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Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Awards Season

It is now 12 months since Conferma – along with its partners Barclaycard and Portman Travel – picked up the Business Travel World award for best business travel product. The award was for Hotel Tracker, our corporate hotel booking tool which helps streamline hotel payments for corporate companies, booking agencies and hotels.

The reason Hotel Tracker won the best business travel product award was simple – the tool helps travel management companies reduce the financial risk associated with making hotel bookings on behalf of their corporate clients. Many TMCs end up making bookings for hotels on their own corporate cards, making a manual note of the use of the card and then charging that on to the corporate client. But with lengthy delays in some cases in reconciliation by the hotel supplier, the TMC would then be unable to bill the client and receive payment until possibly weeks later.

Hotel Tracker gets round this by charging a hotel stay to a Barclaycard Business Hotel Tracker account on the guest’s departure. The tool’s booking and settlement platform then helps the tMC to track payments, provide data consolidation and issue prompt and accurate monthly transaction reports.

Before introducing Hotel Tracker, Portman Travel had four team members were responsible for reconciling invoices for the hotels division of the business alone. Naturally, the costs of that team were passed on to Portman’s corporate clients.

Winning an award was a great accolade but companies that gain industry plaudits sometimes rest on their laurels. Not Conferma. Since the award for Hotel Tracker, we have launched Rate Analyser, a browser-based, rate optimisation tool for hotel bookers and worked with some other major travel management companies on some very clever pieces of technology to make the settlement process as smooth as possible.

We like winning awards, of course, but knowing that our clients can be more efficient and save money by using our tools is reward enough for us.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Corporate New Year Resolutions

How are the New Year’s resolutions going? If you are most people, the answer is probably pretty badly.
Every year, there are countless surveys which aim to find out what the most popular resolutions are and the top few are inevitably the same from year to year (with a little shuffling), indicating that people clearly do not keep their resolutions from one year to the next.

The top resolutions, in no particular order, are to get your finances in order, lose weight and drink less. All are clearly inspired by the bloated and extended Christmas period immediately beforehand. In fact, two weeks into the new year, many people have already ditched their resolutions. One survey says that a third of people have broken their resolutions by the end of January.

Putting aside personal resolutions, what could corporate travel buyers resolve to do in 2010? Here are Conferma’s suggestions:
Spend smarter. You have been doing this already in 2009 but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make every travel pound spent really count. This means tougher negotiating with suppliers and seeing whether a corporate deal or best price on the day is better for you.

Travel less. There is good travel and there is bad travel, no matter how well managed your organisation. Cut out some of the bad stuff – pointless internal meetings spring to mind.

Monitor your employees’ expense claims better. Do you really know what a scribbled ‘subsistence £120’ means on your employees’ expense return? Does it mean the odd glass of orange juice grabbed between endless meetings or is it indicative of the minibar being emptied?

Hang on a minute. This all looks very familiar – finances in order, lose ‘weight’ and drink less. Some things never change? Let’s hope your company manages to keep to these corporate resolutions better than most people do their personal ones.

Friday, 8 January 2010

The hotel key card myth and other security scares

If you travel on business and are of a curious nature, it is likely that during some idle moment on an otherwise busy trip, you will have stopped to wonder what exactly gets stored on the various cards you have on your person.

There is the old chestnut about room keycards, for example. There are plenty of scare stories going around about how key cards contain enormous amounts of personal data, including your credit card number, date of birth and – if you believe the scariest of the scare stories – the full details of any in-room movies you might have watched last night.

In fact, while hotel keycards have the potential to store any sort of data – including your lottery numbers if you so wish – they are configured only to use the scantest of essential information. This usually means your room number along with date and time of arrival and departure. The idea that they are encoded with your credit card data is an urban myth.

The information held on the magnetic strip of your credit and bank cards is another source of intrigue, not least because of the headlines about card readers attached to ATMs that regularly surface.

In fact, thanks to an organisation called PCI, you can find out exactly what’s on your magnetic strip and you can see this below.

As you can see, there is very little space for information and most of it is the same information that is printed on your card but in an electronic form.

But unlike hotel key cards, there is some information on your magnetic strip (or increasingly on the chip) that could come in very handy for a scammer and that is the information to the right of the diagram labelled with the words VIOLATION TO STORE.

These last few pieces of information relate to your PIN and the three-digit security code printed on the front or back of your card. It is exactly this information that means the use of credit and other financial cards is much more tightly regulated than hotel key cards.

This is where PCI comes in. This global forum was set up in 2006 by five payment companies including American Express, Mastercard and Visa. One of the key functions of PCI is to set standards for the handling for this sensitive information - the so-called PCI DSS specification.

The specification is highly prescriptive, making it hard for just anyone to set themselves up to handle cards and that is as it should be. We know how important security is and that’s why we are PCI DSS compliant.

So now you know what’s on the back of your card, you can rest easy in the knowledge that no-one else will find out.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Conferma and Neutrality

It is now almost a year since Conferma won the award for best business travel product at the 2009 Business Travel World awards.

The award highlighted Conferma’s relationship with two of its partners Barclaycard Commercial and Portman Travel. Yet many people do not realise that Conferma works with many partners on a neutral basis – you could say it is the Switzerland of the corporate travel world.

Conferma has a clear policy of working with many different GDS companies, direct content suppliers, travel management companies and card providers.

While most people associate us with Barclaycard for the latter of these categories, we actually work with others too in this spirit of neutrality. Our recent deal with American Express is a case in point.

The deal means that American Express Global Commercial Card customers can use the Conferma Settlement Plan facility. It works by using a virtual American Express account number and travel bookings can be tracked right from the moment that something is booked to the point it is settled.

You won’t see us working with every Tom, Dick and Harry – we do have standards, naturally. Yet a whirlwind has hit the travel sector, bringing the barriers between companies that tended to work in their own little silos crashing down. This “glasnost” – in part prompted by the internet - is not over yet. At Conferma, we fully intend to continue in that same spirit and hopefully, with the support of our many partners and customers, win a few more awards along the way.