In Business travel, part 4, we looked at the topic of leakage
- the scope and reasons for it and how data tools can help companies identify, manage
and minimize off-channel bookings.
The consensus among those we spoke to is that 100%
compliance will never happen. But they also agree that gradually both business
models and technology are evolving to alleviate some of the risks of rogue
bookings, enabling corporate travel managers to have the visibility they need
for cost control and duty of care and providing business travelers the ease of
experience and support they need before and during trips.
Looking ahead, Roadmap CEO Jeroen Van Velzen says the next
evolution will be improved application of artificial intelligence and machine learning
to the data that’s being collected.
“How many times will you want to reinvent a booking
tool? We’re sort of out-innovated - the consumer tools have already given us
the end of it. The only way you can optimize the experience now is by looking
at the data. This is when you move into AI and the system starts learning your
preferences for predictive booking,” Van Velzen says.
Because AI algorithms get “smarter” as they digest more
data, Van Velzen says the high volume of repetitive transactions in business
travel – particularly at the enterprise level - provides an effective use case.
“You need a ton of data – I’m talking about 10,000 employees
with 20 trips each a year - and now we get a sizable data set that you can
start working with for personalization,” he says.
That’s the good news.
But there are also many challenges, starting with the fact that these
massive data sets are inherently complex.
“If you want to train a machine to understand data, normalization
of data is key and in business travel this is hardest to come by because the
quality of the data is really terrible,” Van Velzen says.
“If you look at a global program in 170 different countries,
probably multi-GDS, multi-agency, multi-carrier, multi-aggregator and you want
to normalize this data so that you can train a machine with it on a relatively
simple algorithm, this is one of the hardest things to do.”
I think within five to seven years, booking tools will all but disappear.
Brian Beard - DVI
Because of this, he predicts practical innovations that take AI
beyond “hype and exaggerated expectation” are still 18 to 36 months out. In the
near term, Van Velzen sees change coming in business models of travel management
companies and others working in this space.
That syncs with word from Traxo CEO Andres Fabris that his
company is developing a solution to help TMCs “claim and service and support” bookings
that are made directly with suppliers.
“Nobody has solved that yet. We are very focused on bringing
that solution to market, and we are partnering with some of the biggest players
in the industry to make that happen,” he says.
“When that occurs then I think the industry will fall into this
equilibrium where people will care a little less about having to own that
original booking, because they know they can still earn service fees and
support fees even if the booking didn’t originate with them.”
The end of booking tools?
On the technology side, as AI and machine learning mature, experts
say new interfaces will further streamline business travel.
“I think within five to seven years, booking tools will all
but disappear,” says Brian Beard, CEO of Data Visualization Intelligence, which
aggregates travel and expense data from nearly all sources so companies can
make smarter decisions about that spending.
“I think what we’ll be doing is talking into your phone or
something, ‘Hey Siri I need go to Chicago’ – it will do the entire booking for you. And at
that point we might be able to get pretty close to 100% compliance.”
But integrating more automation and personalization relies on storage
of a traveler profile so that requires strategies around privacy.
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“And who owns my traveler profile and where is it located? Is it
located within the agency, is it located within the online booking tool, within
an independent supplier, within my own company network and how do I give access
to this profile?” Van Velzen says.
“In consumer programs it’s relatively simple because it’s a one-time
transaction. But in business travel because you repeatedly use that same profile
it becomes a very important piece of data and therefore how you handle privacy
and security is a very big thing."
Issues such as they are top of mind for business travel
innovators. Once – not if – they are solved, expect to see many new ways for business
travelers to book - and for companies to manage - their travel.
“It will be a very hybrid way of all channels. Anything you as an
employee wants to choose, please choose it,” Van Velzen says.
“There is only one thing – please get the data back into the
mothership. Because in this way we know where you are, and we can optimize the purchasing
and the experience for all of our employees.”