Why you should incorporate mobile strategies into your travel programme
The increased use of mobile devices for travel has been nothing short of dramatic since the first apps appeared nearly a decade ago. Smartphones and tablets are a necessity in the business travel space and most will have multiple travel apps downloaded on them in order to smooth their way through airports, hotels, car hire pick-ups, airport to downtown transport options, to digitalise expenses and the like.
The move to a mobile world came in tandem with a move to a self-service world in which travellers can book travel and communicate directly with travel suppliers to better manage their trips. Apps have filled the gap for savvy travellers to book and update travel itineraries on the move.
Looking to the future
Gone are the days when higher value bookings were still made on a desktop or offline by talking to a TMC; today, the reliance on mobile devices is total and all bookings are made on them, regardless of value. The apps give travellers fingertip control of their hectic working lives like never before. Alerts of airport gate changes, flight delays, traffic snarl-ups and expedited hotel check-in procedures; the business traveller is now in the driving seat.
However, many companies restrict the apps employees can download to their work mobiles, necessitating the use of downloading some apps to their personal phones. Carrying two phones on the go has become the norm, with the spectre of an enhanced travel experience outside the company travel programme, rather than inside it.
How NOT to introduce a mobile strategy
Companies have the very real prospect of disengaged travellers, greater travel policy non-compliance and thus missed savings. Corporate travel managers need to ensure that their company travel programme delivers on ease of use, rich content, clear communication and with a fully integrated mobile strategy. Their goal should be to make the traveller experience simple and seamless.
It’s telling that despite the 197 billion apps forecast to be downloaded in 2017, people tend to use only a few on a daily basis. According to TechCrunch, the average number of apps people use is nine apps daily, and 30 apps monthly. That translates to a genuine opportunity for corporates to add real value to travellers’ daily lives.
“Today mobile is the most frequently used device for almost all of us. This means that mobile must be seen as a primary platform to be used for booking, changing and managing trips,” says Scott Davies, Chief Executive Officer of ITM.
The merits of incorporating a mobile strategy into a corporate travel programme are obvious, but companies have been slow to do so. Issues such as security, company culture, IT issues and trust stand in the way most often. But the risk of inaction equals less visibility of travellers and the legal ramifications of company duty of care obligations.
Opportunities and challenges
Travel managers have the opportunity to incorporate key travel apps into their managed travel programme in order to engage travellers and keep them in policy. However, the plethora of apps in the marketplace means that there is a real need for consolidation.
TMC and expense apps are the key apps and generally companies have avoided creating a super app due to the inhibitive costs of doing so. One hurdle to climb can be the internal structure of a company as often, ownership of the company mobile device policy stands with IT or HR departments, and not the travel manager.
There are also roaming costs to consider, when the typical Road Warrior is away half the month. “Roaming costs and travellers streaming movies can rack up a significant bill for a company,” says Michel Rouse, Chief Technology Officer, Corporate – EMEA at Flight Centre Travel Group. “Some companies expense it and some don’t.” But far and away the biggest concern is security.
“A traveller could inadvertently install malware or a virus,” says Rouse. A company’s trade secrets could then be shared with the competition or a traveller’s itinerary could get into the wrong hands, for example.
How to implement a mobile strategy
Mobile apps go only part of the way to solving the issue, however.
A mobile strategy should be all-embracing over the mobile space with the goal of integrating it with the travel policy to help make the traveller experience seamless. The first question corporates should ask is why they are deploying a mobile strategy.
Is it to:
- improve traveller engagement?
- be used as a communication tool in real-time?
- raise the profile of the travel policy?
- share top tips?
- for operational reasons, ie to make a booking?
Flight Centre’s Rouse puts it succinctly: “Discover what the problem is to solve”. The answer to this question will determine which department you engage with.
It might be IT, Finance or Operations. “Change management has to start at a high level,” advises Jo Lloyd, partner with consultancy Nina & Pinta. “You always need an advocate at the top of the food chain to send the right message.” If the goal is traveller engagement then her advice is to “cuddle them into compliance rather than beat them into submission”.
In other words, to utilise apps with useful trip information, how far the office is from the hotel for example, or restaurant reviews. “Travellers appreciate that and it will lead to better compliance,” says Lloyd.
Other considerations are:
- to create a handful of corporate apps covering booking and expense, ground transportation, trip info, travel risks and corporate credit card and virtual cards
- to deploy only company phones if you want to share corporate payment details so travellers can capture receipts in digital form and push their expenses through on the go
- to decide where the liability stops with geo-locators on apps as some travellers see this as an infringement of privacy
- explain app usage clearly in travel policy
- to engage with key travellers and bookers who will be early adoptors
- to ensure the company travel policy can be viewed on their mobile device
- to integrate the apps between all storage, general services and travel services
- to build interfaces between all the programmes
- to talk with your TMC about how to get the best out of mobile apps and how it can deliver benefit to the business.
The future: the traveller takes control
Using a smaller screen for trip management necessitates big button, slimmed-down features plus, “the addition of chat/chatbot facilities to help respond when the traveller needs more info than the device app can provide,” says ITMs Scott Davies.
“Mobile assistants, as they are becoming known, are emerging as an integral part of the mobile experience.”
Business travellers are already conversing with AI chatbots and AI will move further to business travellers’ lives as the technology proves itself.
According to some crystal ball gazing from Concur, travel itineraries will become dynamic, agile and self-thinking entities powered by AI, personalised to the traveller’s preferences, compliant with company travel policy, and tweaked by the individual traveller using a digital conversational interface.
By 2030, according to Concur, booking processes will be delegated to autonomous tools, digital conversational interfaces, big data and AI. AI will know to make changeable reservations only for people with a history of last-minute changes, whereas travellers who plan ahead could have pre-paid reservations to achieve lower fares.
And despite the legal limitations of GDPR, 85% of passengers want airlines and airports to offer them a more customised travel experience and are willing to provide more personal data to make this happen, according to IATA’s 2017 Global Passenger Survey.
Moreover, blockchain technology - which underpins cryptocurrencies - could enable the traveller to own all their data and grant access to it where and when they want to.
The management of travel has an exciting future through new and emerging technology. It will transform the logistics of travel and looks set to ease the day-to-day role of a travel manager.