Technology: Streamlined solutions
Chatbots are in the spotlight right now but businesses are turning to an ever wider array of tools to achieve savings, writes Linda Fox
Cutting costs remains top of the priority list for business travel buyers in 2018, and you can bet that efficient technology and new tools will play a key part in achieving this.
It could be for example that a chatbot or virtual assistant might mean less handholding, leaving consultants free to focus on other things. According to one industry report, Hudl, a sports video startup, is already using a chatbot-based platform to replace existing travel and expense management systems.
But if that seems like too much of a stretch, there are lots of other systems to keep an eye on that could see efficiency gains, from airfare trackers such as Yapta, which is already working with Amex GBT, to incentive-based booking platforms such as Upside which rewards travellers when they save money on their business travel trips.
And it's not just bigger businesses turning to technology to achieve savings. Corporate Traveller, which works with companies with a spend of £50,000 to £2million annually, has just released technology aimed at the SME market. General Manager Andy Hegley says: “We are sensing now in the market that SMES are looking to have more technology. The market is growing up and there is demand for technology now.”
Duty of care was named as the second biggest issue for travel buyers in 2018 according to Business Travel Show research. In this area there are also interesting technology developments such as Concur Labs’ prototype virtual reality concept to help travel managers track employees in the event of an incident.
Chatbots and virtual reality might be headline grabbing right now but it’s clear some companies already have them firmly on the radar. It’s interesting to note that keeping up with technology comes fifth of the 2018 list but that’s probably for a combination of reasons. Most travel managers are already doing that whether it’s travel approval via mobile device or accessing data and drawing reports on traveller spend via an ipad app.
Enforced compliance has also fallen further down the list of priorities. Some corporates are realising that travellers are more likely to respect programmes if they have enough choice. There are also now a number of startups in the corporate travel space including Rocketrip, Travelbank, Trippeo and Travo which provide a more modern view of corporate travel booking whether by offering user-friendly systems, savings on travel through smarter buying or some other efficiencies. The Business Travel Show research asked buyers a follow-up question: “What will the biggest change in the way you buy/manage travel in the next 12 months be?” From a technology standpoint the answers here were more telling in terms of acknowledging the role of technology and its increased use coming second and increased online bookings coming fourth. The same question asked last year is also revealing as a comparison point in terms of changing attitudes. In late 2016 and early 2017 travel buyers viewed forcing compliance to corporate travel policy as a big change in travel management for the year then ahead, alongside increased use of an online booking tool. Perhaps frustration with increasing out of policy spend alongside the pressure to reduce costs was at a peak but the time, effort and desire to look at emerging solutions was just not there. This could all change in 2018 as corporate travellers back away from systems that are not user-friendly and seek a better booking and management experience from their technology.