by Manuel Brachet, vice president of customer success
2018 was another positive year for business travel with almost double digit growth across the industry – and spending is expected to continue to grow in 2019, according to GBTA. It’s a great time to be in our sector, with many indicators pointing to a bright year ahead.
So, what can the industry expect this year? While air, train and hotel experiences will remain fairly consistent, what I see transforming are the tools, travel policies and personalized services provided to both the travel manager and the business traveller thanks to evolutions in technology and culture. From the many conversations I’ve had with customers, here’s what I anticipate in 2019.
AI, ML and Big Data: Customer-centricity
Similar to a lot of industries today, the business travel sector is set to become more customized and personalized thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). We will see these technologies continuing to drive better, more customer-centric experiences. For example, booking processes, particularly air and hotel search, are already leveraging machine learning to sift through a customer’s and their colleagues’ past data and other factors like floor number and room size, to deliver a uniquely personalized experience. Add natural language processing into this mix, and I expect we’ll see text-based and voice-based chatbots continue to evolve in sophistication and relevance.
For travel managers, we are seeing the dawn of a new era. Travel managers already have dynamic visual analytics that show them where and how they can optimize savings, compliance and even employee satisfaction, bringing more strategic value to their company. Artificial intelligence will take this even further and unlock new ways to do this by running a myriad of simulations and scenarios in the background towards predictive analytics. The travel manager will soon have a virtual advisor at hand, that will provide clear, data-driven actionable insights in real time to better run their travel programs.
Locally Relevant Globally: All Businesses Go Head to Head
In our globalized world, we’re seeing more and more businesses building a global client base and investing in multinational offices. This year we expect business travel to continue as a must for companies of all sizes and sectors to compete effectively, and it being considered a strategic business investment with a dedicated travel team or thought-through travel policy. It can add value to a company’s bottom line by helping to close deals, build customer relationships and develop innovative products and services.
People First: Attracting and Retaining Talent
It has never been more apparent that top talent is a company’s greatest asset. I expect to see HR leads using travel programs increasingly as a recruitment and retention tool, with travel policies that put the employee traveller first. Flexibility, choice, convenience and seamless access to travel tools across multiple devices are driving our customer conversations and choices so far this year – not just savings. This is a win-win for companies; businesses gain a recruitment and retention tool, along with increased compliance with their policy.
Era of Uncertainty: Increased Duty of Care
The economic and trade uncertainty over the last year led to a concern that business travel may slow, but this has proven not to be the case. Rather, what we have seen is increased interest from companies in knowing where their employees are in real time, anywhere in the world, so that they are better able to assist them if and when they need it.
When crisis hits, the potential human and financial implications of not being ready can be crippling. In 2019, we will see both travel managers and business travellers opt to have access to more tools that support them during critical events. For instance, real-time alerts in areas that a travel manager may have company employees in, and a global view of which cities and countries staff are in at any given time.
I’m personally excited about what’s to come. The business travel industry is critical to helping companies all over the world thrive and compete, but for me 2019 is the year of putting people first.
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A version of this post first appeared on LinkedIn.