For decades, people had two ways to make travel arrangements. There’s the do-it-yourself (DIY) approach, beloved by individual travelers and small groups for its budget-friendliness and accommodation of various preferences.
There’s also corporate travel management, used by business travelers and companies with no time or patience to plan for frequent work trips.
Unlike personal travel, business travel has several limitations: which airlines and hotels a company can book with, where and how bookings can be made, and what expenses are considered valid for reimbursement.
Then technological advancements were made, matured, and scaled faster than in any generation. With them came massive disruptions at the workplace—and how we travel on behalf of it.
What’s changing (and what’s not)
First, our devices got smaller. But the machinery underneath them grew faster, all the better to process the hefty data they now have to process.
Second, this data must be simplified and shown to us exactly when we want it, and even when we don’t know we want it. And if the algorithms and models running that data behind the scenes can predict what we’ll choose, more work is taken off our shoulders.
Consumers are truly benefiting from these developments and travel-centric startups often target them first. Business travelers also use newer travel apps in their downtime; and now expect the same convenience, speed, and usability at work.
However, corporate travel management systems mostly stayed the same throughout the decades. Company travel policies haven’t budged much, either.
These spell trouble for business travel, especially with a lot now at stake for this segment. Corporate travel spending is expected to rocket up to $900 billion by 2025 - and that’s just for Asia-Pacific!
The five factors for disruption
Of course, businesses can adapt to this massive change by working on their systems from the ground up. But a faster (and more cost-effective!) strategy would be to go with a corporate travel management system with these modern solutions already on board.
Instead of seeing current technologies as a threat, think of them as your secret weapon! Not all companies have the money and resources of bigger organisations to enact new, full-scale travel programmes. Nor would the good ol’ DIY method for business travel work in the long term, especially as you grow and hire more employees.
Keep the following in mind when choosing your travel management solution:
- Your employees want to use seamless and cohesive digital platforms. They should be able to search for and book their flights and hotels on one app. They should also have the same experience whether they’re using their laptops or their smartphones; or accessing it at C-suites or the HR, management, mid-level, or entry-level departments.
- That access shouldn’t just be at the office! Your people should be able to see those details 24/7, and wherever they may be.
- You need to have data-driven insights on what your employees are booking for their work travels. With the gathered data, you’ll learn more about their travel and spending behaviours—and what you need to change in your existing travel and expense (T&E) policy and safety protocols.
2. Modern interface
Let’s face it: looks matter. A lot. Corporate travel management isn’t exempt from this rule. Today’s tools have to be well-designed, and we’re not just talking about aesthetics.
Their features and functions must be accessible in a few taps or clicks. They must also be intuitive and efficient. Ideally, employees would spend just two minutes to book a flight or hotel that’s both policy-compliant and HR-approved.
Having a "solution" that looks and feels stuck in time (and with a steep learning curve) will only lead to your people not wanting to use it and going back to DIY.
Plus you’ll get flak from your millennial employees who are more used to planning trips themselves through consumer tools. They now make up most of the global workforce, so they will use your solution the most out of everybody in your company - not to mention have plenty to say about your current travel programme.
3. Machine learning and artificial intelligence
It’s not enough for your modern travel management solution to be updated and well-made. It must also have ML and AI built in, as they can positively impact business travel through four areas.
First, they can quickly process employee data and preferences, and provide customized options for each. Management won’t go for the same choices as their juniors, and the C-suites have different expectations than the back-end or mid-career staff.
Second, ML and AI surface flights that aren’t just within budget or personal preferences—they would also be the most efficient routes. Time is critical at work; the less time everyone spends going from one place to another, the better.
Third, these technologies can run your company’s travel expense tracking and reporting. They easily pull data from your people’s receipts, and all they need to do is take a photo of them. Then your travel solution will auto-fill expense entries, and categorize them properly for regular reports.
Lastly, ML and AI aren’t just about automation and customisation. They also empower HR and travel managers to make improved and contextual decisions through data-driven insights. What you plan for and what actually happens on a business trip will inevitably have some differences; the acquired data can help you prepare better for future trips.
As we said earlier, business travel comes with certain limitations. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Besides offering the same experience on desktop and mobile, your travel solution must compare low-cost and standard flights, as well as various hotel rates and inclusions. These comparisons also have to follow your corporate travel policy’s budgets and parameters.
Another example of flexibility is enabling employees to process their receipts both as those purchases happen and at their earliest convenience. That means even if the transaction happened hours or days ago, the travel solution will still be able to include it and file it properly.
And apart from consumerisation, business travelers want their companies to accommodate their preferred services. That means changing your travel policy to include aspects like short-term home rentals, ride-sharing, or digital payments.
Companies make travel policies to control certain elements of their employees’ trips. The idea is that if they have the final say, they can also manage their overall costs.
Additionally, they still use traditional travel agents to make their bookings, something that’s now considered passé for personal travel. Not only are they expensive, but the process can also be inefficient and with multiple back-and-forths.
Introducing self-service features to your corporate travel management solution would then be the ultimate disruption.
It helps to analyse things from their side. Any traveler would want some degree of control or agency over their trips, and business travel is no different. You can easily hand over their tickets and reservations. But they (and you) know they’d be happier booking and confirming their flights and hotels themselves—and on their own devices—through a comprehensive and easy-to-use travel solution.
This more lenient tactic solves the two frustrations of business travelers: spending too much time managing their trips, and putting up with bookings made by a middleman. And letting go of the nitty-gritty actually saves you both money and time!
More than innovation
The good news is you don’t have to stick to your current policies and routines just because “it’s always been done that way.”
As with most things, corporate travel management needs to evolve through lean and resource-light solutions -especially for bookings and expense tracking and reporting.
And with those five factors in place, business travel can be made simpler and less stressful for everyone.