In 2018, advances in AI and machine learning, as well as changes in traveler behavior will continue to reshape the business travel industry. From what I’ve seen from users on TravelBank since we launched in 2016, here are nine predictions for business travel technology in 2018.
Humans are winning
More than half of TravelBank users reach out to our travel concierge, a group of dedicated travel agents, instead of making changes to their itinerary on their own. Managing travel is a full time job, so when our business travelers are in a pinch, having a concierge with relationships at all the major airlines fix their problem is a huge relief. Now, live chat makes that kind of customer service scalable. Across all industries, more than 80% of businesses have seen a positive effect on sales, revenue and customer loyalty with live chat according to Kayako. I expect new business travel companies to launch with live chat and existing businesses to adopt live chat as a way to provide that human-touch and dedicated business travel concierge.
But the machines are doing a good job, too
Online retailers have been using machine learning to predict buying habits for years, and we will see that more and more in business travel. For example, TravelBank is already learning users’ preferences over time and bringing the best flights for each user to the top of their search results. Companies like Hopper are providing similar services by using AI and ML to recommend ideal times to book and notify users when prices drop. There are e-commerce companies that have been helping consumers make shopping decisions for years now, 2018 will be the year that more travel companies start doing the same.
We will be more social
In 2017, 74% of millennials, who we know are social media junkies, joined the conference circuit according to Skift. And, as any veteran conference goer knows, when traveling to large conferences, there are often one or two familiar faces on the plane. In 2018 more of these millennial travelers will connect their social media accounts to their travel bookings to take advantage of things like social seating, where you can book your seat on the plane next to someone in your network, or not.
Incentivization flips to save companies money
Incentives are nothing new, but typically points programs reward you for how much you spend. The more money that leaves your wallet, the more perks you take home. Companies like Rocketrip and TravelBank have turned that model on its head and are rewarding people for choosing the most cost-effective booking options. In 2017, controllers began seeing the savings. Companies typically save 20% on their travel and entertainment expenses, even after the cost of incentives, when they provide employees with redeemable rewards points for spending less with TravelBank. Instead of reducing the budget for T&E due to these savings, I believe more will be done with these large budgets. That means ultimately more flights booked, upgrades for employees, more flexible travel options, and more productivity coming out of these business trips.
Airbnb is your new office
According to Airbnb, 15% of nights booked globally on the app come from business travel. And Airbnb was recognized as a real part of the corporate travel industry by Business Travel News after the 2017 GBTA convention. At the conference, I had an opportunity to visit the Airbnb booth, which was set up like a chic apartment and brought corporate travel professionals together like the convention had never seen before. In the coming year and years after, I expect that Airbnb will exceed their goal of 30% of its total bookings in corporate travel and others like Homeaway will see corporate travel bookings increase as well.
Enterprise Applications are becoming consumerized
Enterprise software today is still slow, complex to use, not personal, takes a long time to deploy and the user experience always suffers, according to R “Ray” Wang CEO and Principal Analyst at Constellation Research. With new enterprise software vendors like Slack, Asana, and DropBox, there continues to be a trend towards building user experiences that relate to the functionality and experience of consumer software. Businesses are placing value in systems that are intuitive and offer a simple on boarding experience that takes minutes, not months. For business travel software, according to Skift, almost 70% of millennials book their travel on their preferred app or booking site and consumer-friendly business tools like Slack and Airbnb for Work are replacing clunky, traditional, incumbent enterprise software.
By democratizing the enterprise and letting employees bring their own devices and apps, it’s enabling the enterprise managers to define what apps their employees really want to use without relying on a special committee to give recommendations. Companies are even letting their employees license the technologies first so they can just expense it later. We will see an increase in companies who embrace the consumerized technology trend in a positive way to enable faster access to services and software employees need to drive business value.
Expenses on the go
The workforce of today is more likely to trust their mobile phones with banking transactions. Market Force Information reported that over 95% of people ages 18-24 had downloaded a banking app, implying that they are entirely comfortable using a mobile phone for their banking and financial needs. At TravelBank, we also find that users enjoy the convenience of taking photos of receipts on the go and letting TravelBank scan them instantly instead of letting receipts collect at the bottom of their bag. As more travelers trust their mobile phones for banking and expenses, the future of creating expense reports looks more like using SnapChat than a spreadsheet.
Arrive for work, stay to play
2018 will be the year that “bleisure,” fitting personal travel in with business travel, becomes the norm. The trend began a few years ago, in 2016 a Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Business Credit Card Survey found that almost 80% of millennials make sure to plan personal time while on a business trip. Now, companies are creating policies around the practice, Forbes reports that 57% of companies now have a policy for employees to extend a business trip into vacation time. As “bleisure” becomes more accepted by companies, in 2018 the trend will surge.
Traveling for business doesn’t stop millennial travelers from posting like-worthy instagrams. Seventy percent of Instagram content is travel related, according to the NY Post, and the Boston Consulting Group found that millennials are twice as likely to use their mobile phones to share travel photos on social media than non-millennials. In 2018 this trend will continue as business travel becomes more flexible and young travelers choose share-worthy hotels or unique Airbnbs and travelers find inspiration at major airports.