Pathfinders: Business travel technology predictions for 2023
Technology continues to change how the world works and conducts business. Travel is no exception and different fields like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), personalisation, automation, and sustainability are colliding in new and exciting ways that present challenges but also opportunities for travel buyers.
To help navigate the changes in business travel technology, we asked Corporate Travel Management’s (CTM’s) very own Pathfinders – our technology and product leaders, to guide us through what changes they predict for business travel technology, and what technology they’re building in 2023.
Online booking gets back to basics
The pandemic shifted booking business travel from online tools to Travel Consultants as a result of uncertainty around risks, border restrictions, and travel requirements. Now, our team is seeing a push for a return to higher online adoption levels but with a difference.
CTM’s Björn Böhme, Chief Technology Officer (CTO), AU/NZ, is preparing for broader online adoption within organisations explaining “tools need to be easy and intuitive to allow users to search and book online and stay online when changes or cancellations arise. I think there will be an expectation that more travellers book themselves as we move on from COVID and as such online booking tools will need to be more user-friendly for infrequent bookers as opposed to Travel Arrangers.”
North America’s CTO, Joel Bailey agrees that the shift back to online is a global trend; “It’s happening in North America today as airlines and hoteliers get closer to normal operations and capacity levels, the rules get simpler and self-service has become the expectation again for many trips and traveller groups. It’s the perfect time to revisit your online booking tool (OBT) and ask if it’s fit for the future.”
Sustainability is here to stay
John Nicholls, CTM’s Global Head of ESG is naturally excited about the new reality of sustainability having a greater focus within many travel programmes; “Sustainability expectations from clients have risen to increase pressure on the corporate travel market to deliver initiatives that address and meet their sustainability objectives and targets. Clients expect us to identify and implement solutions that provide them with sustainability benefits through technology and supply partnerships.
“Technology will play a part in providing travellers with an adequate level of information to highlight which travel choice demonstrates sustainable performance rather than just average emissions. High sustainability performers will be listed as the preferred supplier which is predominantly driven by price, but sustainability performance weighting is added to highlight those top performers when it’s time to book.”
Brian Sheerin, CTM’s CTO EMEA, is also adamant the need for more sustainable travel choices to be embedded into booking technology is only going to grow; “We pioneered carbon budgets in our Lightning online booking tool and we’re excited to see that grow across CTM and the wider industry. If you want to influence behaviour you have to do it at the point of sale.”
AI & ML makes its mark
AI and ML are part of the mainstream consumer discussion today thanks to Netflix’s TV recommendations and tools like ChatGPT letting anyone try generative AI for writing, translation or coding. So what about business travel?
CTM’s Global CTO, Mike Kubasik sees potential gains in two key areas for Travel Managers and the companies they work with. “The first will be automating simple travel tasks with AI and ML to not only help make those Travel Consultants more productive, but so they can spend more time providing a truly personal service that’s closer to the VIP experience.
“Secondly with the resurgence of NDC underway, airlines are looking for bundle revenue and continuous pricing. You’re talking ten different fares becoming hundreds of different permutations with fluid pricing, something which is tough to manage as a human but AI & ML is perfect for, which is why we’ve been investing in it and fine-tuning our models to scale it for mass adoption as these content types come to market.”
Quantifying a return on travel
Cost control pressures are biting in different regions and industries, but the world has embraced travel once again. How can executives and Travel Programme Managers demonstrate travel’s value?
Zamil Murji, CTM’s CTO Asia, sees a world of possibilities. “There will be a need for companies to justify travelling from a cost and sustainability perspective – today that means a focus on pre-trip approval and reporting. But more sophisticated data flows where our solutions form part of an end-to-end workflow starting with budgeting and forecasting tools linked to approval, data analytics and fed into expense or CRM tools like Salesforce or Dynamics could help businesses make better-informed decisions around travel budgets.”
John Nicholls also sees smarter travel budgeting bringing internal teams together. “Clients will track their essential business travel through both carbon and monetary budgets, transferring to carbon footprints to fully appreciate and understand the impact of business travel in their wider organisation, giving Travel Programme Managers a bigger seat at the table internally on matters of operations and sustainability.”
Points of consideration when reviewing your travel technology stack
- Find out what’s on the roadmap with your key partners, so you can plan accordingly and where possible influence it to suit your goals.
- How financially viable are they after three years of upheaval? Are they able to invest in progress? Evaluate travel technology partners from a financial stability perspective.
- Can you get your data where you want it to be – easily and securely? Smart integrations and data handoffs can make your team’s jobs easier, don’t settle for working in silos.
- What’s holding you back? Analyse if your technology partners are equipped to respond to market trends and can pivot when new technologies emerge to your benefit.
- Who are your technology partners working with? You can’t evaluate everyone but you should know which underlying platforms your suppliers are reliant on.
- Are you learning from them? Great tech partnerships share ideas, collaborate on solutions and share knowledge willingly to help each other win.