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Brave new world

Tomorrow’s technology needs to address travellers’ expectations for consumer-style tools and services while helping them stay in policy, writes Karen Bamford.

Imagine a business trip where your every need is analysed by a virtual concierge using artificial intelligence. You source the ideal desk share through a peer-to-peer network and pay for on-trip services via an app that simultaneously completes your expense claim. Or, perhaps you don’t take the trip at all, as holograms and tele robotics take the place of face-to-face meetings.

It sounds like sci-fi, but don’t be fooled – some of these technologies are already with us and the rest are just a few years away. In an age of consumerism, the business traveller is king, and much of the emerging technology is about meeting their needs, ensuring travel is more painless than ever before.

Dan Kelly, Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s (CWT) director of product marketing, says: “The end users are expecting the same consumer-style tools and experiences that they encounter in their private lives to be delivered in their business life, with personalised and predictive choices. This means offers are based around what is relevant to them but with the added layer of policy incorporated, so they are sure they are doing the right thing.”

Mobile technology is already delivering benefits to business travellers by providing services and information on the go, at the right time and in the one place. It helps travellers to be more prepared and more productive. Dan adds: “That might mean checking in for a flight, or having relevant ground transport options provided to you by reading trip details, or your travel arranger being notified when your trip has been delayed so they can take proactive action – all features available in CWT To Go.”

Technological advances have led to more user-friendly reports from International SOS, the world’s most comprehensive, 24-hour medical and security assistance response organisation. Executive vice president Tim Daniel, explains: “Most people preparing for travel don’t want to read a five-page document. We are using icons more to identify specific threats, and short punchy scripts. If you want to know the full story you can click on the icon. It’s about layering information and directing people to what they need to know as a traveller or as a manager.

“We also use maps and visualisation, so if a bomb goes off in Mumbai, we consider where in Mumbai and what’s around that. The ability to use visual context and do that quickly and efficiently is something that we put a lot of effort into because it’s what people want and need. It helps them understand where it is and what it means to them. Technology has massively changed in the last three or four years – we can do things that we couldn’t do before and almost in real-time.”




Travellers are set to benefit from many more advances in the near future. One such is contactless tech, with apps such as Apple Pay able to store corporate card information that integrates with expense management tools, allowing travellers to buy services and complete an expense submission in one go, on the same device, without needing to reach for their wallet.

As travellers increasingly expect consumer-style services to be made available to them in their business lives, organisations ignore their employees’ wishes at their peril, warns Dan. “If these expectations are not met, it will become increasingly difficult for organisations to keep their end users within the programme as they will naturally deviate to services that make it easy for them.”

Tim suggests the greatest challenge is in how organisations can implement new technology without a lot of pain. He explains: “Where we see organisations getting stuck is around ease of adoption. A lot of the work has to be done about making it easy for the company and making the user comfortable with it. It’s a cultural problem rather than a tech problem.”

An area of evolving behaviour that particularly interests Tim is personal use of social media and how that coincides with companies’ interests. He sites the example of a traveller in an area where there has been an incident, who posts on Facebook, ‘I’m OK’. Tim says: “People’s self-interests are played out on social media but how does that intersect with a company’s duty of care? People’s tolerance of privacy and data sharing is complicated and shifting. It also varies among different nationalities and age groups. It’s what we need to be talking about. That’s where our travellers are: they are going to tell their friends and family that they are OK on social media, but are they going to tell their boss?”

Recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels have illustrated that organisations’ ability to communicate with their employees is increasingly important. International SOS will be investing in better ways to do that and the partnerships needed to do it more comprehensively.

Tim concludes: “It always comes back to the basics. I could have the slickest information and the latest news, and I want to send it to you because you’re right down the street from an incident, but if I don’t have your number none of it works. How we capture information and the profiles that the travel management company holds is what we have to stay focussed on.”


Trendsetters

Exciting times lie ahead. Gregoire Boutin, CWT director of innovation management systems, highlights some of the key trends heading our way.

Virtual technology provides viable alternatives to face-to-face meetings, while offering greater sustainability and cost effectiveness. Current solutions include live streaming, telepresence and web meetings, and in the future could include holograms, tele robotics and other technology.

Travel agents are used to holding options for travellers, but now travellers can do it themselves for their leisure bookings and a growing number of other products and services.

As regulation reinforces traveller rights, insurance compensation claim assistance is a growing business. In addition, classic travel insurance is being updated with apps and automation.

Peer-to-peer networks linking individual suppliers to buyers have expanded into a multitude of areas. Desk and office sharing are among those relevant to business travel.

A growing market is services that make travellers’ lives easier when their trips are disrupted.

Virtual concierges analyse customers’ needs using cognitive computing technology (artificial intelligence), sometimes assisted by a human touch, and offer personalised recommendations. Immediate assistance provided online by real or virtual assistants is becoming increasingly common. In a world where iPhone users are used to talking to Siri in near real-time, the key to these services is a fast response and 24/7 availability.

International VAT reclaim has traditionally required a labour-intensive paper trail. Now companies are offering cloud-based end-to-end automated services to simplify travellers’ claims and ensure prompt reimbursement.

Meetings and events management is increasingly technology driven. New solutions are offered at every step, from RFP management and venue sourcing to mobile solutions for a better attendee experience.


Face the future

Top tips to help your business embrace new tech:

 

 

Be aware of emerging trends and quickly assess what opportunities they will bring, and deploy speedily where relevant.

Make sure your policy can adapt to meet the evolution.

Ensure users have devices that allow them to use the new technologies.

With more services and information being delivered via mobile devices, controls and processes should be put in place in case of loss or theft. For example, with iOS, using Find My Phone enables users to put the their device in lost mode to prevent others from accessing content including Apple Pay or Wallet data.