Business travel is as universal and guaranteed as death and taxes – employees and companies accept it, do it, and try to effectively build policy and traveler-friendly solutions around it. However, expectations from business travelers vary from region to region, often influenced by cultural behaviors and technology standards, posing challenges for those managing travel programs.
Of the many technology advancements that have taken place in the last several years, none is more dominant or ubiquitous than the widespread adoption and usage of mobile devices. eMarketer estimates there will be 4.3 billion mobile phone users worldwide in 2016, and Expedia Media Solutions research released this year shows that travelers from across the globe – 60 percent or more from each country – are heavy smartphone users during a trip.
So how do attitudes about adoption of and demand for technology in business travel vary by region? The 4th Edition Egencia Business Travel and Technology Survey* shed some light on the similarities and differences.
From the travel manager perspective, there is an increased focus on balancing cost savings with improving the traveler experience, as travelers have come to expect the same level of technology sophistication and ease-of-use as they have in their lives as consumers. More than 75 percent of U.S. business travelers want greater cross-device integration in their business travel* – a development that is well underway in consumer-facing technology offerings.
U.S. business travelers are also confident emerging technologies will improve the travel experience, so it’s up to travel managers to ensure that they are exploring, testing and implementing the latest technologies that will benefit their employees as well as their companies. More than half (55 percent) of U.S. business travelers believe artificial intelligence (AI) advancements can improve their travel experiences.* And while U.S. business travelers are optimistic that emerging technologies can improve their business travel experiences, they still prefer a combination of technology and live representatives to solve their problems.
However, Canadians travel less frequently on business trips than their neighbors in America (nearly half traveled for business just twice in the last year). They are less likely to want cross-device integration (only 35 percent want it) and believe less that AI will improve their travel experiences (45 percent).*
Business travelers outside North America have lower confidence levels and are far less optimistic about the use of technology overall for business travel. While business travelers in EMEA and APAC countries are more pessimistic on the promise of emerging technologies for business travel compared to their U.S. counterparts, there is still a demand for more mobile accessibility across devices. Sixty-eight percent of business travelers in Singapore and Sweden want to manage their travel across devices more efficiently, compared to 65 percent in Norway, 64 percent in France and the UK and 62 percent in Germany.*
Mobile adoption is ubiquitous across Europe, especially in southern Europe, where traditional online travel was slower to emerge. In these countries, mobile solutions such as natural language processing and chatbots may have faster advancement and adoption because they are a mobile-first society. Although those from the U.K. travel frequently for business (second highest average number of trips per year), they are not active with the travel touchpoints, from making travel changes, to reading reviews, to submitting expense reports, compared to the other countries surveyed.
With a myriad of different sources of supply (e.g., independent hotels, rail, and low cost carriers) combined with a focus on traveler privacy, European business travel will embrace AI techniques if they do not violate personal information and help simplify the complexity of options. However, at 37 percent, Sweden and Norway were the least likely to believe AI advancements will improve their travel experiences, followed by only 41 percent in the U.K. and Germany.*
Mobile adoption has taken off throughout Asia at a phenomenal rate. The region has been the biggest contributor to global mobile subscriber growth in recent years, according to GSMA, and mobile is also the biggest priority for APAC travel managers. It also has some of the highest mobile booking percentages, and services such as WeChat dominate as an m-commerce platform. As another mobile-first society, natural language processing and chatbots will likely have a high reception rate in Asia, and technology advancements will catch on quickly if they can simplify the travel experience, according to Phocuswright.
“More and more travelers are relying on mobile, especially in Asia, so having highly useful mobile app functions which can do what online booking tools can do, with friendly access and a simple interface, is required for our business travelers,” said Vivian Chai, Director of Global Procurement, Lenovo.
Interestingly, while mobile-first, APAC respondents are skeptical about technology advancements for business travel and beyond. Less than half believe AI advancements will improve their travel experiences (only 42 percent in Australia and 47 percent in Singapore), and Australians and Singaporeans were also the most likely to believe that AI will be the end of humankind as we know it, at 40 percent each.*
As mobile usage and adoption continues to supplant desktops/laptops for everything from booking to customer service, travel managers should ensure they are adopting mobile technologies and strategies that meet their traveler needs, while also advancing policy adherence and traveler risk management. And while we see regional differences in attitude and adoption, the global nature of business travel today means solutions need to travel as well – so business travelers have a seamless experience no matter where they are. Technology innovations may see more rapid advancement in certain regions, but the world will catch up quickly, adopting solutions that work for both companies and travelers across the globe.
*4th edition, Egencia Business Travel and Technology Survey