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Business Travel Q3 2019

The rise of the machines in business travel

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Andy Hoskins

Editor, The Business Travel Magazine, Organisers of the Business Travel Conference

The travel industry is powered by increasingly innovative technology but these developments are also creating complexity for business travel managers.

Technology has long been the driving force behind the travel industry’s evolution, but the range and rapid pace of change can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Business travel booking tools are increasingly incorporating bots and articifical intelligence as travel management companies (TMCs) bid to deliver greater efficiencies and a degree of personalisation.

The race to offer a completely end-to-end booking experience on mobile devices is accelerating, with providers attempting to incorporate content ranging from airlines, hotels and ground transport options, to airport parking, wifi access and much more. 

Meanwhile, the power of data and the forecasting that predictive analytics can provide is being widely touted.

Then there is the divisive topic of NDC (new distribution capability) in the airline arena – how airfares and ancillary options are presented and purchased – which is now gaining traction.

Industry disruptors are challenging traditional models

The industry is also witnessing a rash of start-ups and disruptors making their mark on the sector, such as tools that can predict the likelihood of certain flights being delayed or cancelled – and those that can recoup compensation when they actually are. Or, consider the likes of travel management platforms Travelperk and Tripactions, which are challenging the traditional TMC model.

A travel management company can be a valuable partner here, not just a supplier.

The relevance of all these technological advances depends greatly on the size of your company, its culture and, of course, the volume spent on business travel.

Each trend or tool taken on its own can streamline a company’s business travel programme, deliver savings and enhance the traveller experience, but identifying which are suitable for your particular needs is another matter.

Making sense of it all with a TMC

There are plenty of educational resources within the industry that can help – not least The Business Travel Magazine and The Business Travel Conference – but a travel management company can be a valuable partner here, not just a supplier.

Technology is at the heart of a TMC’s operation, making service delivery more efficient and allowing them to be more creative and flexible in their offering. Ultimately, they are attempting to replicate trends in consumer travel booking habits and provide business users with an ‘Amazon experience’.

What do you need from a TMC?

A TMC’s technology armoury is vast, so decide – or be guided – as to what you actually need from them. An intuitive booking tool that incorporates company travel policy and perhaps an approvals process is a basic. Data management and mobile apps (for itinerary management and, ideally, for actually booking travel) are also fairly fundamental.

But, consider also expense management integration, a robust duty of care platform (including traveller tracking), interactive business intelligence reporting, hotel rate and airfare auditing tools, rebooking functionality, benchmarking software and even chatbots.

Naturally, larger companies with significant business travel spend will have a greater requirement for certain elements but, ultimately, all business travel technology must produce cost and time efficiencies for a business and a great user experience for the business traveller.

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