Step by step: new tech tools are changing the way we book travel
Step by step: new tech tools are changing the way we book travel
Prior to 2019, anyone booking travel would have considered cost saving their key priority. Not anymore. Although travel bookers are, obviously, still keeping an eye on expenses, they (and their clients) are now more concerned with wellbeing.
That’s not surprising, since the pandemic brought questions around wellbeing – individual, social and even planetary – to the fore. The result? As business travel gains momentum (which it is doing at a rapid rate), travel bookers are turning to tools which enable them to remove pain points which have, traditionally, affected travellers physically or mentally by causing fatigue and stress. “This has become a significant issue for the travel industry, since we have come to recognize that addressing these challenges actually saves money in the long term. Simply put, the smoother and more efficient the journey, the more productive your employee,” observes Bonnie Smith, GM of FCM Travel.
Smith adds that the new technologies available are making it possible to entrench steps that promote wellbeing at every step of the travel booking journey. “There is a marked difference between these new tools and those previously in use,” she continues. “For a start, we have done away with the notion of features for their own sake. What matters now is not the bells and whistles, but the user-friendliness, intuitiveness and ability to customize tools to suit individual needs.” Enter a new era of travel booking, which emphasizes easy access to information by providing instant alerts, always-on communication channels and AI enhanced booking platforms.
From the outset…
New technologies aim to remove any hassles from the very minute it becomes clear that a trip is needed, Smith explains. One such hassle is the need to gain approval – important from the organisation’s perspective, because employers carry a duty of care for travelling staff members while also keeping an eye on budgets; but a process that is often frustrating and time consuming for travellers who need to wade through red tape. Innovative tools make it possible to streamline and automate processes by auto-approving any booking that meets policy requirements – and sounding an alert when they don’t. This means that organisations have complete control over all corporate travel decisions, while travellers themselves can receive approvals from the different channels that need to be consulted (even if there is more than one), on their cell phones.
Travel regulations that change quicker than you can say “new Covid variant” present another headache for would-be travellers. Of course, it’s easy to keep track of these when you have access to information regarding these regulations – but that means keeping tabs on dozens of apps and platforms as they post updates. This is where the value of a single app that offers a full, omni-channel experience is apparent, Smith says. “This makes it possible for travel bookers to alert travellers to any changes regarding boarding procedures, hygiene requirements or border restrictions as they happen – with no effort required on the part of the employee.”
Of course, such information is only useful so long as it speaks directly to the user’s own experience (do you really need to know that China has just implemented another lockdown if you’re travelling to Zimbabwe, for example?). In the same way, information required by travellers themselves is very different to the information required by travel bookers, which again is different to that needed by travel managers. Today’s tools take this into account, customising user experiences so that if you’re booking travel, you’ll be apprised of all details related to client travellers who are making their way around the world, especially as they pertain to duty of care obligations. Travel managers, meanwhile, are able to access data that may inform their decisions around the company’s travel strategy. And for the travellers themselves, it’s all about changes to itineraries and schedules or cancellations, all made available as soon as they log into their platforms or apps.
Then again, just as travel technology needs to be highly personalised, it must, simultaneously, be universal so that no matter where users are in the world, they (and every member of their team) will have the same experience – a useful feature for multinationals trying to coordinate a global travel programme. What does this look like in practice? “There’s a very strong accent on UX,” Smith answers. “It’s all about AI – increasingly, travel tech is harnessing the power of this tool so that it is able to make quick recommendations based on data such as an individual’s past travel history. But we can also leverage plug and play technology to make a universal booking experience possible.”
Travel managers can be forgiven for balking at the thought of what such sophisticated technology would cost – but, in fact, the new tech results in greater cost savings for users. Smith notes that this is because new tools allow travel managers a view of all related expenses, such as the number of seats booked by the company, and informs them of whether this is in line with budgets, or placing them under strain. Also useful is the ability to create recommendations around lowering costs, so that companies are able to create a greater return on investment.
One interesting outcome of the pandemic is people’s changing attitudes towards work. Perhaps because we are more cognizant of the value of balance, we now demand it – travellers and organisations included. Where once a travel manager may have agreed to booking a redeye flight or a long layover to keep costs down, or given a nod to back-to-back trips in the name of saving time, companies are now seeking to reduce stress – because, after all, less stress means greater productivity. The role of tech here is to identify travellers who may be overburdened by these factors, and to provide the support they need.
The pandemic also made us realise that it’s not only travellers who need support – the environment could do with a lot more love, too. Enter a new accent on sustainability, which is made possible through tech which helps to identify routes with the lowest carbon footprint, as well as hotels that have embraced green practices.
Finally, travel alerts mean that tech facilitates more than simply taking care of travellers’ comfort. By ensuring they are informed of key changes (we’re back to those issues like vaccination requirements and entry rules), tech is able to keep them safe, too. And, because each notification is tailored to their trip, they are able to access this critical information without being bogged down by news about what’s happening elsewhere.