The pace of change in our lives has reached the stage where it seems that new breakthroughs in technology are occurring almost daily. Artificial intelligence (AI) is manifesting itself in everything from shopping to choosing the music to fit your mood.
And yet, in business travel there is a sense that we’re being left behind. That the spirit of innovation within the industry is waning. Appearances can be deceptive though. Business travel is adopting practices (and innovations) from its leisure cousins, not least because business travelers’ expectations have been re-shaped by the OTAs they use for their personal travel.
With Duty of Care and talent retention high on most corporate agendas, TMCs and travel suppliers are increasingly focussed on enhancing traveler-facing technology to drive policy compliance for their clients, and greater market share for themselves.
With around three-quarters of B2B travel bookings now made online, much of the innovation taking place right now is around improving the digital experience. Travel suppliers are keenly aware of the need to meet the needs of the ‘always-on’ Millennials, offering greater choice and flexibility in products and services. Witness the growing inclusion of Airbnb, Uber and Lyft in managed travel programmes.
So what does the next phase of corporate technology look like, and what will its impact be?
Personalisation is one of the mega-trends in travel, driving much of the investment in travel technology. Personalisation has drawn momentum from the availability of behavioural analytics which, when linked to search engine results, enable customised messages based on the user’s interests to be delivered. In business travel, corporates are now able to offer travellers options that are truly tailored to their needs and tastes, thereby reducing the risk of non-compliance.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will increasingly power personalisation. The popularity of digital assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Siri and Cortana enable travel providers to integrate voice into their technology, allowing travellers to check itineraries, book and pay for their trips.
- Platform economy
Business travel has been described as “evolving into an ecosystem of platforms that work with each other in a bid to create frictionless experiences.” Disparate systems for airlines, hotels, car hire and the rest now have to be able to interact seamlessly. IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) is an early example of the platform economy in action.
- Augmented reality
The success of Pokémon Go last year demonstrated the potential of augmented reality technology. Systems like Google’s Tango use computer vision to enable devices to understand their surroundings without the need for technology such as GPS, allowing travellers to view digital billboards with destination information, view airplane cabins or hotel layouts and even access translation services.
- Chip scanner
The time is fast approaching when programmable chips can be surgically inserted into a traveller’s hand, thereby removing the need to carry any physical documentation. In the meantime, the technology has already been developed to enable scanning using travelers’ biometrics. Facial, fingerprint and iris recognition will match a person’s biometrics with their passport and boarding pass information, enabling travellers to check in more efficiently and board by themselves.
- Baggage tracking
In the last 12 months a number of digital products have been launched to track luggage, with Lufthansa being the first airline to adopt the technology. Most involve an electronic tag which is built into the luggage and enables travelers to check in their luggage remotely using an app on their smartphone and drop it off at the airport. Some interact with airlines’ own apps to send flight information directly to the bag via Bluetooth.
Judging by the number of technology start-ups targeted the travel sector, the spirit of innovation still burns brightly. Recent innovations include tools to predict airfares; digital travel assistant apps; a service that reboots disrupted airline passengers and many, many more
With Microsoft predicting that 85% of all customer interactions will be digitized by 2020, travel, accommodation and dining-out will all be done via smartphones. Little wonder then that both business and leisure travel providers are investing heavily in mobile-friendly apps to meet customers’ needs.