Travel technology trends in 2023
Jonathan Clark, Chief Technology Officer, FCTG Corporate Australia
Since the ChatGPT AI engine was released late last year, there’s been a lot of discussion around how smart this AI engine is for different kinds of work in our space. The team ran some existing software code past the ChatGPT chatbot to test it. It was able to test the code for its accuracy as well as write a heap of new code in just a couple of minutes.
The outcome was impressive in terms of seeing how far the technology had come and how quickly it was able to return code for a specific question. However, I don’t see these chatbots taking over anyone’s jobs; far from it.
Where AI can be applied is for activities such as processing documents, speeding up workflow processes, hotel rate and airfare checking mechanisms, as well as tracking the ‘sentiment’ from client feedback on online booking tools. Being able to interpret the sentiment of large volumes of client feedback on our technology helps our team to focus on any weaknesses or issues with our current technology quickly and prioritise our workstack. This means we’re able to start working on jobs that are most important to the customer faster.
Harcher Batravil, Solutions Engineer, Americas, FCM Travel
I’m going to merge two buzzwords together here, as the trend I think that’s going to sweep travel technology this year is data-driven sustainability.
Travel professionals know why leaning on their data is more crucial than ever. The whole driver behind leaning on data is credibility and clarity. If you do the work to make sure your data is clean and usable, then there isn’t a much clearer picture available of your travel program’s operations.
And that’s where the two concepts start to crossover. The main concern we hear when it comes to building sustainability into travel programs is the looming uncertainty of where to start. But just like we’ve advised that all major decisions should be based on accurate data, that advice also stands here.
It’s a simple formula, although not always simple to implement. Data science + democratised information x traveller engagement at every step of the travel process = an eco-friendly future.
Decision makers at the organisational level need to analyse their carbon footprint at the vertical level, but then the key is to share that information with travellers. They need to understand their own individual impact and realise that their choices can make a difference. That means AI-powered analytics that provide both prescriptive and predictive reporting, and traveller decision-support tools that appear during and at point-of-booking.
From searching your next trip options, all the way to arriving at the hotel…the evolution of travel technology is exciting, vast and always growing.
We asked our technology teams around the world what they think will be a big trend in 2023.
Lisa Wang, Director of Solutions Engineering, Asia, FCM Travel
There is a growing need for tech solutions that easily consolidate booking options and ease payment, no matter which country you live in. This is about ultimately delivering a wider range of content and varieties of transportation modes into one platform.
For example, some countries rely heavily on rail such as Japan, but others have a huge low-cost-carrier market like India. Some of our customers have travellers in both countries so it’s important to present both country’s travellers with a consistent experience, even if their product selections and travel options behind the scenes are different. It’s a lot of work, but the flow on effect and customer benefits are huge.
In payment, the ‘Buy Now Pay Later’ options, digital wallets, and even blockchain, are all gaining momentum in Asia. When it comes to travel, how to pay different service provider via one gateway and also receive an instant refund is becoming crucial.
End-to-end tech stacks
David Sykes, Technical Lead, Europe, FCM Travel
It’s always been a growing area, but companies are increasingly more open to embracing technology for the entire travel experience. From shopping and booking to using mobile apps and expense management; all eyes remain on tech to deliver a seamless and often contactless experience.
For bookings, it’s expected that online booking tool (OBT) adoption will increase rapidly, particularly as more tools are turned back on again post-pandemic. There’s an increased emphasis on the end-user experience and making booking as seamless and simple a process as possible. For the travel journey itself, it’s all about the mobile app, but it has to work smoothly in the background and with offline services. The “one-stop shop” phrasing may have been around for a while now but does reflect what companies want; everything in one place. Multiple sources of content, company and individual preferences, loyalty numbers, communication, itineraries, travel alerts….the list is endless.
And this is not just for the traveller, but for travel buyers and travel bookers too. When you factor in policy controls, reporting, communication, sustainability…there’s a growing number of data points within the technology to consider. The tech stack capability in a travel program will be a big priority for many organisations to get their data in order, and then have the agility to implement change.
AI in virtual and physical form
Abdel Abatouy, Chief Technology Officer & Chief Information Officer, Asia, FCM Travel
In Singapore, some companies are already using AI for business travel-related expense monitoring and reporting, which can automatically detect fraud and forged receipts. This technology is intended to improve the traveller experience and also to reduce manual reporting.
Robotics also has its place in more physical locations. We saw recently that the Malaysia Budget & Business Hotel Association (MYBHA) is working with a series of partners to use robotics to improve the hotel guest experience and enhance traveller safety. Some features from one particular machine, the BUTLERBOT W3, include autonomous elevator use and a zero-contact privacy-focused room delivery.
It will be interesting to see how long it takes for robotics to become more mainstream in the travel industry.
Beating the battle of lost bags
Bonnie Smith, General Manager, South Africa, FCM Travel
Many people that travelled in 2022 may have been pleased to be back in the air again, but there was a big question worrying them. Would my bag be there at the other end? The headlines about lost, delayed or damaged luggage were everywhere. According to a report from the US Department of Transportation, nearly 1.5 million pieces of luggage fell victim to this fate in the first half of 2022.
Current methods, such as barcodes, are clearly no longer up to the job, prompting many travellers to invest in tracking tools such as Apple AirTags and Smart Luggage ID tags. Just as TMCs can determine the whereabouts of their travellers at any given time, the introduction and integration of Bluetooth technology into travel platforms could signal the end of luggage going AWOL.