Coupa bulks out Travel & Expense capabilities in readiness for the return of the road warrior

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan February 16, 2022
Business travel is set to see an uptick in 2022, variants permitting, and Coupa intends to be ready.


Spend management champion Coupa has launched its integrated travel booking module as the prospects for the return of  business travel in the Vaccine Economy open up.

Coupa Travel and Expense is built on a foundation of two acquisitions - price monitoring capabilities from Yapta and booking firm Pana. As per the official launch release, new travel management solutions include:

  • Smart Itineraries: Personalized, intelligent trip itineraries customized to balance traveler preferences with company policy and priorities.
  • Travel Saver: Real-time price tracking for all airline and hotel bookings to capture significant savings when prices drop.
  • Spend Coach: Encouragement of smart spending by providing employees who expense non-travel related items with insight into how much money they would save by booking off company contracts.
  • Dynamic Messages: Timely health and safety messages to travelers based on their itinerary.
  • Built-in Savings: Integrated savings for thousands of airlines, hotels, ride-share providers, and rental car brands via Coupa Advantage.
  • 24/7/365 Traveler Support: Around-the-clock live agent assistance for travelers to support their global travels.

The new offering is backed by settlement and traveler support from Travel Leaders Corporate, while the booking system taps into Sabre. In the coming months, it will be integrated with Coupa Pay.

New age

It’s an offering built for a new era of business travel as economies open up post-COVID. Coupa has long had a T&E expense-reporting system, but while the pandemic only served to emphasize the need for organizations to keep tight control of their spend management, the collapse of the travel sector during near two years of intermittent lockdowns and working from home policies meant that this part of Coupa’s portfolio was negatively impacted.

In December last year Coupa CEO Rob Bernshteyn talked about the pent-up desire for more in-person interaction after so long being tied to virtual meetings, but he admitted that how quickly the return to business travel would kick in was unclear:

But what I can tell you is what we're doing, which is we're expanding a really robust expense management offering that's being used now today by hundreds of customers around the world to expand upstream with a bookings engine, that's going to make it super simple and intuitive for them to actually make their travel plans to seamlessly integrate that into our expenses core, to seamlessly make it possible for you to then pay and reimburse for that travel and expenses, and leverage the power of our community to identify fraud and recommend and prescribe travel options for employees and users around the world.

So, while I can't predict you the pace of which travels is likely to improve, but I think we all intuitively think it will. We just don't know what pace. What I can tell you is we're going to be in market with an offering that I think is quite compelling, and unlocks more of the value of our suite synergy and delivers measurable results for customers.

That’s where Coupa Travel & Expense comes in, now complete with booking capabilities. In a blog post, Devon Tivona, Senior Director of Product, said that the firm has learned a lot from monitoring user behaviors during the pandemic:

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Coupa has kept a close eye on how companies are managing their travel and expenses. Though travel patterns have changed, the pandemic has also shown all of us that a face-to-face conversation with a colleague, partner, or customer is still irreplaceable. As business travel begins to pick up again, it’s time for companies to think about how they can get maximum value from their travel spend.

He added:

Today, almost half of all companies struggle to get the large majority of their travelers to use their company-preferred travel booking tool. Here at Coupa, we asked ourselves: What’s the point of trying to get a picture of your travel spend if most of that picture is missing? That’s why — at the very outset of building this product with and for our customers — we made it our top priority to create a platform that travelers would be thrilled to use to book business travel. With Coupa, users book trips in fewer than five minutes with our smart travel recommendations and leverage our powerful mobile app to get live travel agent support while on the road. Our seamless integration between travel and expenses makes submitting an expense report quick and painless.

A long road?

But going back to Bernshteyn’s point back in December, while business travel has seen an uptick, how great - and robust - is that return? Late last month the Global Business Travel Association argued that the longer term outlook for business travel was strong, although Omicron had proved to be a setback in the short term.

That conclusion was based on the Association’s latest COVID-19 Recovery series of polls. It found that three-quarters of travel managers expect business travel volume at their company will be much (17%) or somewhat (58%) higher in 2022 than it was in 2021, while 12% expect business travel to remain about the same as 2021.

Just over a quarter of US travel managers (27%) cite corporate travel policies as being the major barrier to employee travel, with 35% of respondents in North America saying that their organization has cancelled all or most business trips. That said, most travel managers (64%) reckon that their employees are willing or very willing to travel for business.

Meanwhile a report from Deloitte - 2022 Deloitte travel outlook: the winding path to recovery - argues that corporate travel is most likely to make a “leisurely return”, predicting:

Even assuming the best possible COVID-19 outcomes, corporate travel in 2022 is unlikely to reach or even near 2019 levels. Not all road warriors will be eager to return to their pre-pandemic frequency. Not all clients will immediately welcome the same volume of visitors they did in 2019.

At the same time, CEOs and CFOs will likely continue to closely scrutinize travel spend and return on investment after operating successfully with so few trips…As executives navigate corporate travel’s return, opportunities exist for travel providers to partner, advise, and provide new tools to address reassessed priorities.

My take

It’s interesting to note that Deloitte’s 2021 Holiday Travel Survey looked at corporate travel use cases based on business impact and tech replaceability:

Deloitte 2022 travel industry outlook

It’s against this backdrop that Coupa’s new offering will play. As business travel does return - however slowly - this upgrade to Coupa’s functional footprint in the space should position it well, enabling CFOs and procurement teams to keep a tight grip on travel costs in the Vaccine Economy. It’ll also do no harm at all to Coupa’s capability to challenge the likes of SAP Concur in the once-and-future (hopefully) lucrative travel sector.


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