Travel TechnologyTruTrip's launch in April has given it the opportunity to accelerate on planned products features around risk management and duty of care.

Covid spells a breakout moment for this corporate travel startup

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Co-founder Hugh Batley believes Covid-19 will accelerate the shift into managed travel by SMEs and sees "huge opportunity in the recovery period".
Co-founder Hugh Batley believes Covid-19 will accelerate the shift into managed travel by SMEs and sees "huge opportunity in the recovery period".

You wouldn’t call it the best of timing. Singapore-based corporate travel startup TruTrip, which is creating a tool for SMEs to manage their travel, went live with its beta version in April but the timing has actually worked in its favour.

Co-founder Hugh Batley said the timing has given it the opportunity to double down on product features it had been planning to add but had now been accelerated – products around risk management and duty of care, which make it more relevant to current market needs.

One feature that has proven popular at this time is its Covid Entry Check, launched on July 29.

Said Batley: “It was initially an internal tool to help guide our clients on whether they can book and to share what were the expected requirements (pre-arrival, on arrival processes). We felt this information was important, given all the uncertainty and confusion, if we wanted to help people to travel again.”

Building TruTrip took some effort. “We started with tools such as Timatic, but they didn’t help explain the route data and it would take the team time to understand the real needs. For every question we had to go to the government website to get the full picture. We ended up with a database of now 245 websites. So we started simply capturing that information in a more structured and standardised way in order to better communicate with our users. The following step was keeping that list maintained which was initially done on demand but over time became more automated and systematic," said Batley.

“We started to share the “tool” with friends who were asking questions. They were also confused. We realised this was a useful set of information so after discussing internally we decided to formalise the tool and hence covidentrycheck.com was born just three weeks ago on July 29.”

As it started sharing within its network, it started to gain traction, and media time in publications like Mashable and Timeout. “We have seen our readership boom,” said Batley.

“We have continued to work on the usability of the tool – simplifying the UI, improving some of the potential failure paths and, most importantly, trying to bring more clarity on the communication.”

Since its launch, it has had more than 30,000 visitors, the majority just in the last two weeks.

“People are coming to the site from all over the world with top locations including Singapore and Malaysia as well as Spain, UK, US and several countries from South and Central America. Based on sign ups to notifications, we estimate around 40% of those are business travellers.

“Looking a bit more into the data there are lots of interesting insights to find, sadly we don’t have the capacity right now to look into the details. We can however see that most people are looking at regional travel – perhaps this is because these are the key business routes, but also because this is the major migrant flow (i.e. people are wanting to reconnect with families). Looking at just the Southeast Asia data, 60% are looking at other regional destinations.”

Other features it is working on are a risk management dashboard, TruFlex, an insurance product for flight cancellations and it is working on a well-being analysis as well as telemedicine provider.

“We had been planning to roll out these features later but they have become more necessary at this time,” said Batley.

The bootstrapped startup has given up its co-working office space to extend its runway and the 23-strong team is working remotely towards an official launch soon. “We will bootstrap until we find the right traction for our product. We will raise funds for what we need, when the time is right,” said Batley,

As he sees it, most corporate travel startups are focused on the transaction piece and the online booking tool market is very crowded. TruTrip will be less about the booking but more about the process, duty of care and customer service, elements which have become more necessary in a Covid world.

“A year ago, we were more focused on solutions to save costs and improving internal efficiencies. Now risk is top of mind and duty of care.”

Having said that, TruTrip will still offer an extensive inventory of hotels and flights, from full-service airlines to local low-cost carriers, through partnerships with companies such as Agoda, Skyscanner, Travel Fusion, Sabre and airlines. But he does not believe content to be a differentiator at this time.

“Content has largely been commoditised. Travellers do not appear sensitive to the purchase mechanism/channel as long as they can get competitive pricing and the experience is smooth.”

Its basic free-to-use offering comes with everything a business needs for basic travel management, including inventory, policy setting and implementation, approval flows, an online booking tool and a few other tools and information.

“Moving away from the entry offering, companies can customise their travel solution with tools and data to have the right solution for them. They include features like risk management, insurances and finance integrations,” Batley explained.

For several companies on its builder programme, TruTrip is working on the first tranche of customisations (apps), which will be launched in mid-August.

TruTrip plans to charge businesses a SaaS fee of US$19.99 a month for use of the tool. It is currently free to use and has 30 active clients using the platform.

He is optimistic that corporate travel by SMEs in Asia will be faster to recover than managed travel by global corporations, most of which have placed restrictions on employee travel for the rest of the year.

“SMEs never spent frivolously on trips anyway and they spend when they need to. Those trips will come back,” said Batley. “For global companies, those trips for internal meetings, they won’t come back till next year.”

Batley said Covid-19 will accelerate the shift into managed travel by SMEs. “We see huge opportunity in the recovery period. We will work with travel agents on a B2B model giving them the extra functionality to integrate with their booking tools and we will offer a B2C model for corporate customers.

“We have the opportunity to offer SMEs a full TMC (travel management company) solution without the risk.”

The original version of this article was first published in Web in Travel.

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