SAP Concur has put together an in-depth report on the factors that will drive corporate travel between today and 2030, including an analysis of the technology advances required to progress towards a genuinely seamless journey.
The report looks at how predictive technology will help anticipate and better manage travel disruptions, how artificial intelligence will help automate processes, and how the global payments landscape will evolve to address security concerns.
In an email Q&A, tnooz asked Emma Maslen, senior regional director, Enterprise UK&I, SAP Concur, more about the travel industry’s preparedness to deliver on this 2030 vision.
Is there adequate IT infrastructure in place at travel companies and corporate travel departments to support the type of seamless integration described in the report by 2030? What developments or investments would be needed to get companies to that point?
Maslen: Seamless integration is of course, the dream. If everything is seamlessly integrated then, as a traveller, life becomes much simpler and the experience more enjoyable. Yet, as you point out, there are hurdles that need to be overcome in order to get us to the scenarios as outlined in the report.
To my mind there are two key areas that need to be overcome — culture and tech investment. Of course, business travel is big business and so it’s no surprise that travel companies guard their data carefully; GDPR finally arrived on the 25 May, but there is very much an ongoing conversation to be had for compliance.
But those in business travel build ecosystems that deliver them a competitive advantage. You’re either in one ecosystem or another, often with very little crossover. Yet if the travel industry, with the right safeguards and compliance processes in place, were to share more information all involved would benefit — especially as consumers look to take more control of their data. If companies can’t deliver the personalized experience travelers want, then technologies such as blockchain will give them the power to take control of their trip.
Secondly, the report talks about technologies such as machine learning and blockchain. In many industries, we’re already seeing these technologies applied to bring industry-wide benefits. For example, the music industry recently completed a project on blockchain technology to help with the age-old problem of royalty allocation. In travel it could really be game-changing. I’ve mentioned above that people could become their own data exchanges with the companies they want to engage, but it could also underpin new payment models and identity verification.
Machine learning and predictive analytics can also help to keep people safer. There are multiple possibilities, but we need to see more innovation. Every company in the travel ecosystem has the potential to redefine the future of travel, but ultimately it’s up to them how they seize that opportunity.
Which of the traveler needs highlighted in the report—disruption management, payments processing, safety and well-being—will require the greatest technology investments to meet requirements by 2030?
Maslen: All of these needs will be powered by data. Without real-time, accurate data, the vision outlined in the report will remain just that. Consequently, that’s where the biggest investment needs to be. Companies have recently invested in their data processes, systems and controls to be compliant with GDPR and so should see this investment as a springboard for data to act as an engine room for new products and services. With customer consent and trust, travel companies can look to personalize experiences, deliver updates across multiple channels and become the hub that connects the traveler to the other points of their journey.
A clear data strategy is also a must: How is that data going to be used? What’s the benefit? What problem does it address? Do we — and our partners — have the right data protection measures in place? How will we make it actionable? At the moment a lot of travel companies are drowning in data — the question is how to make it insightful. Do you have the resources with the right expertise?
Alongside data strategy, businesses also need to think about the wider implications technologies such as machine learning will have on their organization. AI is not a switch that you flick; it has to integrate with people and processes. Mapping that out takes time. Transformation requires an investment that should not be underestimated — yet it is also increasingly expected. Business travelers are demanding change and will not put up with ‘old ways’ for an indefinite period. Many are tech savvy and want to see the benefits of the platforms they’re reading about.
How might service providers (hotels, car hires and black cabs) adapt to changing demand? Are there any technological improvements or partnerships which might help them secure market share with corporate clients?
Maslen: There is a section in the report called ‘the power of partnerships’ and I really think this section speaks to service providers. People want easy access to the brands that they use — whether that’s a car rental, a hotel or a ride sharing application — and they want their data to be linked and shared and the legwork of administration taken care of. If these applications are kept siloed off from one another, then that’s the antithesis of the seamless traveller experience.
I think service providers have a huge opportunity to build brand and market share if they can adapt their services; they need to accept that now when a person arrives at an airport, the first port of call for them isn’t the taxi line but their Uber app. How do you compete with that?
There are two things you need to supply — you make it easier for them to book your taxi service and you need to incentivize them. For example, I would be much more likely to book with a particular taxi company if I knew the trip contributed towards my Nectar points, Vitality membership or frequent flyer miles.
Service providers need to not only think about the here and now, but also play the long game when it comes to helping travelers. Platform businesses are changing everything and are forcing more established players to think about the long game.
Here are some highlights from the experts cited in the report:
“By 2030 the world of business travel will be transformed by technology, making use of everything from autonomous vehicles to blockchain,” Pierre-Emmanuel Tetaz, SVP EMEA, SAP Concur
“TMCs will become more focused around data and predictive analytics as they get more involved with expense and total cost management, rather than just travel management,” Adrian Parkes, CEO, GTMC
“We get predictive weather forecasts now but by 2030 that’s going to become more advanced — we’ll be able to start rebooking people on flights if we think they’re going to be cancelled,” Jo Dobson, senior director of sales UK&I at Carlson Wagonlit Travel.
“Corporate travel in 2030 is going to be so personalized that the company won’t just expect TMCs to monitor travel policy — they’ll also expect us to manage the traveller’s emotional well-being,” Jo Dobson, senior director of sales UK&I at Carlson Wagonlit Travel.