Experimenting with the future of business travel: 3 hypotheses

by Alex Kaluzny, Chief Technology Officer

This month I headed to Miami for the Future of Travel Tech Summit where I joined a panel to discuss the “Business Traveler of the Future.” The event was held at the historic Lyric Theater, but it wasn’t players acting out a carefully rehearsed script, more like 400+ attendees and speakers acting as if they were, well, in a lab. Taking a cue from the host, The LAB Miami, the summit was full of ground-breaking ideas and passionate debates on the future of travel. Adopting a scientific approach to the many conversations and discussions I had, it became clear to me that there are three clear hypotheses that the business travel industry should be experimenting with to be truly customer-centric in the future.

Egencia CTO Alex Kaluzny on the “Business Traveler of the Future” panel at the Future of Travel Tech Summit, video courtesy of Lab Ventures.

Smart application of data and machine learning will narrow the gap between traveler satisfaction and company savings

There are a lot of companies that ask for pre-approval on business trips to ensure they are within policy. This often helps with compliance, but can hamper company savings. In the few days it takes for a busy manager to grant approval, the price for a flight to New York that was $654 could have risen to $892 and now the employee needs to spend time rebooking it. With machine learning (ML) algorithms, I see a future in which companies will be able to immediately see what business trips are “high-risk” and need approval versus those that should sail through easily. This is just one example where an algorithmic approach can help. Others include identifying the most logical low-fare option and setting daily hotel rate caps by seasonality and market. While the business travel industry doesn’t have a solution for this right now, I believe we’re on the cusp of being able to roll out and test ML algorithms that reveal business travelers’ true behavior and make it less of a binary choice between cost savings and travelers getting their preferred trip.

Business travel will step out of the shadow of leisure travel

When I try to book a vacation, I often get served up all sorts of content as the leisure travel site doesn’t know who I am. On the other hand, the business travel site not only knows me, it knows my coworkers too. For example, when my Paris-based colleagues book a trip to visit our headquarters in Bellevue, WA near Seattle, they won’t see hotel recommendations for downtown Seattle. That’s because the business travel platform looks at Egencia employees’ past booking activities and smartly shows hotel options for Bellevue that are likely to be more useful. And when our headquarters relocate to downtown Seattle later this year, the site will automatically detect a new pattern and show my colleagues relevant recommendations without them ever having to actively share that information themselves. From my point of view, we are only just beginning to experiment with what is possible by having this type of data and we are best placed to really start personalizing the business traveler experience.

Travel management companies need to own all of their touchpoints

It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of artificial intelligence (AI) and ML, but if travel management companies do not offer an integrated platform solution, these cutting-edge technologies will not quite pack the same punch. To provide a truly personalized experience, you need to understand how customers behave at all touchpoints, be it on the web, in the mobile app, or when talking to an agent. Travel management companies that partner with multiple technology providers will not be able to offer the same recommendations across all channels or may build algorithms using data from an unrepresentative source. A connected experience also allows you to start booking a trip online and pick up exactly where you left off, either with an agent or in the mobile app.

A lab is a great place to explore new ideas, but we need to conduct real experiments that have real impact on businesses and business travelers. With personalization becoming more and more nuanced across all sectors and industries, I believe that the business travel industry is in a great position to use the latest technologies to provide unparalleled customer-centric products and services.

Read more about travel data’s place in fast-growing business.