When you think of robots you might think of C-3PO or Transformers, but those aren't the type of robot that is concerned about whether a traveller has booked a hotel with their flight or making sure card bills are paid. As we're increasingly learning, robots are 'behind the scenes' instead.
The above mentioned tasks are some of the six robotic projects EY is running in its travel programme. Other areas the EY team plan to implement robots are for tracking, attendee registration sites and special offers, and next week it will launch an internal TripAdvisor tool Lobbey. Another 10 projects are in the pipeline.
"We couldn't recruit quick enough to do things so we've used robotics instead, some for the traveller experience and others for cost savings," explained Karen Hutchings, EY's global head of travel, meetings and events at GBTA Europe. "It's not about the head count savings though — we've been able to quantify direct ticket savings; paying bills quickly affects bad debt and it's absolutely about behavioural change."
The key, she says, is keeping it simple.
"The idea is to [use a robot for] any mundane and repetitive tasks; there are so many opportunities to implement," Hutchings added. "Anything you do regularly can be replaced; saving time and efforts means these people can do more interesting tasks."
The same thought process was behind Festive Road's new robotics consulting practice FREYA. "It seemed a logical extension in our bid to improve the strategic relationship between buyers and suppliers and to raise the profile of buyers with their internal stakeholders," managing partner Paul Tilstone told me.
While business travel can be slow to implement new technology Tilstone believes the industry will start to see robot use cases quickly and expects Festive Road will start on projects soon. It is a similar sentiment shared by Mezi's Johnny Thorsen that indicates the business travel industry is at a turning point regarding a lot of the buzzword technology we've been hearing about ie bots, blockchain and AI. Voice and mobile-driven platforms will also play a huge part in this.
Combined with the initiatives being undertaken by suppliers there is a sense that there is a real opportunity to join things up and make business travel easier for everyone.