Michael Riegel is general manager of Navan Europe
Three years ago, no one could predict the future of the travel and expense landscape. With flights grounded, holidays and business trips cancelled, and many industries embracing remote work, the industry had time to diversify – to re-evaluate what the travel experience should look like, how it should work and how it needed to evolve in line with consumer demand. Today, having had a front-row view of changes in the travel industry, I can now confidently say that personalisation is the future of travel.
Personalisation doesn’t just mean a customised email. It means a completely unique booking and travel experience tailored to each individual. Travellers will go to their favourite booking platform and three flights will surface based on their travel preferences. No searching. No questions. No price comparisons. The traveller can just input the dates and book.
On the road, that traveller can open the platform and recommendations will pop up based on their needs and wants. Whether that's the quickest way to get to Heathrow Airport in rush hour or the closest Indian restaurant, the experience is seamless and takes personalisation to a new level.
And when a trip is over, travellers shouldn't have to worry about filing an itemised expense report or finding lost receipts because their solution already knew their personal expense policy and automatically fetched their folio for them.
The same runs true for admin and finance teams. The whole ecosystem wants personalisation and it's down to the software providers to offer that experience. A CFO should be able to jump into a conversation with a chatbot and have reports that previously would have taken hours to collate – such as looking at company travel spend by department – available in seconds.
Better still, the chatbot would proactively recommend actions the CFO can take to save the company money based on real-time trend analysis and employee behavior. Personalisation is changing the game for businesses and those that learn how to play early will have a massive advantage over their competition.
The problem is, the wider travel industry isn’t there yet. Travel is complex, and involves myriad partners, systems and organisations. Getting these to a point of convergence is challenging. This needs to change.
The tipping point in personalisation
In 2023, we’re seeing the tipping point in personalisation. The evolution of machine learning, natural language processing (NLP) and generative AI provides us with the tools necessary to drive the next phase of personalisation – personalisation that bypasses intermediaries to provide a truly personal experience.
Through direct connections with suppliers, personalisation can now go far and beyond a customised email template. It can fundamentally redefine the travel experience, understanding and anticipating the user's needs and wants in an entirely new way. Today, the travel industry should hold itself accountable to the same level of personalisation as tech giants like Netflix and Amazon. Now that we’ve reached the tipping point in personalisation, it's essential the travel industry is up to speed.
Travellers want personalisation, businesses need personalisation
Personalisation is a huge win for everyone when it comes to booking online. User expectations are constantly evolving, and it’s the job of the travel industry to keep ahead of these expectations.
Today, those wants are around speed and intuition. We’re seeing more travellers than ever look to providers to share recommendations (73 per cent, according to research from Qubit), and deliver personal interactions (71 per cent, according to McKinsey & Company research), with almost eight in ten getting frustrated when this doesn’t happen (76 per cent, according to McKinsey). The bottom line is, consumers need to be offered what they want, when they want it.
From a business perspective, personalisation drives conversion and adoption. Businesses purchase travel technology to offer employees a simple, seamless experience. If the employees don’t use the software, it becomes useless. As such, employees need to see the value in their travel management platform. They shouldn't have to go looking for alternative flights because the software doesn’t work how they need it to. It should add value and be designed with people in mind. Personalisation is a huge part of this.
The more personalised an experience is, the more efficient it is. And in corporate travel, efficiency equals cost savings. For example, say a traveller is looking to book a flight between London to Amsterdam. Using personalisation, that traveller could be instantly offered the flight they are most likely to book at the best price, at the top of the search results. Say the traveller loves to hit the airport on Fridays at 10am, personalisation means the perfect flight will appear at the top, saving time scrolling through page after page to find exactly the right flight.
The future of personalisation
With the power of AI and the possibilities presented with OpenAI and GPT-4 integrations, personalisation now translates into efficiency, time savings and satisfaction. Who doesn’t want a better travel experience?
Forward-thinking travel companies are already integrating this technology into their business. It’s clear that personalisation is the future, so it's essential that consumers and businesses are getting an experience that goes above and beyond their expectations. If Netflix can offer personalised recommendations on what to watch next, there is no reason travel companies cannot do the same with a flight.
When booking travel, no joy comes from finding the right flight time and selecting the aisle seat. The joy comes from the in-person connections that travel offers. The ability to avoid the never-ending Zoom calls, build better business connections and develop relationships with colleagues. It comes from stepping off the plane, train or out of the car, and the excitement of being in a new place. The search experience should be as quick and painless as possible and personalisation delivers on that ideal state.
Despite the progress that personalisation has made in recent years, travellers today still have too many search options in front of them. The noise needs to be removed from the booking experience. By removing the noise, we can craft magical travel experiences that not only improve employee wellbeing but benefit business productivity in tandem.
Personalisation is the future of business travel. Let the journey begin.