Behavioural Economics and your travel programme – predicting behaviours in 2019

Simplicity, fewer and better choices, and a reduction of traveller friction will be significant focus areas for the corporate travel market in South Africa in 2019.

The travel industry will increasingly seek to understand why travellers make specific travel decisions by applying the basics of Behavioural Economics.

A hot topic coming into the New Year, Behavioural Economics is a relatively new field combining insights from psychology, judgment, decision making and economics to generate a more accurate understanding of human behaviour (Harvard Business Review 2017).

Put simply, Behavioural Economics considers how individuals make purchasing decisions, what they will buy and how much they are willing to spend, as well as factors that drive these decisions.

“In a corporate travel programme scenario, the decisions travellers make daily can have a significant impact, not only on an organisation’s bottom line but also on traveller wellbeing, productivity and morale,” says Nicole Adonis, FCM Travel Solutions South Africa General Manager.

The good news is, a well-planned travel programme, with clear policies, compliance and strategies in place, can positively influence travellers to make better choices about their trips and increase the effectiveness of the travel programme.

By understanding Behavioural Economics, subtle changes to travel policies can be implemented to ‘nudge’ employees to behave and choose in certain ways, Adonis explains.


According to Richard Thaler, Professor of Economics and Behavioural Science at the University of Chicago, one of the ways to encourage people to make better purchasing decisions is merely to make the good decision easier (ABC, 2015).

Thaler argues that this can be achieved by using default settings. In the case of a travel programme, one example might mean configuring a default setting that drives people to make the most cost-effective or time-effective choice.

“Giving a traveller more options might sound like a positive way to give them more control; however, sometimes, this can become a negative. In business, time is money and the more options a traveller has can lead to time-consuming indecision or decision paralysis. By designing booking tools to offer a limited number of options you can use Behavioural Economics to steer travellers towards your preferred choice,” says Adonis.

One theory is that you can persuade travellers by giving them a choice of three hotels, at three different price points, instead of only two. In this scenario, most people would choose the middle-range priced option, rather than pick the most expensive or the cheapest. The theory is dubbed ‘the decoy effect’: when introducing a third decoy option influences a person’s behaviour to choose the option you want.

“We are recognising that people are lazy and that they take the easy way. So we make the easy way better,” says Thaler.


To change behaviours businesses must first identify and understand the key problems or challenges travellers face and endure. These insights can be used to tweak travel programmes to achieve better compliance and engagement and to reduce the human cost of frequent travel.

Adonis says traveller friction can occur when business people are travelling too much, or have poor travel experiences. To reduce traveller friction, travel managers are placing greater importance on service levels and more-personalised experiences that keep travellers happier - and more productive - on the road, and more engaged with their travel programmes. Adonis maintains that will continue throughout 2019. 


  1. Unclear travel program policies;
  2. Travel policies that don’t factor in the human cost of travel or prioritise financial savings over traveller wellbeing;
  3. Poor approval processes
  4. Policies that are too company-centric and not traveller-centric;
  5. Rigid and inflexible policies;
  6. Manual processing of finances; and
  7. Cumbersome or outdated booking processes.


  1. Frequent non-compliant travel bookings;
  2. Employee absence post-trip;
  3. Jet lag impacting productivity post-trip;
  4. Resistance or reluctance to travel;
  5. Unproductive trips;
  6. Poor employee retention among frequent travellers; and
  7. Impact on employee wellbeing and family life.


For most of us, 2019 will bring complicated, demanding and time-poor lifestyles. In this environment, simplicity will be increasingly important for travellers. Adonis says: “This is especially true of business travellers with hectic schedules who want to see travel streamlined.”

Airline passengers now want the ability to use facial or fingerprint technology, to ease the process from booking flights to passing border control, she says.

A survey by the global airline's lobby found two-thirds of passengers preferred a single biometric identity token for all their travel transactions. The study also found 82 percent of travellers want to be able to use a digital passport on their smartphones for as many travel activities as possible. Seventy-two percent wanted to self-board an aircraft; and 68 percent wanted to self-tag their luggage, with electronic tags being the preferred option.

The industry is listening and has started to apply biometric technology to simplify the traveller experience.

British Airways has already boarded flights of nearly 240 passengers in around 15 minutes during a biometric technology trial in Orlando. Passengers merely looked at the camera, and were ready to go; no passports; no boarding passes.

The technology will be introduced in London from mid-2019, with a biometrics trial to 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. That process involves facial recognition at check-in, bag drops, security lanes and boarding gates, creating a seamless experience.

Furthermore, a survey by SITA, a technology company that serves the aviation industry, found 77 percent of airports and 71 percent of airlines were either researching biometrics or planning to implement programmes to identify travellers using facial recognition or other biometric means.


It is clear that digital access has altered all aspects of our working and personal lives. From shopping to social interaction, entertainment, banking and fitness, connectivity drives the way we act, choose and spend.

“In 2019, we can expect travel programmes to embrace opportunities to simplify the travel process through the adoption of these new technologies,” says Adonis.

Consumers are already showing a strong dependency on voice-activated digital assistants for basic search and query response functionality, as well as for scheduling, to help manage their increasingly overloaded, connected daily lives.

Research has also shown that Millennials and Generation X (aged 40 - 44) have a keen interest in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and are comfortable using digital assistants on a daily or, at least, a weekly basis. When it comes to travel booking, chatbots are commonly fulfilling this need and speeding up processes.

FCM’s travel chatbot, Sam, has proven to be a game-changer and works using a simple and intuitive chatbot-based interface, much the same as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

And Sam has been getting smarter since it first launched in South Africa in early 2018. The chatbot now offers transfers via Uber and Lyft. It also has city guides filled with local hints and tips, and more is yet to come in 2019.



  1. Choice, flexibility remains key for passengers;
  2. Technology enhances personal control;
  3. Increased automation of airport processes;
  4. Real-time travel updates direct to personal devices; and
  5. More Wi-Fi connectivity on international flights.


  1. Investment in ‘smart’ hotel rooms that allow guests to customise features to suit personal preferences;
  2. Mobile, voice-activated technology to operate entertainment systems, control temperatures and lighting;
  3. Expansion of robot delivery systems such as room service; and
  4. Keyless check-in and wireless charging.


  1. Cardless, mobile and online payment solutions are on the rise.


  1. Travel programmes evolve and embrace disruption to meet traveller expectations.
  2. Artificial intelligence automates and enhances the booking process;
  3. Tens of thousands of niche travel Apps improve the experience;
  4. Big data analytics is enabling further customisation and personalisation;
  5. Biometrics and facial recognition technology is speeding up immigration and security processes; and
  6. Blockchain database technology is set to revolutionise procurement.


While different technology and innovations will continue to come and go, businesses around the world will increasingly strive to understand and predict human behaviour through the insights provided by Behavioural Economics.

Already, governments, NGOs and businesses are routinely introducing policies that harness this science, to drive change in areas including reducing carbon emissions, curbing obesity and building trust in vaccination programmes.

Behavioural Economics can help to drive positive behavioural change in your company travel programme.

By achieving a frictionless booking and travelling experience, businesses can reduce both the financial and human cost of travel in 2019.