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Nicholas Lananna – Serene Dhondy: Unicef and American Express to step into a new era

Recently, Unicef selected American Express Business Travel, to launch the agency’s new online booking system which is the first online travel tool used by the United Nations. With this collaboration American Express steps into a new era as the company approaches new markets in the public sector and not-for-profit agencies. Nicholas Lananna, chief of UNICEF’s travel and transportation unit and Serene Dhondy, Manager Client Services for American Express analyse in TravelDailyNews International the benefits from this collaboration.

TravelDailyNews: How important is this collaboration?

Serene Dhondy: American Express and UNICEF have worked together since 1999. We have achieved much together, adopting innovative practice at every turn. We are understandably excited to launch UNICEF’s (and the UN’s) first online travel booking system.

TDN: What is the annual number of UNICEF business trips that Amex is going to deal with (ballpark)?

Nicholas Lananna: Our New York City headquarter office alone handles 4,200 tickets, on average, per year, or approximately half of our total travel transactions world-wide.

S.D.: All the U.S. reservations go through American Express’ service delivery network. The newly introduced online system will complement and sit beside the existing onsite platform.

TDN: Do you believe that there will be a reduction in the overall cost of all these business trips? What percentage?

N.L.: Cost savings is one potential advantage of an online system, and assuming we successfully consolidate, so as to better leverage, our preferred supplier relationships we do anticipate better negotiated fares.

TDN: What are the benefits from UNICEF`s view / from AMEX` s view of AMEX`s international expansion of online business travel booking?

N.L.: International expansion, or better said ‘global standardization,’ of American Express Online should help us become a more strategic buyer of travel content and likewise better procurement decision-makers, thereby enabling us to exercise more control over travel spending.

S.D.: UNICEF and American Express stand to mutually benefit from each other’s unique global experience. For example, American Express Business Travel introduced the first corporate online booking system in 1996. Today, more than one-third of our U.S. transactions are made online. Worldwide we operate more online booking portals in more countries than any competitor. We plan to convert this expertise into best practice recommendations for UNICEF. We know they will return their learning in spades, particularly as they roll-out and more broadly implement an online travel system for some of the industry’s most complicated travel itineraries.

TDN: In what way will this business step benefit AMEX regarding global competition?

S.D.: UNICEF is among the few, or in the vanguard, of public sector and not-for-profit agencies choosing to implement an online booking system. By teaming with UNICEF, American Express Business Travel again demonstrates its commitment to being an industry forerunner; market maker and change-agent for how to best manage business travel in 2005 and beyond.

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Theodore is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of TravelDailyNews Media Network; his responsibilities include business development and planning for TravelDailyNews long-term opportunities.