BTN Europe presents an overview of business travel and MICE predictions for this year
ExCeL London - 22-23 June 2021
The present used to be a good gauge of the future; not anymore. There’s an exponential shift going on, mainly focused on technology. Change is happening faster than we can compute. It will transform managed travel by 2030. What could our lives be like? Read on...
CAN ANYONE WORK THIS BLOODY THING?” Chris barked into thin air, jabbing the touch screen. He cursed the day his travel manager Kirsty talked him into hiring a self-drive car to get to Heathrow Terminal 6. “It will allow you to work en route,” Kirsty had said. Rubbish. He spent more time trying to work out which button did what. Being an older digital native is one thing, but he just wasn’t sure this vehicle was that intuitive. In fact, he now wasn’t even sure if it was Kirsty’s idea or the virtual assistant’s.
Chris was already in a bad mood. The only consolation was that he was looking forward to taking off from the new terminal and runway. It had been delayed by five years and there had been a lot of hype and fanfare. It would be good to see if it lived up to expectations. Yet his mood had been soured in the office the week before trying to get this trip off the ground. “ “Yes, no, yes, yes again,” Chris barked at the smart virtual assistant at his desk. He preferred those retro ones, like Alexa or Cortana. They didn’t try to catch him out. They were naïve. This one, pumped up on artificial intelligence, was trying to make damn sure he didn’t book his business trip to Hong Kong, and steer him to a high-fidelity video conference instead. Why couldn’t he just pick up the phone and speak to a real-life travel manager? It seemed to happen less and only when things went wrong. “They won’t sign the million-pound deal unless it’s in person, it will be a three-day trip max,” Chris blurted out bluntly. He had become a past master at how not to make small talk with these trumped up chatbots that like to… well, chat.
The virtual assistant appeared to be thinking, just for a millisecond. Chris thought he heard cogs whirring. That had done it, he knew there were ways around this brave, new, self-service world. He was aware that such a trip would check all the machine-learning boxes, be compliant with the company’s policy, drive the ROI engine in that bot’s chips and justify the expense.Not only that, it was searching for the best deal via the dynamic contract the corporation had signed up to with travel suppliers. NDC was now in full swing. The Amazon for flights was tight for airlines. But for buyers, it was an incredible new world. The AI engine had also selected all the ancillary services that Chris had come to expect and processed them automatically within policy. “You’re booked on the 3pm flight, Chris. Thank you for being compliant. I’ve made all your arrangements end-to-end based on your personal profile, and real-time travel information,” said the smart virtual assistant. Suddenly his desktop and smartphone exploded in a cacophony of sound. It reminded him of the chiming of Big Ben at midnight.
This always happened now. Everything bloody synchronising. His calendar instantly updating, itineraries then posted to his smartphone, risk assessments at the ready, expense forms lodged. Payments made and loyalty cards updated, all chiming: ‘I’m done’ one after the other. What Chris didn’t like was all the proactive recommendations it made based on what he liked: restaurants he should take clients to, or where to conduct his morning run. It assumed way too much about him. It was spooky; in fact it knew too much. Sodding Big Data. He was aware he would get it all again for this Hong Kong trip. Kirsty called it the ‘power app’.
It managed everything end-to-end, door-to-door. Chris wasn’t sure it was a good term; yes it was seamless, but hyper-efficient only up to the point of calamity, he thought. The last trip he had ordered through the virtual assistant to Rome was a balls-up. It booked him in as being a vegan and needing wheelchair access – no one knew why – but it took the IT team a day to unpick.
When he came to think about it, there didn’t seem to be much choice these days as a business traveller, a bit like British politics in 2030. Also, travel managers had all the control. They just served up a clever illusion of so-called choice to executives, a bit like chicken or fish on a flight a decade ago, to make you feel like you have more options than you really do. At the end of the day travel policy dictated everything with a technocratic iron fist. Chris also blamed Kirsty’s travel management company. They had evolved into an intelligent hub for all the data that was being generated from a myriad of sources – travel suppliers, executives themselves, corporate finance, human resources, social media and security experts.
They provided travel managers like Kirsty with a customisable, smart dashboard that connected all the data up and provided all the information needed for refining programme and policy. Every travelling executive could also be tracked in real-time. Powerful yes, Chris thought, but it allowed travel managers to act as if they were playing, well, a trumpedup game of corporate chess. Travel policy dictated the rules. The pawns were the executives. The travel managers, in his mind, appeared like the Greek gods of old, peering down on their human subjects.
Apparently, Kirsty was now trialling a new virtual and augmented reality travel management suite, software and hardware that had been the domain of video gamers. It was now coming into the world of managed travel. With this you could get live police updates on terrorism, weather reports on the predicted path of a hurricane, matched to where your executive travellers are and how they would be affected. Yet those long in the tooth like Chris remembered an era when you could circumvent the travel-gods and be a maverick. Not anymore. It was total lockdown.
Digital payment systems made sure of that. One digital wallet, one virtual credit card per trip and all invisible payments via mobile or direct. Also, blockchain was starting to power everything from charges to travel programmes, even loyalty schemes: it’s the ledger that doesn’t lie. If you tried to make a payment out of policy it wouldn’t let you. There was no fun. You didn’t drive anymore, bemoaned Chris, as the self-drive car approached Heathrow. It didn’t even matter if he crashed, not that he could. The power app on his mobile would know exactly what happened and Kirsty would be informed immediately. He would then be descended on by virtual risk assessors and duty-of-care assistants via his smartphone, clamouring to see if they could help in real-time. That could be more traumatic than the event itself. His smartphone was pinging him something now.
The AI system had picked up a lot of noise via social media about civil unrest in Hong Kong. The security bods were all over it. No great alarm. At Heathrow Terminal 6, Chris was impressed by the level of automation. He had pre-ordered a pair of sunglasses which were waiting for him at check-in. Full biometric and iris scans and a robot to take your luggage. What was there not to love?
Future trends and expectations by 2030
Consumer-grade experience – What we currently see in the cuttingedge of retail, expect in the world of managed travel in the decades ahead. Innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning will filter into the world of managed travel. Integration – We are talking about a seamless travel experience from endto-end, door-to-door that is integrated with devices and with content. This will be joined up across suppliers and fully integrated in terms of bookings, airline check-in, boarding passes and room keys. Consolidation – Families of apps, websites and platforms don’t really work for people today. In the future expect a consolidated platform you can use for everything from lodging expenses to booking ground transportation or checking security alerts. Content – By 2030 there will be a lot more content available to travel managers, which is rich, intelligent and more accessible.
Will Chris and Kirsty’s dispatch from 2030 match current industry perspectives? BBT finds out...
A key component is microservices – a fundamental shift in how we interact. A traveller in 2030 receives an email, requesting their presence in New York. Once they’ve responded, microservices in their email client will place the appointment in the schedule, find the best flight based on their profile, book it and expense it immediately. Travel companies need to be incorporating microservices as they move forward. Chris Baker, managing director of UK Enterprise, Concur
Corporate applications of AI will be common by 2030. Compliance will be 100 per cent and guaranteed by a unique policy. No expense will be questioned if the return on investment is held to a minimum 22 per cent! The travel manager watches holographic pieces move across a shimmering grid like chessboard. Each piece represents a business traveller, ranked by capability and performance. Greeley Koch, executive director, Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE)
Driverless vehicles will eliminate millions of driving positions, although pilotless planes will still need ground crews. The human–machine replacement ratio could be pushed as high as 1,000 to 1. One common fallacy is that machines replace people. A more accurate description is that a large number of people are being replaced by a smaller number of people using machines. Keep an eye on things like blockchain technologies, bots and quantum computing. Thomas Frey, senior futurist, DaVinci Institute
By 2030 I just want everything integrated, integrated end-to-end, from when the executive leaves the office to reimbursing
them for their expenses and the whole gamut of experiences in between. In many ways 2030 is too far away to consider; even next year will be different from 2017. Things are changing fast. Travel manager, Media Industry, UK
Travel managers will have much more control in setting rules. An AI-based system will evaluate whether the trip is necessary or a video conference can replace the trip. Travellers will use a smart virtual assistant at every stage of the journey. Everything is self-service. On the trip, an AI system tracks the traveller in real-time. Any incidents are reported immediately to the manager. Travel transactions will be authenticated by blockchain and paid for using a blockchain-powered form of payment. Charuta Fadnis senior director, research and intelligence, BCD Travel