Skift Take

Traveler Centricity. Gamification. Big Data. Bleisure. Buzzwords can help drive an industry forward, even if everyone is tired of hearing them.

Editor’s Note: A year ago, Skift expanded its coverage of corporate travel with more frequent stories and a dedicated newsletter. The Corporate Travel Innovation Report focuses on the future of corporate travel by examining the big fault lines of disruption for travel managers and buyers, the innovations emerging from the sector, and the changing business traveler habits that are upending how corporate travel is packaged, bought, and sold.

In this series of stories and one-on-one interviews, we explore some of the latest trends, technology, and external forces causing corporate travel to evolve. You can read the rest of the articles in this series here.

Corporate travel is an ecosystem that is extremely resistant to change for a variety of reasons. The industry tends to overuse a series of buzzwords reflecting time-worn and new technologies and concepts for travelers, travel managers, and travel buyers.

Many of these terms never pan out, while others become integral to the lives of business travelers and the people who manage their travel.

Skift asked some corporate travel experts about the buzzwords of years’ past, and the phrases they’re most sick of hearing. Many admitted, however, that even the most-obtuse buzzwords contain a grain of truth about the services and technologies that the industry should adopt to better serve travelers.

Michael McCormick, chief operating officer and executive director of the Global Business Travel Association, said he expects open booking to become less of a trendy phrase and more of a permanent reality.

“So much of that is now just mainstream in terms of how companies work,” he said. “It’s not really something new, or different.”

And the next new thing to take the same route, he predicted, is the sharing economy.

“I think companies that are competing, you see it already, where companies who we would label on the traditional side of the business are coming up with solutions and modifying their businesses to meet the need,” McCormick said. “Similarly, the sharing economy companies are venturing into what they’re calling new ventures, but really they’re new old ventures to tackle parts of the market that already exist.”

He said another trend of recent years, gamification, never really hit the mainstream.

“I think it has its uses in different elements, but I wouldn’t put it on the list of top things that people are focused on,” McCormick said.

Other companies, including the well-funded startup Upside, have popped up in recent years with a similar goal: To incentivize travelers to make budget-friendly decisions by rewarding them for that behavior. It’s more expensive than giving travelers digital badges for good behavior, which was the initial incarnation of gamification, but it’s increasingly seen as an effective way to change traveler behavior.

“There are a number of companies that are in that space; they’re getting significant funding,” McCormick said. “You have someone like [Upside founder] Jay Walker, who is coming back into the space with that type of proposition…I think that’s an interesting space, but it remains to be seen whether that will become a new disruptor and a new big part of the industry in and of itself, or remain more of a supportive part. I think it’s too early to tell.”

Miriam Moscovici, director of innovation at travel management company BCD Travel, said gamification has stuck around and evolved.

“Gamification is still a way we describe it, but I think we are reaching levels of sophistication,” she said.

She said that while the word was probably no longer useful, the sentiment of creating incentives to encourage users to behave in certain ways lives on through companies like Upside, Rocketrip, and TripActions.

Behavioral economics, I think, is the more modern way we’re talking about it now,” Moscovici said. “It allows the category to broaden in terms of the benefits. It’s not just gamification and badges and points that mean nothing. Now it’s more valuable… Behavioral economics is the new gamification.”

What Is Big Data, really?

Messaging is another key term; Moscovici said most people have at least one messaging  option they use regularly, and travel companies need to go where the people are.

“Everybody is focused on not creating their chat, but going to already established public channels of communication that a traveler is already on,” she said. “When we talk about AI and chatbots, that’s why that is sustaining itself.”

Moscovici added: “The best way to make a chatbot talk to somebody is through an existing messenger service.”

Sometimes the corporate travel world uses buzzwords — like AI (artificial intelligence) and big data — in ways that are not exactly scientific, she said.

“Actual big data scientists would throw themselves off a building if they heard the way we talk about big data,” she said.

Others agree. “Although it’s not completely faded away, I’d have to say big data is a term that elicits visceral reactions from many in the corporate industry,” said Kurt Knackstedt, CEO of Troovo and president of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives. “There are those that tend to still think that this concept is new and/or relevant, but another camp sees big data as something that was always more marketing buzz than substance at least in the corporate space.

“Business travel has always generated an enormous amount of data, and the real trend was around better mining and insights of the data as well as getting access to faster, more real-time and then using it for more forward-thinking analytics rather than backwards looking.”

One catchphrase has been around for years: traveler centricity. Evan Konwiser, vice president of digital traveler at American Express Global Business Travel, said that the move towards a more comprehensive view of traveler needs has taken place in various sectors of the industry, becoming innate to most managed travel programs.

“It just means: how to make travel less awful,” said Konwiser.

Another word likely to stick around: personalization. The industry needs to recognize who the customers are, how they’re different, and treat the best ones in a special way, Moscovici said.

“Everyone loves that word,” she said. “We started saying it a long time ago. Then people started investing money in it. I think that personalization is here to stay.”

More buzzwords are likely to pop up around personalization, namely curation, she said. She named Routehappy, which uses certain metrics to grade airlines, as an example of professional curation.

“In fact, curation is already a cliche,” she said. “I was in a meeting last week where somebody said curation and everybody groaned. We agreed it was obnoxious and then we went on to talk about how important curation is.”

New Wave

Millennials get lots of buzz, and Moscovici thinks there is some validity to the interest — but she also said the idea of treating them as a mystery group is ludicrous.

“Millennials and their whims are entertained only as much as the economy can support it,” she said.

Millennials are already the most frequent business travelers, and as more baby boomers retire and spend more time in leisure travel, younger workers will make up an even bigger chunk of road warriors.

“There is going to be a great opportunity for us to address the millennials, because they will be the majority of our customers while in the consumer world, the majority is going to be older and older people,” Moscovici said. “There is going to be an unaddressed behavioral opportunity somewhere in there that I think any good business travel company is looking at.”

There’s also the reality that more travelers are adding leisure elements to their business trip, a practice commonly known as bleisure.

“As much as I absolutely find bleisure an ill-thought out and not fully representative term for the demands of the modern traveler, I have to admit I may have been fighting a losing battle in getting us to stop using it,” said Knackstedt. “What has not only stuck around but is clearly a norm in travel now is that people want to find ways to make the most out of their travels both personally and professionally.

“Why I think bleisure is a misnomer is that it’s not just tacking on a beach holiday to the end of a busy week of meetings, but rather it’s the four hours you have to kill before heading to an airport and deciding what will be rewarding to me to use that time wisely. Visit a museum? Do a walking tour? Sample some local cuisine instead of hotel food? These are the real elements of seeking personal fulfillment within achieving the business objectives during a trip, and I just don’t think we’re doing this concept justice by calling it bleisure.”

For what it’s worth, bleisure is probably a better term for the phenomenon than bizcation, Konwiser reflected ruefully.


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Tags: corpdisrupt, corporate travel, ctir

Photo credit: In this October 14, 2014 photo, a mobile check-in option is offered for travelers at the main check-in counter at the Marriott Marquis Times Square hotel in New York. Kathy Willens / Associated Press

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