September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
Will developments in technology put an end to the world of mandated corporate travel, asks veteran business travel journalist Stanley Slaughter.
It is a regularly touted statistic that by the end of 2011 there will be more iPhones in use than laptops. Among people under 30, it is probably the case already.
But what is becoming increasingly clear is that this changeover is going to have what could be a very profound impact on business travel. At conference after conference of travel experts and professionals, this likely change to the way business travel is both bought and administered is a regular topic.
At a session at the Business Travel and Meetings Show in London in March, Jon West, UK director for HRS, said more and more people were using social media like Facebook and Google to discuss travel deals and that 10% of bookings were already being made through mobile devices.
If travel managers forced their travellers to use booking systems they did not like, they were in effect promoting unmanaged travel, he added.
Ron DiLeo, executive director of ACTE, took the argument much further when he told delegates at the Advantage conference in Madrid earlier this month that smart phones and modern technology were causing a fundamental change in the industry.
It meant travellers could if they wished go outside their company’s official travel policy by, for example, paying for an upgrade on a flight or at a hotel with their personal credit card. “People will make a decision based on their personal desire and the travel manager can’t do anything about it except embrace it,” he said.
He too made the point that it was partly a generational thing, with people in their 20s and 30s rebelling against travel policies drawn up by people in their 60s and administered by managers over 40. He added, perhaps ominously: “People will make a decision based on their personal desire and the travel manager can’t do anything about it except embrace it.”
Just how concerned buyers are at this growing dilemma became clearer at the ACTE/Management Solutions (UK) forum on London last week (May 12). Two spoke up about the worries this was causing them.
Emma DeLange, European travel manager for Amdocs, an IT company, said her travellers wanted to use new technology on iPhones. “You can fight it but it is inevitable. They are going to download it and use it. We have to embrace it and find ways to control it as much as we can.”
Bridget Stack, travel manager for the Kerry Group said that while she did not mind her travellers using iPhones to pick restaurants, she felt “really frustrated about travellers being able to book on them.” It put such bookings outside her management information and possibly also outside the company’s duty of care.
Both put forward different but complementary solutions. Stack called on the industry IT providers to develop software to stop what she called “this maverick booking.” DeLange said her company was looking at ways to produce a policy to control this type of booking. But she added: “We have to embrace it and decide what boundaries we can impose and where they should be so travellers can have an easy life.”
An essence of this fundamental change is that business travellers see themselves now as much more like leisure consumers who want a greater say in how and by what class they travel.
An indication of this change of attitude was given at the same conference by Barry Padgett, executive VP and general manager for Concur in Western Europe and Africa, who said travellers were demanding much more from their technology.
It was no longer enough, he said, for them to receive information about which terminal to go to. They now wanted to be told what other flights were available, prices, turn by turn directions to their hotels, and the ability to book flights and pick seats – all without help from their travel agent. Soon they will also require customised and personalised information, like the whereabouts of the types of restaurants they like.
This is some distance from the last generation of business travellers who were told what flight to board, which hotel to stay at and not to spend too much company money on meals.
When Google introduced its relatively free-wheeling travel policy, which gave travellers a budget but allowed them to spend it as they wished, it raised some eyebrows – not least amongst the old, mandating brigade who feared the erosion of their control and perhaps hoped it would not work.
The attraction of Google’s way, especially for younger travellers, was that they could buy a business class seat for a long haul flights and perhaps stay in a lesser hotel or use public transport instead of cabs to stay in budget. Or go on a low cost carrier for a short haul trip and enjoy a room at a good hotel. The choice was theirs.
But smart phones and the potential for independence which they give travellers may be forcing something similar on the whole industry.