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Business travelers around the world are stressed out. Travel disruptions, along with limitations placed on how they travel by their companies, make them feel a lack of control when they have to travel for work.
More companies, however, are finally realizing that serving business travelers and tweaking their behavior should involve reaching them directly instead of pushing down mandates.
Both new entrants to the market and established players are targeting small-to-midsized businesses with a different kind of value proposition than usually applied to giant companies seeking corporate travel management solutions. By focusing on traveler behavior, and giving them incentives or personalized service and recommendations, smart players are looking to redefine the business travel experience.
This also requires marketing to business travelers directly instead of pushing down rules and restrictions from on high that they won’t follow.
Two leaders have emerged, looking to crack the market for unmanaged or lightly managed travel at small and medium-sized businesses. Marketing is a big part of their play to become a lasting solution for business travelers.
Lola launched in 2015 with the goal of connecting travelers with travel agents through a mobile app. Equipped with artificial intelligence and machine learning, the app would be able to provide personalization and 24/7 service to customers.
“I thought I was building a consumer company like Kayak and discovered it was business travelers that wanted chat,” Kayak co-founder and Lola founder Paul English told Skift. “The second thing is that I thought we were building for chat, email, and phone. We found that people almost never want to talk on the phone. The older road warriors are almost more expert than younger ones, and they’re really interested in efficiency. They like sending a command and going off to do something while we do something for them.”
There is also Upside, which has brought packaged travel into the business travel arena. The service is able to negotiate better deals for the components of a trip, and gives users a gift card for picking specific packages that save their companies money.
The brainchild of Priceline founder Jay Walker, Upside faces perhaps a more difficult challenge in attracting customers: Travelers simply aren’t used to buying packages when they travel for work. Road warriors are also used to more granular control over their trips, including the ability to make changes on the fly based on their meeting schedule.
So how do you solve this problem? Offer 24/7 solutions through a mobile app, whether self-serve or assisted through a customer service representative.
These companies are investing heavily in advertising. Upside has advertised on radio in markets across the U.S., in addition to running frequent ads on podcasts. Concur, as befits one of the biggest travel companies in the world, constantly pushes its solutions in train stations, atop taxicabs, and in other venues.
In recent years, the importance of paying attention to traveler behavior has become apparent to many across the industry. The companies offering behavioral incentive solutions have gained traction across the ecosystem. Giving travelers a reason to select a worse hotel or more annoying flight — but rewarding them for doing so with gift cards or other perks — has become an effective way to tweak traveler behavior.
At the same time, there has also been a relative loosening of corporate travel policy with the emergence of ridesharing, roomsharing, and the fragmentation of hotel brands across the world.
Research shows that business travelers hate long flights, delays, and a poor work environment on the road. It seems like some of them, however, are willing to trade comfort for a financial reward. It turns out, in travel, money can buy happiness.
We’ve seen the bigger travel management companies realize, almost in slow motion, that creating more traveler-friendly tools is necessary to get business travelers to book on their platforms. Concur’s acquisition of Hipmunk, a brand aimed at consumers, is just one piece of this wider shift.
The apparent success of Airbnb and Uber’s recent pushes into business travel shows the power of leveraging consumer behavior in the business travel space. While travel management companies tend to have a captive audience, there are many business travelers they aren’t reaching.
Startups including Lola and Upside are trying to find their niche by getting back to basics while developing advanced technological solutions to common business travel problems. The problem they must tackle now: finding frequent customers outside the purview of giant companies that already have managed travel programs.