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by Michael Shapiro | August 26, 2011

At this week's Global Business Travel Association annual convention in Denver, a lot of suppliers wanted to discuss ground transportation technology with me. Well, not oodles, but several, and I don't usually get many meeting requests at all on that topic as it relates to group travel. A couple of platforms caught my attention.

For starters, I saw a demo of Group Ground, the new platform from Rearden Commerce subsidiary Global Ground Automation. This platform was announced a couple of weeks ago and should launch officially in September. It consists of a fairly robust price-comparison tool, through which a planner can compare limo or airport-transfer costs among different cities, and can factor in variables such as how promptly attendees will be picked up from the airport upon arrival. You can load reservations directly from group manifests, a potentially huge convenience when it comes to shopping suppliers and managing group reservations. The system also notifies you about outlying flight times, and can be updated directly to accommodate revised travel plans and cancellations.

I spoke as well to the top execs from Limos.com, who officially announced Limos.com for Business during the convention. Limos.com is a consumer-facing booking portal for town cars: Customers simply enter a destination, date and time, as well as a pick-up address and the number of passengers, and the system returns fare quotes. Limos.com works with more than 2,000 licensed suppliers worldwide, and offers discounted rates they have negotiated with said suppliers. Travelers can even book on the road using a mobile site or app (either iPhone or Android), and pay via corporate card directly through the app.

The company has more than one million registered users, and the Limos.com team calculated from that database that at least half of Fortune 500 companies have 50 employees or more using their site. Limos.com for Business capitalizes on that customer base: Businesses can sign up for no cost and get access to all of their employee town-car booking data, apply policy settings and integrate the platform into whatever corporate booking or agency system they're already using.

For planners looking to book transport for all event attendees, that's possible but not yet automated. They would need to call Limos.com to make those arrangements. Limos.com CEO T.J. Clark said more automation for groups is likely on the horizon. So while not totally there yet in terms of meetings functionality, it's a promising start for automating the still fragmented market of private-car use, and for centralizing and collecting the booking data.

This type of automation doesn't appeal to everyone, however. In the opinion of London Towncars executive VP Ralph Duncan, Limos.com is a great tool, but not for his New York City-based company. His clients, he said, are looking for the highest-level hands-on service for their CEOs; customers who compare fares through a search engine are more often looking for the best price. But there is no doubt, he added, that travel managers and planners are also looking for the convenience of online booking and system integration, and his company is working on that. It will be interesting to see what other kinds of town-car automation develop, even from the "high-touch" VIP traditionalists.