By Anne Bromley, Joint Managing Director of Travel Bureau and Advantage Focus Partnership technology panel member.
As technology gathers pace at breakneck speed and our lives become more dependent upon it, it is increasingly difficult to switch off. For those in the corporate travel sector, there is no exception: we expect the same instantaneous results at our fingertips in our business life as we do in our private life. A typical business traveller will not leave home without their smartphone, iPad/tablet and/or laptop, enabling them to stay in-touch and remain productive throughout their trip. With 4G, wi-fi on board trains, in hotels and now broadband in the sky, it’s easier than ever to stay connected. London School of Economics LSE says 53 of an estimated 5,000 airlines worldwide offer broadband connectivity on board, however, it predicts that access will become ubiquitous by 2035 due to customer demand. Downtime is a luxury of the past, today, we are always switched on. Technology is driving significant change within the travel and hospitality industry, presenting opportunities to new technology-led companies entering the sector.
The business traveller demands a seamless end-to-end solution, enhancing their user experience. So how does advancing technology already benefit the business traveller? Online booking tools (OBTs) which traditionally offered a look and book facility for air, rail, hotels and car hire, now incorporate ancillary services such as ground arrangements. Expense management has been transformed by technology, streamlining the process. Receipts can be uploaded direct from a mobile, generating a full-trip cost which includes all elements of travel, such as dining and entertainment, as well as transport and accommodation.
Mobile applications provide travellers with a myriad of services, from online booking to viewing travel itineraries, checking in online and even hailing a cab. From a duty of care perspective, some of the most beneficial apps available enable traveller tracking, helping organisations prepare and support staff while travelling on business. Integrated with 24/7 emergency assistance, employers can locate employees and send messages and travel alerts across the globe. Face and iris recognition, available at an increasing number of airports worldwide, enables a smooth passport-free journey through security.
Technology is driving significant change within the travel and hospitality industry, presenting opportunities to new technology-led companies entering the sector.Anne Bromley, Travel Bureau
Rise of the Machines is this the future of travel technology? Chatbots are already helping to improve customer service. If we were to blend artificial intelligence with the expertise of a corporate travel consultant, could the birth of the travelbot usurp their role? Could the travelbot, with its ability to mimic human functions and access a huge range of data (including booking patterns and preferences) personalise the journey in a way that both enhances the user experience and expediates the processes? In the future, could an enquiry be handled seamlessly via the company’s OBT with automated approval and document production, or assisted by a travelbot, both of which can meet the traveller’s preferences whilst adhering to the company’s travel policy? Could guests make their way to the hotel in a driverless car, check-in using a holographic computer interface or be greeted by a robot concierge? Might we see room service delivered by drones? Technology already exists allowing us to preview our hotel via a virtual tour, selecting the room which best suits our needs and access our hotel room, not with a key, but via our mobile phone. Hotel mirrors can be used to obtain information and services, such as requesting room service, ordering transportation, and checking the weather.
So, arguably, anything is possible! At this moment in time, no matter how intelligent a system is, it cannot fully replace human intuition and analysis and ultimately man and machine must work together to enhance the user experience. For the corporate travel sector, progress will be slow due to constraints such as compliance, data protection and personalisation, placed upon the Travel Manager. For organisations interested in implementing new technological solutions, it is imperative to consider their individual objectives e.g. to improve process or create efficiencies with a view to making travel more productive. Evaluate where innovation will deliver value in supporting organisational goals and objectives and discuss the options open to you with relevant stakeholders, including your travel management company.