Even big travel management companies, which usually resist change, are planning ahead to better anticipate traveler and travel manager needs. No one's quite sure when this more connected and insightful future will arrive, though.
Every major travel management company is working on ways to improve the traveler experience while gaining more visibility into how people actually behave on a business trip.
As these giant global companies morph into technology service providers, though, the challenge of driving deep integrations with travel companies and the usage patterns of business travelers is still a work in progress.
Skift spoke to leaders at several travel management companies to get a sense of what the priorities are when developing new technology and refining legacy systems with an eye on the future. Important work is being done, although travelers may not notice much of it in the near future.
Big data has been a buzzword for years now, for instance, yet the complexity of turning a variety of data points into actionable insights remains daunting.
“One of our key focuses is on making sure that we understand all of those touchpoints you might have in travel; it’s not just bookings or travel data,” said Justin Cooper, global vice president of data product management for Carlson Wagonlit Travel. “There’s lots of ancillaries now in those transactions which aren’t often connected to the booking because they’re buying it at the [check-in] desk or they’re buying it on board. So that becomes a bit of a data integration exercise.”
He continued: “It’s not just the cost of the ticket. I now need to pick up these ancillaries. If they’re not in a booking, then I need some other data sources to find that. It might be an expense, or it might be in a corporate card transaction.”
Cooper said that while these innovations are an internal priority, it will really take traveler demand for solutions like facial recognition and personalization that will propel data science into the forefront of corporate travel.
The rise of products sold alongside airfares has increased the complexity of tracking what a traveler really spends on a business trip. The rise of rich content and other sources of information on the purchases attached to an airfare or hotel stay have taken on a new importance.
“[Travel providers] are also signaling they want to collaborate more across the itinerary chain. I’m talking about the likes of Journera, Conichi, and Routehappy Hub,” said Miriam Moscovici, director of emerging technologies at BCD Travel. “These are all [travel providers] who have popped up saying we have data that can assist the journey overall. As a travel management company, we would love to be the moderator of all this to make sure our travelers are looked after.”
BCD Travel recently launched a new platform to allow travel managers to try out third-party services that give them more flexibility. As similar programs gain traction across the industry, travelers will likely receive more flexibility surrounding their trips than before. Whether they actually take advantage of this flexibility is an open question.
Corporate Going Consumer
Consumerization has been a constant trend, as well, since business travelers bring their leisure habits along with them. This manifests itself in different ways, from more permissive corporate travel policies that allow Airbnb and Uber, along with the booking apps and portals that travelers use to plan a trip.
Egencia is taking a page out of the consumer-friendly Expedia playbook with its Egencia Advantage program, which offers business travelers the ability to include policy-approved add-ons for their trips. Travelers can receive insurance packages, lounge access, and help with visas through various partnerships between Egencia and service providers.
“It’s listening to not only our clients, but our actual travelers, and finding out what their pain points are,” said Daniel Finkel, director of strategy and business development at Egencia. “We’re a booking engine, but we want to be so much more in the eyes of our travelers. We hook into the entire Expedia ecosystem, so it made sense to start looking at them and see how we could fit them into this world of business travel… these are great benefits, but in order to get them you have to work inside your company’s policy.”
It’s almost a consumer approach, or at least one you’d think to apply to unmanaged business travelers. It’s also a realization that simply providing a booking tool to business travelers isn’t enough to make them feel supported during their trip, even if the support is there when they have a problem.
Egencia also announced this week that all its customers can rebook flights on desktop and mobile to ease the stress of making the wrong decision.
Having these perks and ancillaries available through Egencia, Finkel figures, makes travelers less likely to book elsewhere.
“There just hasn’t been a lot of focus on this consumerization; the more you talk to travelers and the more you tap into their wants and desires, the more you can start to dig this out,” said Finkel. “There’s also more and more competition from unmanaged leisure travel sites. Expedia has offered these things for quite a while, and it’s really about looking beyond just the booking engine itself.”
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Photo credit: A gate at Boston's Logan International Airport. Travel management companies are ramping up their technology efforts, but there's still a long way to go before a larger transformation sweeps across the industry. Kent Wien / Flickr