Data analytics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Each play an increasingly prominent role in our lives, so it’s logical to assume that each will become equally important in the sourcing, planning and fulfillment of business travel.
Automation is the great enabler in travel management. Online booking tools facilitate travel compliance, but a changing business traveler community demands technology that enables greater personalization whilst providing access to a wider choice of preferred suppliers and amenities.
One of the biggest challenges facing those who design travel technology is the array of stakeholders involved in travel management. As well as procurement and finance, travel platforms must satisfy the needs of HR, security and IT decision-makers
For finance, business travel technology must deliver solutions to challenges including leakage and capturing data from trips booked outside policy. 2018 research found that 68% of finance heads don’t believe their employees comply with their travel and expense policies.
Slick processes are a fundamental of traveler (and arranger) satisfaction and a satisfied traveler is more likely to be a satisfied employee. So companies are looking for smart tools that streamline processes, help travelers manage their trips and look after their well being during those trips.
On the downside, new technologies can make it harder for organizations to control their spend. Hotels and airlines are marketing direct to business travelers in the (misguided) belief that loyalty points will outrank policy compliance in importance.
The rise of cloud technology, the sharing economy and the fragmentation of travel products have brought unprecedented choice. Brands like Airbnb and Uber now have to be incorporated into business travel platforms because travelers demand their inclusion in travel programs – and C-suite executives agree with them.
However too much choice isn’t always a good thing. 55% of consumers searching for travel feel they have to consult too many different sources, so future business travel platforms will have to temper more choice with filters that allow the employer to retain ultimate control whilst delivering a more sophisticated traveler experience.
Online Travel Agents like Expedia pioneered this approach in the leisure market, so they will have a big influence on future business travel platforms. The rising tide of apps designed for business travel will inevitably produce adoption, consolidation and hybridization in equal measure. The functionality they will bring to travelers and arrangers will range from content platforms that help travelers navigate their destinations’ local communities to automated delay alert and compensation claims.
Tools that help monitor mental and physical health will be incorporated in travel platforms as companies do more to fulfill their duty of care to their employees. Meanwhile, the increasing popularity of continuous sourcing demands that price prediction technology will become more prevalent too.
Artificial Intelligence is already embedding itself in business travel thanks to chat bots and virtual assistants like FCM’s Sam. These bots will process traveler preference data to deliver the level of personalization required by today’s consumer, using the information to individualize bookings.
In time, chatbots and digital assistants will book preferred accommodation for travelers based only on travel date and destination information, cutting time spent booking travel.
Business travel platforms will also restore productivity by cutting the time lost checking into hotels and airports. With priority check-in, room or seat selection and even advance boarding available now through some suppliers, future platforms will aggregate and consolidate each element of functionality, making today’s perks and added value tomorrow’s core product.
Blockchain technology is also likely to become part of business travel platforms as organizations incorporate automated but secure payments into the travel booking process. With digital currencies, travelers don’t have to provide all their information upon check-in, making passports obsolete. Facial recognition will enable travelers to scan their faces using their mobile phones, clear immigration and check-in to their hotels, all tracked by the reporting suite of the travel platform.
But for all the tech, the apps, the bots and ubiquitous Alexa, the human touch will still be a vital component of travel management going forward. That means the solutions of the next decade will blend people and tech. Whilst two-thirds of people are happy to use a chatbot, and millennials are happy to use chatbots for complex interactions such as banking, half of people still want to talk to a human when a problem occurs, particularly while they’re traveling.
The business travel platforms of tomorrow will strike the right balance between service and control, using the right combination of technology and people.