On-point personalization, smart digital wallets, always-on assistance, automatic expensing and strategic loyalty alliances are just a few of the functionalities travel management companies and others want to bring to the market to improve the travel experience.
Many of these travel innovations are functionalities Travel and Transport already has in place or is looking to add. With the customer firmly at the center of our operations and innovation strategy, we are constantly looking for ways to make travel a pleasant experience. This is particularly true for road warriors – business travelers who are frequently on the road for work.
We caught up with Chief Innovation Officer Thomas Chermack to discuss travel innovation trends and how Travel and Transport is pushing the boundaries of business travel to create efficiencies for customers.
What travel innovation trends do you see in the year ahead?
“We have a role to play in making the automated recovery efforts that currently exist more predictive. Airlines, for example, can only cover so much. Travel management companies have the holistic reservation picture. When issues like snow storms, cancellations and other interruptions disrupt travel plans, we can find ways to automate service recovery of hotel and car rental reservations. There are instances where we are able to anticipate and eliminate disruptions before they occur. We can identify and book alternative options that are aligned both with traveler behavior and company travel policy. I think this is a practical, yet powerful way we can make the road warrior’s journey easier through innovation.
“I also see more robust chatbot functionality coming our way. People talk a lot about chat functionality. Today, it tends to be a hybrid of human service and automation.
“Down the road, some may choose to offer full reservation and booking capability through chatbots. We think the ideal application of machine learning and AI-powered chat functionality will remain a hybrid model, just more efficient than its current form.
“Originating a booking from beginning to end via chat sounds great, but we’re finding multiple legs, limos, concierge services and other travel realities can be too time consuming to execute over chat and too costly to support. Innovation must be applied to make chatbots intelligent enough to recognize panic and jump to human support quickly.”
What is Travel and Transport doing that is unique or that pushes the boundaries of business travel?
“Our BARTT platform for travel advisors is an example of the investment we make into supporting travelers. That distinction differentiates us from other travel management companies. The platform enables our travel advisors to help our customers improve the travel experience for road warriors in simple, yet unique ways.
“When a traveler calls, we know so much more than just their name. We know where they prefer to stay and why, and can anticipate their preferences because our platform gives our advisors insight into their actual behavior. We bring conveniences like automated online check-in and keyless check-in while keeping travelers in compliance with stated travel policy.
“Beyond that, we’re constantly developing APIs to help us consume what our partners are developing, and bring them to our customers so they can benefit from those innovations.”
What are startups bringing to the table and how does Travel and Transport capitalize on their innovation for business travelers?
“We are closely watching a lot of companies. There are many established online booking partners and reporting systems out there. We see a lot of booking tools that are almost ready for prime time in the North American market. In the next year or two, we see a modern interface coming to market.
“A recurring complaint we’ve received over the years, particularly from those who frequently travel for business, is that corporate booking tools could really improve from a user experience and user interface standpoint. We are beginning to see startups develop innovative technologies that alleviate those inconsistencies and improve the overall travel experience from start to finish for road warriors.
“The travel industry is just beginning to adopt full cloud-forward based capabilities. While corporate travel booking has not kept up with the consumer market, we’re seeing startups narrow the gap with technology that addresses the complexity inherent to corporate travel reservation, security and privacy needs.”
Many of the trends discussed broadly across the travel industry seem like things Travel and Transport is already doing. What about the corporate culture here makes that true?
“One of the things we do uniquely in terms of our approach to innovation is the convergence we bring to travelers. We are constantly improving the synergy between our portal and mobile environments to make it seamless for road warriors.
“Within the travel industry, the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence can sometimes be overstated.
“It is often spoken of as powering virtual reservations and travel assistance. In reality, it’s still a young technology within the travel industry, and its implementation isn’t as advanced as some think.
“However, at Travel and Transport, we learn road warriors’ actual behavior and give our advisors visibility into where it differs from their stated preferences. This enables us to deliver more satisfying service.
“Additionally, we are always working to bring greater integration across our chat, mobile, email and telephony systems so we can anticipate travelers’ preferences at every turn. Particularly for frequent business travelers, it’s critical to make last-minute or unanticipated changes to itineraries and travel plans quickly. We try to make it as simple, fast and easy as possible for them to do so on whatever method is most convenient for them.
“Because the customer is at the center of our corporate culture, we view travel innovation, including technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence, as means to enhancing the travel experience for road warriors and helping companies meet their travel program goals.”
Have a specific travel innovation question? Contact us now to discuss your travel program goals.