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Corporate travel disruption: Tech innovations now and next

Jul 20, 2018

Disruption is the norm today. Most industries have come to accept that the status quo is constant change. That's certainly the case for corporate travel, where savvy businesses are innovating to stay ahead1 as a range of factors bring wholesale changes to the sector, from the way that travelers book to AI-powered expense reporting.

In our recent report on business travel trends we looked at how travel management companies (TMCs) and corporates are keeping pace with change. So to follow up we're taking a look at the external factors shaking up the sector in both the short and long term.


Next: Machine learning behind the scenes

I'd say AI is going to be most impactful in advanced analytics. I don't see it in the transactional workflow nearly as much.

- Travel buyer at a major corporation

Chatbots make great headlines because everyone gets them – friendly-sounding robots that understand you and talk back. But although chatbots are undeniably exciting, they're just one part of the full scope of machine learning (ML) in corporate travel.

As machines are fed more and more data, they're becoming smarter and quicker at spotting patterns that can't be seen by humans. And that's where the real ML revolution is likely to be for corporate travel: understanding not just what travelers are doing now, but what they're going to do next. While that has any number of implications in the corporate travel world, it has big potential for compliance.

The ability to predict noncompliance before it happens can be hugely powerful in keeping more travelers in-program more of the time. Advanced analytics models will help pinpoint the reasons for noncompliant behavior, whether it's down to rates, scarcity of in-program accommodation in a particular location or user experience with booking tools.


Now: Personalization

We've seen the need for more personalization in both property choice and in the booking process… [travelers] require a booking process that better accommodates their needs

- Valentijn Bilars, senior director, global suppliers EMEA, RoomIt by CWT

That mass of data is also fueling a revolution in personalization. Increasingly, the corporates and TMCs that stand the best chance of keeping travelers in-program are the ones that are able to anticipate their travelers' wants and needs, and offer rates and a choice of properties that are likelier to appeal. That means personalizing property search results based on historic data, but also adapting booking processes based on traveler behavior – whether that's developing better mobile functionality or linking loyalty programs. As Wes Bergstrom, vice president, hotel value and revenue management at Amex Global Business Travel, points out in our report, it's about "offering different things to different travelers, based on either their status with a chain or their travel preferences."


Next: Voice

ML is also the catalyst behind the current leaps and bounds happening in voice tech. Voice is already transforming consumer habits, with wide-ranging effects on business requirements from customer service to SEO. And just as B2C businesses are having to adapt, so will those in the corporate sector.

It's simple: intelligent voice assistants are reshaping the way people accomplish tasks using technology2. For most people that currently means playing music, checking the weather or switching lights on and off, but full-blown conversational commerce is getting closer all the time3. Voice is set to become thoroughly embedded in travelers' search, browsing and purchasing habits. Our report showed that corporate booking tools continue to frustrate travelers; if TMCs and corporates are to avoid lagging even further, they'll need to keep a close eye on voice developments.


Now: OCR

Optical character recognition (OCR) software is the technology that takes scanned text in image format and recognizes it as text. In other words, it's what powers those many expense reporting systems that let travelers submit details by simply taking a photo of receipts.

OCR has been around for a long time, but, like many technologies, it's becoming increasingly powerful thanks to bigger and bigger datasets. The benefits are manifold, but in business travel they all boil down to one fundamental truth: OCR makes life easier for the traveler.

One of the key findings from our report was that business travel processes simply aren't working for many business travelers, who cited easy expense reporting as a priority for corporate booking tools. And that's a key factor behind noncompliance. Give travelers the ease of submitting expenses simply using the phone on their camera and you stand a much better chance of getting them on time, and with the increasing power of OCR systems, you even reduce the margin for error4.

For more insights on how top travel buyers and TMCs are keeping up with the corporate traveler, download the full report.