Providing Covid-19 updates and other advice became big business during the crisis, and looks set to become even more important as governments experiment with reopening their borders.
Travel risk intelligence is evolving. And like constantly changing destination rules and restrictions, keeping up can be hard.
But there are a few trends starting to emerge as borders reopen and corporate travel agencies look to guide hesitant business travelers.
The so-called “duty of care” part of travel management has always been one of its priorities, but it’s shot up the agenda over the past 18 months or so.
In a recent survey, 31 percent of respondents said their company was developing new safety resources or information for travelers, working on developing a timeline for resuming travel, or updating travel policies, according to the Global Business Travel Association poll.
After the pandemic, how agencies offer their customers such critical risk advice — from Covid hotspots to visa documents — is set to become even more important.
Battling Covid Misinformation
In a world of data feeds and automated messaging, one intelligence platform is finding the human touch is in demand.
“There’s still a need for that human element,” said Suzanne Sangiovese, commercial and communications director at Riskline.
It typically hires a couple of analysts a year but took on eight new recruits in 2020, as it enters a new hiring phase. “We’re scaling up, there’s demand for what we do in the risk space,” she added.
In 2020 there was a surge in the amount of news pushed out that looked like traditional media content, but really wasn’t. “It was a news source, but it was spun from a far-right perspective,” Sangiovese said, referring to information that played down the risks of coronavirus, or spread other rumors.
Riskline’s analysts undergo training from the likes of open-source investigative journalism website Bellingcat (which covered the the downing of Malaysian flight MH-17), Cambridge University and Janes, on top of its own courses.
She said the company’s analysts span 15 countries and take information from “hundreds of thousands of sources” with help from an artificial intelligence monitoring platform. The analysts act as filters. “Our selling point is that it’s verified. It’s not spot checks. We’re curating it, and there’s always two pairs of eyes checking over it,” Sangiovese added.
Smoothing the Way to Fly
Visa processing is also in the spotlight, especially as countries constant alter their requirements. For example, Saudi Arabia recently lifted bans on business travelers, and soon plans to allow tourists to enter.
Companies are now stepping in to help automate the complex visa process.
“In 2019, administering travel documents like visas cost airlines more than $1 billion, and new travel rules are making this issue more acute,” said Max Tremaine, CEO of travel tech startup Sherpa. “By presenting the right information and ensuring that travelers have what they need to cross borders, we are making a meaningful difference for trust in travel.”
The company, which raised $8.5 million in funding earlier this month, helps travelers cope with the complexities of crossing borders. It can add a visa application to the passenger’s cart when buying flights, streamlining the process, as well as providing updates on travel restrictions at their destination.
Sherpa has forged partnerships with TripActions, Expedia, The Travel Corporation, American Airlines and Icelandair, with an integration into Rocketrip coming soon.
A Year of Product Launches
Over the past 12 months there’s also been a deluge of product launches as agencies look to stand out from the crowd.
In October, TravelPerk’s acquisition of Albatross boosted its risk intelligence credentials, allowing it to launch a standalone service called TravelSafe API. It now enables travel providers to supply their customers with “real-time insights on Covid-19 travel restrictions, including point to point travel information, travel documents, local transmission levels, local guidelines, airline safety measures and more”.
Airfare data firm ATPCO also developed a set of “Reassurance” Universal Product Attributes, via its Routehappy division, where it piped Covid-19 policies from 125 airlines to corporate travel agencies and other channels.
Meanwhile, Riskline has been supporting several new platforms, most notably American Express Business Travel’s Trival Vitals, since its launch in July last year.
“Trip information is going to be central to building trust and confidence. We have to quickly aggregate relevant data in a world in which guidance changes daily. It’s dynamic, and we’re updating it daily,” said Mark McSpadden, Amex GBT’s vice president of product strategy and experience, at the time.
BCD Travel, meanwhile, revealed Informed Traveler back in July 2020. The global initiative is designed to help travelers, travel managers and agents make decisions “amid a landscape of constantly changing rules, laws and procedures, with input from more than 800 sources.”
Looking Further Ahead
After the pandemic, Riskline’s Sangiovese predicted that more small and mid-sized companies could look to bring travel risk intelligence back in-house, rather than outsource to their travel agency.
Currently, large multinational companies tend to have their own security officers, but she has identified a more DIY approach as companies start to take employee safety more seriously.
Corporate travel agencies are currently reporting high volumes of calls, and few bookings through online tools, as nervous travelers prefer to run through itineraries and book with actual people. Last month, Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) appointed a corporate travel agency to steady the nerves of delegates looking to book their trip to attend Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on June 28.
In the future, that may change. “A couple of companies are building their own quasi-global security cooperation center, in a way,” Sangiovese said. “They’re looking for access to our portal rather than go through one of the mega-travel management companies.”
This could mean pre-trip security briefings or travel alerts would be provided by the business traveler’s own company, rather than their agency.
Photo credit: Travel management companies are leaning on risk intelligence platforms to keep up with airline policies and other destination restrictions. Mitsuo Komoriya / Unsplash