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Israeli tech firm ComBTAS targets UK market

March 1, 2014

(Published in TTG – 15.01.14)

Israeli technology firm ComBTAS is making a push into the UK business travel market. Matthew Parsons talks to chief executive Avi Krudo about cutting costs and rethinking relationships

For most people, the fact we are starting to come out of a global recession is good news. Not so for Avi Krudo, who looks back with fondness.

“The recession has been good to us,” he says. “Companies have wanted to cut costs. Our customers recognised that instead of firing staff, they could reduce their travel costs.” And reducing those costs effectively for Krudo comes in two ways: control and choice.

A large part of ComBTAS, of which Krudo is chief executive, is about planning and monitoring. Its Travel Analysis System (TAS) tool – a management, control, saving and budget monitoring system – ensures business travellers are reined in when booking flights and accommodation.

Big brother

Krudo claims the company has captured 50% of the Israeli market, thanks in part to its “robust” single platform tool that offers full control of business travel, from initial bookings to expense management and reconciliation – there’s even a local “petty cash” module option.

As a result, he jokes TAS is like “Big Brother”. In particular, it can be used to discourage staff from leaving booking travel arrangements until the last minute, where costs can rocket. A “rule” set within TAS could state that if the lead-in time is fewer than five days, then the boss has to approve the travel. This has happened with a ComBTAS client, where the average lead-in was five days, Krudo says, and in every case that boss refused to approve the arrangement. “You know what happened? The average lead-in time grew to nine or 10 days.”

Meanwhile, he adds, business travellers tend to book the most expensive hotel when provided with a list of options. “However, the boss may see other cheaper hotels on TAS. They set the rules. They may decide to limit that choice of 20 hotels to five. Few companies manage their travel costs; they do it manually.”

Another advantage is the single platform. With the likes of Concur, there are multiple platforms, Krudo claims: one to book a hotel, but you go somewhere else for refunds.

Another TAS feature includes the ability for users to connect with different TMCs, who can bid for business on a trip-by-trip basis, while the system can also incorporate targets. Krudo says TAS doesn’t always work simply based on best price: “Booking a seat on a British Airways flight may come in at £200 more than the next lowest price, but the system may recognise that by booking that flight, you’re fulfilling a certain number of BA flights that will lead to an overall 5% discount.”

Krudo claims these controls have helped its corporate clients save up to 100,000 nights yearly, and in Israel it helped save one client with 135 offices slash £10 million off its £53 million travel bill. Overall, he adds, average savings amount to 23% and a return on investment can me made in just three days.

ComBTAS is one of many tech firms to come out of Tel Aviv, which has long been renowned as a hotspot for innovation. In the travel sphere, it joins social seating start-up SeatID, while last summer traffic alert system Waze was sold to Google for $1 billion. So high is Tel Aviv’s concentration of high-tech industries that the city has been dubbed “Silicon Wadi”.

UK plans

Now, after seven years in Israel, where it has 25 staff, ComBTAS has its sights set on the UK, with its new office in west London’s Chiswick Park and a recruitment drive for sales and marketing staff in progress.

“The UK is the biggest market for us in Europe. We’ve done our research, and the UK is open minded. TMCs say customers want this product,” Krudo says, adding there are 40,000 potential customers in the UK.

The UK push follows a recent integration with Sabre’s GetThere tool and deals with Amadeus and Travelport – yet Krudo believes the UK should follow Israel’s lead, where multi-TMC and multi-GDS relationships are common.

“You ‘bid’ all the time when shopping in supermarkets, or when buying clothes,” he argues. “This gives the customer more choice. TMCs are now thinking ‘I’ll use two GDSs, I want more bids’. In Israel, there’s an average two or three TMCs for a corporate.”

Following last month’s riff between Travelport and British Airways over distribution content, and Iata’s proposed NDC, he adds that GDSs may also soon have to cut their transaction fees.

With travel expenditure often one of the biggest costs, ComBTAS’s cost-saving claims will likely make an impression on the UK market.

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