Read any business travel publication at the moment and it feels like the industry is finally getting around to giving some long-overdue attention to the relative quality of the user experience of booking and trip itinerary management.
This inclues attempting to adopt customer-driven personalisation models into booking system processes.
The goal of this - an improvement in the wider travel experience of the business traveller and a reduction in off-channel booking - is at last a recognition that the user experience provided by business travel tools has long lagged behind those present in the consumer sector, and business travellers and corporate travel managers are starting to demand better.
Defining the user experience and user interface
Let’s start by defining what we mean by the user experience. Although the term is most often seen applied to software and technology, a user experience in its loosest sense arises from any human interaction with a material product.
Every material product has one regardless if it is good or not. Even turning a door handle provides a user experience.
Another related yet different concept is that of a User Interface, or UI. It refers to the means by which the user and a computer system interact, in particular the use of input devices and software.
The UI refers to the primary (although not sole) machine-side impact point from which user experience is derived.
The question to ask is, what makes a user interface provide a quality user experience?
Although there is undoubtedly a subjective element to this, influenced by a given user’s background, three broad variables are most frequently used: speed, performance and
The user experience in travel
We carried out an assessment using the above variables to determine an Index Score assessing various industry websites’ performance on mobile as a reflection of the attention given to user experience.
This index score was derived across all travel mobile websites and not only the ones we see in business travel.
This score was then averaged for each brand and industry to produce a ranking. Of the 14 industries assessed in the research, the travel industry came second last with a score of 36.9.
User experience problems like outdated online enquiries, no date drop-downs, unresponsive images and stale data are just some of the contributing factors.
Although still lagging behind other industries, it’s a pretty uncontroversial statement that the competitiveness of consumer travel has kept it ahead of its business travel counterparts.
Users can change suppliers, not via an RFP, but at the click of a button.
This lack of income security means companies boost the user experience as a way of standing out in the market.
The newly introduced flight search engine Escape, for example, became competitive based on its enhanced user experience.
Developed by MIT, Escape finds the cheapest flights worldwide from your city on selected dates - comparing flight options from all major flight search sites like Kiwi.com, Kayak, Skyscanner and more.
Although the speed of the mobile site still leaves much to be desired, it represents flight options in an interactive map and, ultimately, looks very cool and gives us what we want - the cheapest flight with an easy way of finding it.
The user experience in business travel
In business travel, the situation, as usual, is slightly more complicated. Upon initial sale, software companies sell to procurement departments looking for the lowest price.
All this creates a market with competition based more on price rather than usability. No doubt the user experience suffers.
This is not limited to “front-office” tools facing the traveller but the tools we use in the “back office” as well.
In data and reporting, travel managers are still using Excel spreadsheets feeding a desktop data visualisation tool.
Given the complexity of travel data, its crucial role in programme activity and the advances in big data that we see today I find this surprising.
If the user does not have deep knowledge on data, these tools are complicated to negotiate.
Travel managers sometimes employ an analyst in their team as opposed to simply getting a tool that makes data reporting easier.
But wait, there is hope
The demand for a better user experience is growing as business travel managers’ priorities shift to “value beyond price.”
It’s not that travel managers don’t want to keep control of traveller spend, it’s that they now realise that, when travellers have a system that has the options they want and is easy to use, less maverick and off-channel bookings occur.
Travel managers are now promoting their programme policy through improved tools as opposed to enforcing it.
Multimodal travel apps - the pocket-sized equivalent of OBTs - are now high in demand and the demand for MaaS (Mobile as a Service) is rising.
Corporate clients are calling for better expense management software, with 66% of CFOs, controllers, and financial professionals reporting in the Certify Expense Management Report that simplicity and ease of use was most important in an expense tool.
They also ranked expense management automation second at 51%.
Suppliers are responding to this new-found demand with innovative solutions and startups improving the user experience for both the traveller and the travel team.
Some examples of apps and tools centred around making the user’s experience easier include Roadmap which builds traveller-friendly apps customised to each company’s branding.
Conichi is an end-to-end solution providing mobile check-in and check-out, mobile key, beacon messaging and virtual card payment via integration with hotel property management systems along with a mobile app for travellers.
SpotHero helps travellers reserve parking spots while providing visibility into parking spend.
The app Freebird uses predictive analytics to provide alerts on disrupted flights while automatically searching for new flights.
Given that most of its users are abandoned at airports and frustrated, their ability to provide a quality experience is outstanding.
Data and reporting is becoming increasingly user-friendly with forward-thinking companies adding automated email reporting, chatbots and digital voice assistants to their list of offerings.
The simple data reporting dashboard is no longer the only offer on the table.
From booking to reporting, the experience using software and tools in travel is changing.
If we want to rally around the concept of the “traveller experience” we need to look beyond the quality of flights and accommodation, but also at each interaction travellers have during the trip - from the moment they book to when they input their expenses.
As Martin Leblanc from Startup Vitamins once said: “A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good.”
Reporting tools that come with complex manuals and help information need to be thrown out in favour of apps, tools and dashboards that make it easy for users to get where they want to go.
After all, most of us don’t need a “Google for Dummies” book so why should we need one to book and manage business travel?