The Dutch government is taking back control of how it manages its multi-million dollar travel program, after a protracted decade of highs and lows using large travel management companies.
After an 18-month tender process it has selected new travel partners: expense platform Yokoy, which replaces MobileXpense, and booking tool Atriis, which replaces Amadeus’s Cytric platform. It now wants to widen the pool of suppliers it can access — and keep a close eye on costs.
The Dutch government continues to use local corporate travel agency VCK Travel. But the appointment of travel technology company Atriis comes after the Dutch Ministry of Justice ran into complications with a previous corporate travel agency it used.
This 10-year saga for the Netherlands showcases how large travel buyers can often feel a loss of autonomy and how a more direct hands-on approach is fueling a desire to be nimble as the travel landscape adapts post-pandemic.
It all started when the Dutch subsidiary of ATPI was taken to court over invoice fraud for overcharging on airline tickets between 2010 and 2012, according to travel publication The Beat. ATPI had been originally selected because it charged a very low booking transaction fee.
The subsidiary, and its former managing director, Willem Starink, were convicted in the Amsterdam District Court on criminal charges of issuing forged invoices that concealed fare markups for two clients, the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice and the Dutch Central Bank.
ATPI and Starink were acquitted on a more serious charge of systematic fraud against clients.
At the time, ATPI said: “We are pleased with the court’s decision to acquit ATP Business Travel of the fraud charge, and so the business has not previously defrauded its customers, in particular the Ministry of Justice,” according to The Beat report. “We are now a completely different company than ten years ago, with new management and a different corporate culture.”
But the government’s new travel program, which will be managed by its newly branded procurement organization, Travelpoint 3W, covering 12,000 employees across 13 departments, is significant.
“The Dutch government doesn’t trust anyone,” said one Amsterdam-based industry source. “They don’t trust any travel management company now. But they also see that these players haven’t been at the forefront of coming up with innovation. That’s also the problem.”
Of course VCK is still a travel management company, but it’s small, according to the source. “As a customer, the government has more of a say in how and what they need, as opposed to the big ones who are just not listening.”
The Dutch government’s new appointments are also going against the current trend. Bigger travel agencies today are increasingly merging all aspects, combining travel booking with expense and payments. Here the government is splitting it all up.
It’s more work as there are more contracts to manage, and problems could arise if any of the companies are unclear on their responsibilities. But for Severnside Consulting’s Chris Pouney, it’s “refreshing how an organization is looking at all three in one go, as they are properly investigating the marketplace.”
Widening the Scope
The government’s goal is to access a bigger range of suppliers, without getting tied up in hotels or airlines being promoted due to other players’ own financial incentives, according to Atriis’s co-founder.
“We are not playing in the distribution space,” said Omri Amsalem. “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 if it’s New Distribution Capability, there is always a dual discussion around an additional fee. It used to be a surcharge, now they call it something else.”
The contract with Atriis, which will last eight years, opens up the number of global suppliers it can access. Bas de Rijk, head of Travelpoint 3W, for the government of the Netherlands, said it had the “maximum worldwide offer of any relevant travel services we need.”
In a statement Atriis said it was selected because of its access to the New Distribution Capability 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 charged history with the travel management companies for the past 10 years. We want to keep it neutral, because we don’t want the decisions to be steered by commercial constraints.”
As with most conversations around corporate travel, there’s a sustainability angle, and the government will also have more flexibility in how it measures its emissions.
Negotiating the Flow of Money
The government didn’t want to comment further to Skift about this new approach, but the shift from legacy corporate travel agencies to a bespoke model could inspire other public sector bodies, particularly as they face greater scrutiny over their spending and carbon emissions.
“It’s inevitable that when buying organizations hit a certain scale, they become more interested in the whole life cost and processes of any service they consume, and travel is no exception,” Pouney said. “Selecting the technology to be used by the travel agency means the client has a seat at the top table of tech innovation, receives greater transparency of processes and is able to more easily control and negotiate the flow of money.”
But for now it’s a decision reserved for the bigger spenders. The Dutch government’s travel budget could reach up to $40 million per year. Smaller companies, private or public, may struggle to invest in the time and expertise needed to manage three different travel partners.
But Amsalem said its new customer was “willing to take the pain of changing.”
“There’s tough competition over there,” he said. “TripActions is investing a lot there, their European headquarters is in Amsterdam. There’s BCD Travel. Amadeus Cytric, as the incumbent … it wasn’t easy to let it go. This is meaningful.”