the Web to automate your corporate travel services, save big bucks.Known as E-Travel until it was purchased last spring by Oracle for $35 million and rechristened Oracle e-Travel, the unit's latest moniker is meant to make it more of a brand name in the corporate travel market.

Oracle's e-Travel is on its third name in seven months, but its message has stayed consistent: Use the Web to automate your corporate travel services, save big bucks.

Known as E-Travel until it was purchased last spring by Oracle for $35 million and rechristened Oracle e-Travel, the unit's latest moniker is meant to make it more of a brand name in the corporate travel market. One large customer, SAP, a competitor of Oracle's in the Enterprise Resource Planning business, quit using the product after the acquisition.

E-Travel's best advertisement may be the job it's doing inside Oracle, which hopes to pare $50 million from its $500 million annual travel budget over the next five years by using e-Travel to book flights, hotels and rental cars for employees.

"It's critical to our success outside of Oracle to have them [Oracle] comfortable and liking the product," said Bart Littlefield, vice-president of marketing and business development for e-Travel. He says that the savings within Oracle could be four or five times the $50 million projected by Oracle Chief Financial Officer Jeff Henley. Valerie Cordell, Oracle's director of corporate travel, said she thinks Henley's number is conservative and Littlefield's quite optimistic.

E-Travel's ascent comes as more companies are subjecting travel to the same scrutiny they give other services and products that they procure. The market got a big boost late last year when airlines started allowing corporations to issue airline tickets themselves, instead of just booking them, a practice that has accelerated in the last few months.

Beyond its efficiency, this relationship creates a virtuous circle for participating companies. "Once a corporation starts issuing tickets, it receives the commissions that would have gone to a travel agency," said corporate travel analyst Tammy Troilo of Westerville, Ohio-based Troila and Associates. "If you take those monies and invest in technology, your travel upgrade becomes self-funding."

Reducing administrative costs is one big advantage of putting information in front of the end user. E-Travel can cut administrative costs in half, which adds up quickly when the industry average is roughly $50 per ticket.

"We have been able to reduce our agent headcount from four to three with no loss of service," said Tracy True Dismukes, assistant vice-president of performance enhancement at SouthTrust Bank, a Birmingham, Ala.-based super-regional bank with $40 billion in assets. One of the remaining travel agents on the account is responsible for telephone transactions and has seen her productivity rise from 7 to 8 transactions per day to 25 to 30 per day. The price per ticket paid by the bank, meanwhile, has dropped about 10 percent.

An unexpected advantage, Dismukes said, is the amount of information travelers can access and the use they make of it. "When you call an agent, they don't tell you everything that's on their screen. Now people can see for themselves, and they make some good choices."

Further efficiencies will come as companies integrate automated travel programs with expense reporting and other time-wasters. "When you can prepopulate an expense report, then just plug in your incidentals, then you might have time to do some real work," Troilo said.

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