Encore’s “accidental” journey to becoming a tech-forward TMC

Since launching Zii, its own travel platform, in 2018,
Montreal-based Encore Travel has migrated virtually all of its clients to it,
with plans for further innovations on the way.

The development of Zii was “very expensive and very
difficult,” but Encore went the technology-forward route because it
determined doing so was essential to client satisfaction, Encore director of
commercial strategy Jake Jonassohn said. Creating the tool was a way to gain
control over the whole “big box” of travel, including duty of care,
onboarding, training, reporting, booking and analytics, rather than simply
serving as a go-between for the client to a third party, he said.

“We were reselling everything we could to allow our
clients to do these different things,” Jonassohn said. “We decided we
had no control over being the world’s most loved in any of those categories,
outside of the booking experience. We couldn’t provide the level of support we
know we’re capable of.”

As such, “we accidentally became a tech company
somehow,” he said.

At the onset, Encore Travel chief executive and founder
Monique Mardinian sat down with clients and came up with a list of 143 issues
they had with their current platforms as guidance. What makes Zii different,
Jonassohn said, is that it is built on “cost center configurations,”
meaning each cost center setup on the platform is treated as its own company
and could have its own settings applied. Users then can be assigned roles, such
as manager access, at each cost center, he said.

As a platform, Jonassohn compared Zii to an
“octopus” with everything built as microservices, such as the booking
tool or duty-of-care platform. That way, if an arranger whose point of sale is
Canada is booking for a U.S.-based employee, they can be launched into the same
site with the U.S.-based point of sale extending from that same
“octopus,” which has two different OBT configurations behind the
scenes, he said.

“If you think about multinationals, or super-big
conglomerates that own a lot of different companies, they can have the entire
experience be uniform for their entire company while having pretty much
entirely separate sites, because the cost centers waterfall down,” he

The structure also can help clients that are growing via
acquisition ease new units into a program with a “slow transition,”
Jonassohn said. For example, a cost center could keep its own policy and have
it roll up to the master site.

Some of the features Jonassohn highlighted included built-in
tutorials to guide users while onboarding — comparable to the old Microsoft
“Clippy” animated paperclip interface — a compliance gamification tool
and the capability to designate bookers for guest travel on a per-profile level
rather than limiting it to a handful of admins.

Another key feature that Jonassohn said is the “most
clicked page in all of Zii” is a “my trips history,” which is a record of upcoming and past trips, including itineraries and invoices, in one
place. Encore Corporate Travel president Christina Woronchak, who joined the
company this year from Deem, said that has proven particularly useful
for companies with travelers who move to work in other countries and need trip
histories for application purposes.

“You can get that in seconds on this platform,”
she said. “If you think of large consulting firms that have people
relocating to other countries every day, it’s an incredible feature.”

One of Zii’s first features was a scorecard capability,
where travelers and team leaders can view their level of compliance compared
with others in the company and highlight top performances and those who need
improvement. Zii now is beta-testing a sustainability version of the scorecard,
where companies can see who is performing the best with sustainability metrics,
Jonassohn said.

Zii also is adding a group feature, which it is rolling out
in phases, where a planner can build a group, add a list of attendees and send
out invitations for Zii users to book within policy. For the first phase, it is
available to Encore agents, and it eventually will be available to client
planners, with other features — such as invitations for guest travelers — on the
way as well, he said.

Ultimately, however, Jonassohn said one of Zii’s biggest
strengths is its adaptability, with clients even down to the individual
traveler level able to submit suggestions for new features, and they are
notified when their features are added. Because of Encore’s “low tech
debt,” such additions can be done relatively quickly, Woronchak said.

“If it’s a good idea for 80% of our portfolio;
it’s a no-brainer,” Jonassohn said. “We’ll just do it.”

*This article originally appeared in Business Travel News.

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