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Spotlight on 3 technology trends in corporate travel

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A recent report on corporate travel trends flagged artificial intelligence personal assistants (AI PAs) as one of several trends to watch.

In the past year, technology experts from travel as well as other industries have called AI everything from the most profound transition in our lifetimes to the most disruptive thing since fire.

And while the travel industry is only beginning to explore the use cases, the Globetrender and Cytric Easy by Amadeus study hones in on AI PAs and their power to revolutionize self-booked trips.

Alongside partners, Accenture and Microsoft, Amadeus is already working on AI use cases for its corporate travel products and services. 

“GenAl-powered chatbots will offer a different experience when it comes to business travel,” Arlene Coyle, senior vice president of commercial for Amadeus Cytric Solutions, said in the report. “Today, business travelers enter their travel destination and criteria in tools outside their workspace applications. We are working to change this experience into one where – without needing to leave Microsoft Teams – business travelers will be able to converse with a GenAI-powered chatbot like they do via mail or chat. They will get trip recommendations aligned with policy, they will be prompted on when to travel or the best choice to get there. The impact will be profound and will change completely the lives of our business travelers and corporate stakeholders.”

Other companies across the corporate travel landscape are also focused on how generative AI can improve the services they already provide to travelers and travel managers.

Matthew Newton, vice president of IT architecture at travel management company CWT, believes business travel agents should be paying close attention to AI developments. He thinks of generative AI as an augmentation tool, and the company recently announced its traveler messaging service would be boosted by generative AI from Azure OpenAI.

“GenAI offers us the opportunity of streamlining and making more human some of the automation we have had in place for a while so we can get it closer to our travelers, our travel arrangers and our clients’ travel managers,” Newton said. “It takes off a lot of the rough edges and allows us to use that [messaging] software tool to respond more rapidly and with better context than we have in the past. It also gives us the opportunity to augment our travel counselors’ experience and make that easier and richer.”

CWT is also testing and exploring other use cases for the technology internally, such as analyzing and summarizing large reports.

“It’s augmenting teams already in existence so they can do their job better and focus their attention on refining the information we want to pass back rather than retrieving it so it’s the augmentation of our service level.”

Expense digitization

Others in the space see AI playing an increasing role in expense management, a second area where technology and business travel experts predict change in the coming months. 

Naveen Singh, CEO of Center, said while AI technology is powerful “it’s important to bring it back to what customer problems can you actually solve.”

“Maybe where the more interesting application is going to be is in really starting to fully automate a true behavior analysis of spending,” Singh said. “The model we’ve all grown accustomed to is the monthly batch-based expense report, but there’s little context as to why Naveen was taking these trips. In a perfect world I would be providing that context as I go, but if you have to have the user provide that context it’s a losing battle. Now with AI you can start to identify patterns in the underlying spend to automatically associate that to a real context, which in and of itself is interesting. But it’s way more powerful when you combine it with a more dynamic way to set and think about policies at the trip level or the behavioral level. 

“Personally, I think [chief financial officers] are going to care less about static policies like hotel nightly rates and fare class rates and think that as long as employees are behaving appropriately do I care that you bought a first class air ticket but your hotel was only $100 and your aggregate trip was in the parameters of what a normal trip should be? I think we’re going to move more and more in that direction, and AI, particularly when combined with the real-time info off the corporate credit card, is going to be a big enabling technology to go and drive that change in behavior.”

As a corporate card and expense management technology provider, Singh also sees changes to expense processes and policies going forward. Recent research from Center revealed a significant uplift in corporate card usage while adoption of expense managing software has not really increased in the past few years. Singh said CFOs may no longer be seeing the value in the tools in terms of visibility and control.

Unsurprisingly, he proposed corporate cards as the “new frontier for control, compliance and automation” because they’re easy to adopt and configure and comfort levels are growing among CFOs.

“The big objection that we heard around corporate cards was ‘How do I know what it’s going to be used for?’ The compliance and control challenge. We’re starting to see that merger of software and the card itself provide a degree of comfort to that CFO to enable them to issue those card programs more broadly. It’s a better control mechanism and empowers employees to spend in a way more familiar to them. One of the other things we’ve seen, particularly as we become more distributed as a workforce and as these hybrid work models take hold, as Gen Z enters the workplace, and as millennials move into more positions in senior management, there’s just more comfort with putting corporate purchases on a corporate card as opposed to personal credit. There’s a different expectation of a consumer grade experience and being empowered to purchase with all the incredible consumer facing solutions that exist today.”

Quote

Maybe where the more interesting application is going to be is in really starting to fully automate a true behavior analysis of spending.

Naveen Singh – Center

The Globetrender-Cytric Easy report also highlighted the trend toward more digitization across expense reporting. It said the shift to digital expensing “shift marks the end of an era dominated by cumbersome manual management of expense forms and the constant juggle of paper receipts. For many companies this change signifies not just a procedural update, but a fundamental overhaul of how business transactions are recorded, processed and analyzed.”

Filtering preferences

The increased digitization of expenses is also likely to boost personalization, according to the same report. Personalization is an area that many travel management companies are prioritizing in 2024 and a trend highlighted in a recent report from Festive Road as well as the Global Business Travel Review from travel agency and TMC network The Advantage Travel Partnership.

At the Advantage Business Travel Symposium in London this month, a poll of the travel management audience revealed personalization as the trend TMCs believe will have the most influence on the travel management landscape, more than extended accommodation and the blending of business and leisure travel.

Speaking at the event, Paul Broughton, director of business development for EMEA and APAC at Travelport, said, “Personalization is a challenging subject because even as individuals our personas change on a day-to-day basis when we’re booking travel. I don’t necessarily think it’s all about technology that enables us to present specific offers to specific travelers. To me personalization is giving the opportunity for travelers and bookers to filter their own personalization. So, yes, it has to be created in a way that supports the travel policy or the persona, but if we think about booking travel in our own lives, we like to have an element of being able to filter and search for ourselves. So the job of a technology business like a GDS is to present our rich content into a platform that enables a traveler or travel booker to apply their personalized filters. Those filters are now developing beyond traditional time and price type filters to include filters such as most sustainable option.”

Guy Snelgar, global business travel director at the Advantage Travel Partnership, added that trying to tell consumers what they want is a “risky business.”

“Amazon tries very often to tell me what it thinks I want and invariably gets it completely wrong. And that idea of trying to pre-filter is shaky ground. People want to be able to choose. What I see a lot of members doing fantastically well and a big part of personalization is how I want to engage with them, how I want to communicate with them. We’re in a multi-generational workplace now, and there are bookers who want to make their booking enquiries via WhatsApp. There are others who want an online booking tool to search and see all the options for themselves, and there are some for whom being able to speak to the same consultant they have for 10 years, who knows them, is more prized than anything else.”

CWT’s Newton sees personalization and how it might develop in 2024 in a similar light.

“It’s something we have been actively working on and investing in since I joined the organization back in 2017. For me, personalization, or what we refer to as intelligent display, it’s fundamentally from the same direction. Content proliferation will continue, the sheer number of sources available for searching is growing along with the depth of information about each of those services, so at its simplest level personalization allows us to get the most interesting results, the most useful results back to the traveler in the first few pages, ultimately the first page, to save them time.”

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