Is your travel technology right for your company?
Business travel is growing again, as a new generation of travellers and travel buyers comes to the fore. The World Travel and Tourism Council and Travelport say that $1.3 trillion will be spent on business travel globally in 2017, and this will rise by 3.7% per annum over the next 10 years.
But in a changing world, that technology has to meet the needs of a changing business traveller demographic.
"One of the main factors in this growth has been the sector’s adoption of technology. But in a changing world, that technology has to meet the needs of a changing business traveller demographic."
After all, understanding the expectations, needs and lifestyles of the workforce is crucial to the success of any business. It follows that travel technology has to evolve too, but how?
The millennials – those born between 1980 and 2000 – is the always-on, tech-savvy generation for whom travel is a lifestyle choice. By 2020, the millennials (or 'Generation Y') will make up over half of the global workforce and account for close to 50% of all business travel spend.
Then there’s the new kids on the block – those born after 1995, known as 'Generation Z'. These consumers have a wealth of information and data at their fingertips; they expect greater personalisation and are willing to provide more data to brands. Having grown up with smartphones and tablets, according to an IBM report, they have performed 5.1 billion Google searches, watched 4 billion YouTube videos, sent 500 million tweets and downloaded 1 million apps. A staggering 74% spend most of their free time online and 66% frequently use more than one digital device at the same time.
Gen Z’s preferred communication channels are different, too. Phone time is spent on messaging apps like Snapchat, while WhatsApp is becoming the medium of choice through which to engage with travel brands to engage with them. In short, Gen Z takes personalisation for granted.
The huge popularity of WhatsApp and digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Siri and Cortana has propelled Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the fore, as corporates try to generate new business value by integrating voice into their technology. AI and travel are the perfect fit because of the volume and depth of information travel companies –TMCs in particular – hold on travellers, their travel patterns and preferences.
In a travel world where personalisation and 'Big Data' are the mega-trends, Artificial Intelligence is the great enabler. Travel suppliers are already using AI to interact with travellers before, during and after their trips and as more brands launch these mobile travel assistants and expand their capabilities into non-travel recommendations. Travel management is bound to follow suit.
Against this background of change, it’s not surprising that the role of travel management companies has gone way beyond simply offering an online booking tool (OBT). Instead TMCs are using the latest technologies to create integrated travel ecosystems through which they can help their clients achieve specific business objectives.
Any travel ecosystem should consider every stakeholder’s needs, from finance to procurement; HR to IT; from the traveller to the travel manager. The range of tools provides has to include profile management, booking, expense management, reporting and security.
Most importantly, these tools should be interlinked and integrated across every market in which the business operated, up to and including globally.
To assess whether your travel technology meets the needs of your organisation, start by asking yourself these questions...
1. Is your travel technology customised to your company’s needs and travel policies?
Any business traveller using the OBT should only be able to access approved travel products. If your policy only permits, for example, your travellers to stay at certain hotels, they should only see those hotels on the tool and book their stay accordingly.
2. Does it streamline approval processes?
Your travel system should provide an electronic approval application that talks directly to your mobile apps, meaning travellers can apply for approval at the click of a button. Line managers would be notified immediately and approve the application within seconds, initiating an automated real-time booking process.
3. Can the system track trends?
Imagine what you could do with valuable data feedback that includes, for example, identifying frequent travellers who spend too much time travelling and consequently may be facing burnout or be considering resigning, with the attendant risks to the business. Your technology should notify you when an employee travels often enough to justify business-class travel, or if they are over-travelling.
4. Are risk management processes automated?
In an uncertain world, risk-management solutions should give you direct access to crisis control centres across the world. Technology should integrate risk management, booking and reporting systems so that travellers’ locations can be tracked and advice given in real-time. This would also manage concentration risk by highlighting instances where too many employees are travelling on the same flight.
5. Does your technology help you control travel costs?
An integrated suite of travel technology tools should give the procurement or travel manager visibility of travel costs, organisation-wide, and to manage preferred supplier agreements. The right combination of technology and provider should also enable you to benchmark your travel programme against that of our competitors.
6. Is the technology scalable?
Mobile-enabled travel technology enables travellers to upload pictures of their receipts through an app on their phones, simplifying expense recording and reporting.
7. Do you receive data analytics?
Heat mapping functionality allows different aspects of the travel programme to be reviewed, areas of strong or under-performance highlighted and divisional delivery to be benchmarked. Your system should provide you with dashboards and KPI scorecards, as well as on-demand reporting, to give you detailed analysis on your travel activity and spend.
8. Does the technology provide a platform that keeps travellers connected?
A good business travel experience is about being connected. Technology should allow travellers to access and manage their travel reservations via their mobile devices, enabling them to make changes when necessary and to receive relevant notifications such as flight delays. Some apps also allow for information to be accessed offline, avoiding excessive data charges.
9. Does it allow sharing economy travel?
Today’s (and tomorrow’s) traveller will demand that your programme includes sharing economy suppliers (e.g. Airbnb and Uber) so your technology will need to integrate these products into a manageable channel. Shared-economy should be handled in the same way as other travel transactions, with travellers able to claim back or track costs by uploading receipts through a smart integrated mobile app.
10. Can it help to ensure your safety?
If you have travellers in a country where a safety risk arises suddenly, your technology should be able to notify them immediately. With the right TMC partner, every traveller should have access to crisis-control centres worldwide that can assist travellers should they need to be repatriated.
If you answered "yes" to each of these questions, congratulations!
Your travel technology is future-proofed – for now at least.
If you answered "no" to any of the questions, your travel technology is under-performing.
In reality, as all of the tools mentioned are integrated, travellers need just two to manage every aspect of business travel: an online booking tool linked to their personal profile, and a mobile travel assistant like Sam:].
While FCM has all the necessary technology available to streamline business travel, our blended approach to travel management means travellers also have 24/7 access to Travel Consultant, should they need personal assistance and a friendly voice on the other end of the line.