By Nicole Adonis, General Manager FCM Travel Solutions
Business travel accounts for US$1.3 trillion of global travel spend annually and, based on projections by the World Travel and Tourism Council, is set to rise around 3.7 percent per annum over the next ten years. One primary reason for this impressive growth is the industry’s adoption of groundbreaking technology.
Today’s consumers are accustomed to using technology to enhance their daily lives. They want the same easy-to-use and seamless technology experience when they travel.
Although there are many technological innovations, the following three technologies could fundamentally change the face of business travel in South Africa in 2019 and beyond.
With smartphone adoption nearing 100 percent in this market, and considering that an average business traveller checks their smartphone 34 times a day, it’s not difficult to understand the popularity and attraction a mobile or virtual assistant such as FCM’s SAM (Smart Assist Mobile) holds.
Imagine the following scenario: You are about to fly to France, your boss has asked for a draft of the presentation you thought you would complete on the plane but you still have a sales meeting to attend, and your wife wants to go out for dinner; and you haven’t packed yet.
At this point, SAM comes alive on your phone: “Air France is open for online check-in. Would you like your reference number?” SAM automatically populates the mobile check-in with your data and gives you a handy weather update: it’s unseasonably cold in Paris.
SAM, or the Smart Assist Mobile application, is a chatbot developed by FCM Travel Solutions, the corporate travel arm of the Flight Centre Travel Group, and it’s making travelling much easier for corporate clients.
SAM and other AI solutions are still evolving, and there is some way left to go. There is no doubt that the next wave of AI will open up other opportunities to improve the traveller experience. We think it will simplify travel decision-making and planning, shorten the buying process, help travellers avoid travel disruptions, and increase the uptake of loyalty programmes.
There are several applications of Blockchain being developed for the business travel market. Only time will tell which ones gain any real traction, but the technology looks set to simplify global commercial payments process, which can be unnecessarily complicated.
By reducing the number of stages and parties involved, costs can be cut, cash flow improved and fraud eliminated. Blockchain may not eliminate the need for credit cards, but it could become an alternative to the virtual card.
Blockchain technology could also, for example, allow hotel bills to be settled instantly because systems will know what amenities have been used.
For travellers, Blockchain represents an opportunity to pass through passport control more quickly, especially if IBM succeeds in creating a verified identification solution for individuals using its smartphones.
The theory is, if the system knows who you are, you don’t need to carry a passport. In its place would be a digital passport that would reduce the risk of identity fraud and the information being lost or stolen. Last June, the Dubai government partnered with UK start-up ObjectTech to bring Blockchain-based security to Dubai Airport, combining biometric verification and Blockchain technology and using a pre-approved, entirely digitised passport to authorise passengers’ entrance into the country.
This brings us to the next innovation:
Instead of waiting in line to collect a boarding pass, imagine you could head straight to your gate, as all the information that immigration, customs and flight officials need can be accessed by you simply putting your hand onto a screen or an eye to a camera.
This is not a futuristic scenario. It is already happening. British Airways has already boarded flights of nearly 240 passengers in around 15 minutes, thanks to a biometric technology trial in Orlando. Passengers are required merely to look at the camera, and they are ready to go; no passports; no boarding passes.
The technology will also be available in London from mid-2019, with a biometrics trial will streamline the passenger journey through Heathrow from check-in to take-off that the airport claims could reduce the average passenger’s journey time by up to a third. The technology will use facial recognition at check-in, bag drops, security lanes and boarding gates to create a seamless experience for passengers travelling through the airport.
Currently, manual authentication means passengers need to present different forms of ID, such as boarding cards, booking reference numbers, as well as their passports, to various agents to prove they are authorised to travel. By offering passengers the option to use more instant facial recognition technology, there is an opportunity to streamline that process.
A survey by SITA, a technology company serving the aviation industry, found that 77 percent of airports and 71 percent of airlines are either researching biometrics or planning to implement programmes to identify travellers using facial recognition or other biometric means.
We can expect the same technology to come to South Africa soon. The Department of Home Affairs has embarked on a modernisation programme that aims to “capture biometrics for all travellers upon arrival and departure from the Republic at all ports of entry”.
The enhanced Movement Control System (eMCS) programme launched at Lanseria International Airport in 2015 and has been extended to the OR Tambo, King Shaka and Cape Town International Airports. The next phase is the Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS), which will be rolled out over the next five years.
We can expect all of these technologies to make travel even more seamless and frictionless in 2019.