Behind the Dutch Government’s Arduous Bid to Wrest Back Its Travel Program

The Dutch government is taking control of how it manages its multi-million dollar travel program with the help of major travel management companies after a protracted decade of ups and downs.

After an 18-month bidding process, it has selected new travel partners: expense platform Yokoy, replacing MobileXpense, and booking tool Atriis, replacing Amadeus’ Cytric platform. Now it wants to expand the pool of suppliers it can access — and keep a close eye on costs.

The Dutch government continues to use local travel agency VCK Travel. However, the appointment of travel technology company Atriis comes after the Dutch Ministry of Justice ran into trouble with a previous corporate travel agency it used.

This 10-year saga for the Netherlands shows how large travel buyers often feel a loss of autonomy and how a more direct, hands-on approach inspires a desire to be flexible as the travel landscape adjusts post-pandemic.

It all started when ATPI’s Dutch subsidiary was sued in court for billing fraud for overcharging airline tickets between 2010 and 2012, according to travel magazine The Beat. ATPI was initially selected because it charged a very low booking transaction fee.

The subsidiary and its former managing director, Willem Starink, have been convicted in the Amsterdam District Court on criminal charges of issuing false invoices that concealed fare markups for two customers, the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice and the Dutch Central Bank.

ATPI and Starink have been cleared of a more serious allegation of systematic fraud against customers.

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At the time, ATPI said: “We are pleased with the court’s decision to acquit ATP Business Travel of fraud allegations and the company has not yet defrauded its customers, particularly the Department of Justice,” according to The Beat report. “We are a completely different company today than we were ten years ago, with new management and a different corporate culture.”

future security

But the government’s new travel programme, managed by its newly named procurement organization Travelpoint 3W and covering 12,000 staff in 13 departments, is significant.

“The Dutch government doesn’t trust anyone,” said an Amsterdam industry source. “They don’t trust any travel management company now. But they also see that these players have not been at the forefront of innovation. That is also the problem.”

Of course, VCK is still a travel management company, but according to the source, it’s small. “As a customer, government has more of a say in how and what it needs, as opposed to the big guys who just don’t listen.”

The new appointments to the Dutch government also go against the current trend. Larger travel agencies are increasingly merging all aspects and combining travel booking with expenses and payments. Here the government divides everything up.

It is more work as there are more contracts to manage and problems could arise if either company does not know their responsibilities. But for Severnside Consulting’s Chris Pouney, it’s “refreshing to see a company look at all three at once as they’re properly studying the market.”

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Extension of scope

According to the Atriis co-founder, the government’s goal is to gain access to a wider choice of providers without being tied to hotels or airlines that are promoted based on other players’ own financial incentives.

“We don’t play in the sales area,” Omri Amsalem said. “We are just a tech enabler, there are no commercial (agreements) between us and the airlines. With the global distribution systems in the middle, even when it comes to new distribution opportunities, there is always a double discussion about an additional fee. It used to be an extra charge, now they call it something else.”

The eight-year contract with Atriis opens up the possibility of accessing global suppliers. Bas de Rijk, head of Travelpoint 3W, for the Netherlands government, said it had “the maximum global offer of all relevant travel services that we need”.

In a statement, Atriis said it was selected for its access to the new distribution capability’s fares offered directly by airlines, including Air France-KLM, Lufthansa Group, British Airways, American Airlines, United Airlines, Iberia and others.

Amsalem added: “The Dutch government has had a very colorful history with travel management companies over the last 10 years. We want to keep it neutral because we don’t want the decisions to be driven by commercial imperatives.”

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As with most business travel conversations, there is a sustainability aspect, and the government will also have more flexibility in measuring its emissions.

Cash Flow Negotiation

The government declined to comment further on this new approach to Skift, but the shift from legacy corporate travel agencies to a bespoke model could inspire other public bodies, particularly as they face closer scrutiny of their spending and carbon emissions.

“It’s inevitable that as companies reach a certain scale, they will become more concerned with the total cost of living and processes of all the services they consume, and travel is no exception,” Pouney said. “Choosing which technology to use by the travel agency means the client is at the forefront of technical innovation, gaining more transparency into processes and more easily controlling and negotiating cash flow.”

But for now, it’s a decision reserved for the larger donors. The Dutch government’s travel budget could reach up to $40 million a year. Smaller private or public companies may struggle to invest the time and expertise required to manage three different travel partners.

But Amsalem said his new client is “willing to take on the pain of the switch.”

“It’s tough competition over there,” he said. “TripActions invests a lot there, their European headquarters are in Amsterdam. There is BCD Travel. Amadeus Cytric, as incumbent… it wasn’t easy to let it go. That makes sense.”

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