BTN Europe presents an overview of business travel and MICE predictions for this year
Virtual, 25 February 2021
ExCeL London - 22-23 June 2021
Mobility, big data, consumerisation, NDC...the technology buzzwords of the last few years remain high on the corporate travel agenda. Martin Ferguson finds out how they will continue to keep the industry on its toes in 2014
The Business Travel Show asked 183 corporate travel buyers to predict key technology issues for 2014. Sifting through their responses, it was obvious most are still coming to terms with the prevalent issues of the last two years.
Big data, mobility management, apps and consumerisation were flagged unanimously. Others thought behavioural economics, business intelligence, open booking, total-trip planning and gamification were still areas to watch – and they’re all correct.
When you dig down into the detail it becomes apparent that each new pillar of technology is reliant in some way on the evolution of another.
To understand these trends you need data, and to aggregate, disseminate and use that data effectively requires powerful algorithms and business processes. Only then can suppliers tailor the right product and service offers, and travel managers install programmes that keep travellers happy and compliant. And so the cycle continues.
Travelport vice-president Fergal Kelly hit the nail on the head at a recent corporate innovation summit, when he urged all industry stakeholders to get to grips with the interdependency of the value chain in the business travel sector – or else. “All our end customers expect the value chain to be interoperable,” he said. “As an industry we must look for ways to understand the necessity of collaboration.”
If Kelly’s words are heeded, perhaps 2014 will be the year when theory and concept morph into tangible business assets.
MOBILITYGartner, the US-based IT research and advisory company, predicted global sales of tablets would outstrip PCs and notebooks in the next two years. Meanwhile, in the UK, the mainstream marketplace is about to be shaken up by the introduction of 7in tablets with super-fast processors and accessible prices.
Andy Slough, IT director for Chambers Travel Management, says the industry this year needs to be more focused than ever on business traveller demand, and develop “intuitive, convenient and intelligent” products.
“Too many suppliers and TMCs adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to technology,” Slough says. “It must be easy to use and accessible because consumers demand convenience at the touch of a button. They want to be more productive on the move, between meetings, or in quiet time, on any device they choose.”
Sabre vice-president Kyle Moore thinks the industry is still only scratching the surface of mobile potential. He says the number of travellers using mobile to book and rearrange travel is on the rise and, if the trends continue, it would benefit everyone in the supply chain.
“The mobile creates a new point-of-service for the TMC. Embracing it will further its ability to support travellers in everyday and emergency situations.”
Moore predicts corporations and TMCs will increasingly use mobile to support policy management, particularly for tracking out-of-policy bookings.
However, the fact the technology exists is of small consolation to many business travellers prohibited from using smartphones and tablets by company policy. Even some who carry a company Blackberry or smartphone are barred from downloading applications not endorsed by their business.
Gary Povey, head of sales for travel and expense management firm Traveldoo, believes it’s an issue travel managers must overcome as a matter of urgency.
“Using mobile technology to communicate, browse and shop is an inherent part of everyday life for most people,” he says. “When they can’t replicate those habits in a business travel context, it can be very frustrating, and that irritation will only continue to grow.”
Povey says there are a number of ways a travel manager could potentially deal with such a situation. “Perhaps allow employees to provide their own devices – there will be different solutions for different organisations,” he says. “But the reality is travellers have power, information and access in the palms of their hands. It’s an inescapable truth.”
CONSUMER APPSBy virtue of his company’s expertise, Philip Haxne is perhaps better placed than most to comment the evolution of mobility. As head of global meetings and travel for Sony Mobile Communications, each of his travellers is armed with the latest Sony Xperia handset. He says: “Apps are slowly going to shift towards HTML5 solutions because more and more mobile operating systems [OSs] are coming into the marketplace, and it’s becoming too expensive to maintain apps for all OSs.”
Haxne adds that mainstream travel managements apps such as Tripit, Tripcase and Worldmate must soon be able to issue boarding cards and master customer booking demands if they are to surpass supplier apps.
The number of apps downloaded every month by mobile users is less now than a year ago, according to BCD Travel vice-president Torsten Kriedt.
“There are signs of market saturation,” he says. “We need to look at how apps can be made more valuable for travellers and find out which ones will really help. Developers and the travel supply chain need to think about how apps can be integrated with other components to suit specific requirements. There will be more meta apps.”
Kriedt predicts huge sums of money will continue to be poured into the research and development of travel apps, but warns most buyers are not yet ready to take a managed approach.
However, Jef Robinson, global category manager at Citrix Systems, told the Business Travel Show survey he expected continued emphasis on mobile apps and more online travel services.
“If TMCs are to compete, they will need to become smarter and incorporate everything third parties offer into their own service offering,” he says. “If corporates or TMCs can consolidate visibility of spend from a diverse supply base, I believe this may well be the way forward.”
Amadeus’s Florian Tinnus says mobile technology has given travellers the ability to create and consume information in an instant. “We’ve moved from ‘what is next’ to ‘what is now’. It enables us to create moments based on local, social and destination content.”
He predicts big data capabilities, combined with content sharing on social media platforms, will ratchet up the personalisation of travel in 2014, and suppliers on the vanguard would be the game changers.
BIG DATABig data has been, arguably, the most talked about topic on the global business travel conference circuit over the last two years, though the subject has been around for much longer. Google, for example, is already using real-time analyses of social media posts, web search results and geo-location technology to predict medical epidemics.
Despite the topic’s prevalence, there remains some confusion as to what the concept actually means in the business-to-business (B2B) world of business travel. Whatever the interpretation, BCD’s Kriedt believes industry suppliers still have a responsibility to work out how it will benefit travel procurement and programme management on behalf of corporate customers.
“Suppliers need to embrace big data and identify how it can be made relevant,” he says. “It’s clearer on the B2C [business-to-consumer] side. But the B2B side still doesn’t have full visibility of the data it already generates. There is still a lot of work to do before getting to big data.”
Kriedt says TMCs must lead the analyses of big data by investing in data science and business intelligence processes. “Only then will we be able to identify the interesting nuggets, such as why do travellers choose certain hotels or flight times over others,” he says.
The biggest challenge facing TMCs, according to one TMC boss, will be how to bring the unstructured data from social media platforms together with the structured data already at the fingertips of intermediaries. Barry Whittaker, managing director of Tzell Travel UK, says aggregated data from preferred suppliers, credit card providers and online booking tools should be easy to manage, as it sits within traditional IT structures. “It’s combining that information with the huge unstructured data sets out there that will give us the edge,” he says. “That’s big data.”
NDCAnother topic flagged by corporates as one to watch in 2014 is the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) New Distribution Capability (NDC). It has been debated at conferences and written about in this magazine for more than a year now, but great swathes of the industry still claim to be in the dark about how the initiative will impact each segment of the industry.
ATPI director Peter Bost recently said NDC was one of the most important developments in the business travel industry for 30 years, but accused IATA of not properly engaging with all relevant stakeholders. “I think it’s something everyone, whether you are a corporate or an airline, should be aware of and communication from IATA needs to improve,” he says.
Sony’s Haxne believes NDC definitely could be a paradigm shift in the industry, but he warns: “There is a risk this is just a power play from the airline industry to challenge the GDSs [global distribution systems]. I hope not, because I think there is potential for new players in the TMC segment that could force the big TMCs to rethink their role.”
Ken McLeod, director corporate of The Advantage Travel Partnership, is one of a small number of senior executives from the intermediary segment to have been involved in NDC discussions with IATA since its inception.
He says: “NDC, in whatever format, is going to change the way we work. If the GDSs get their acts together, it may still be through their platform, but it will be different. Airlines, for example, will issue the e-ticket rather than the agent. However, it is likely to be a hybrid [system] and airlines will come on at different times. Complications are likely for some time to come. However, it will not go away.”
CONCLUSIONSA new buzzword may be absent from conference programmes this year but the evolution of topics we already know will continue to disrupt business travel processes. But Amadeus’s Tinnus believes the disruption can be positive if travel managers keep an open mind and, like his contemporary, Fergus Kelly from Travelport, believes collaboration and partnership are central to keeping travellers happy.
He also predicts the travel policy will soon evolve into a traveller technology policy, with guidelines on using your own device, downloading apps, data privacy and confidentiality, and roaming costs for smartphones.
“Over time, organisations will have to compete on the same turf as travellers’ families and friends, using the same social media tools. The classic travel manager will transform into a travel moderator, using big data and mobile technology to manage a travel programme for the millennial generation.”
And how will all this impact the traveller and their experience on the road? “On one hand, travellers will continue to have pull and push information at their fingertips,” says Tinnus. “It improves the whole travel experience, from comfort, to effective meeting management, to security.
“On the other hand, as the boundaries between business and consumer behaviour converge, the business traveller of the future has an increasing responsibility to know how to share data and still comply with the corporate travel programme.”