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Posted August 13, 2018

AI business travel

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In a world where Google alerts us to traffic jams and Netflix lets us know when a show we might like has been added, we’ve already come to rely on artificial intelligence (AI) to make our lives easier and more enriching. Each week sees a new advancement, as digital assistants such as Google Home and Alexa continue to get smarter, and we rely more on the convenience provided by new technology.

The corporate travel sector is one area where AI has a large amount of potential, though much of it unrealized at this point. Many companies are looking into the future and imagining how AI could transform corporate travel and solve two of the biggest issues on the minds of travel managers: policy compliance and duty of care.

Policy compliance continues to be a major issue for travel managers. A high rate of compliance ensures visibility into how employees are traveling, control over costs, and the ability to make informed decisions about future sourcing. It also helps corporate travel managers fulfill their duty of care obligations, allowing them to track where employees are and help them if they are in danger.

As we all know, employees often don’t follow these travel policies. Only half of employees book through their online booking channel and more than half have booked outside their company’s official channel at least once in the last year. Why? Because it’s easier and quicker to do it themselves, and they get exactly what they want. If AI could help corporate travel managers make the booking experience just as easy, or even more so, the compliance issue disappears.

The HRS Innovation Hub is one company working on this issue. HRS believes that data about traveler preferences can accurately predict what a traveler at a certain company will want, without having to ask. This aggregated data is pulled from company travel info as well as that of other similar companies, so the traveler himself does not need to indicate their preferences – the AI will already know it. Based on this, the online booking can deliver the three best hotels for the traveler to choose from, eliminating frustrating searches in the booking tool and increasing conversation through the preferred channel.

Booking Holdings (formally Priceline Group) CEO Glenn Fogel expanded on that vision of the future, with AI making the travel experience completely seamless. Fogel imagines a system where if your flight was cancelled, you’d automatically be booked on the most convenient flight, and all other services would be adjusted according to your new arrival time, from car services to restaurant reservations to hotel bookings.

Beyond providing a convenient travel experience, the other clear way AI could solve a common corporate travel problem is through tracking traveler locations. It’s the responsibility of the travel management company to provide duty of care – ensuring they know where employees are and can help them. Yet a recent study showed that of the 53% of travelers who were near a major event during business travel, 41% of them were never contacted by their company.  Geolocation services already exist in our personal lives, and adapting this technology to meet the needs of corporate travel seems like an obvious next step.

As with any innovation, there are challenges to adoption. First, though travelers want convenience more than anything, they also want to make their own choices. The technology will need to be proven as to whether it can actually predict preferences accurately before consumers get on board. And while consumers are quickly adapting to chat bots, when an emergency arises, 50% of people want to talk to a human. Finding the right balance between human interaction and AI is critical.

And, of course, privacy concerns are on the top of everyone’s minds, and hinder the widespread adoption of some technologies such as digital assistants. While consumers at home can safely use their Google Home or Alexa, on the move is a different story. With the current technology, there are countless opportunities for fraudsters to access sensitive data or commit fraud.

The seamless travel experience described by Glenn Fogel, if possible at all, is years away. But the future is coming, and with it, comes huge potential for finally transforming corporate travel into a positive experience for both the travel and the travel manager.

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Bill Cooper (Coop)

Since joining WEX in 1997, Bill Cooper (Coop) has helped WEX create an industry leading go-to-market engine in our Fleet and Heavy Truck lines of business. Coop joined our Corporate Payments line of business in 2018, bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge and a unique skillset having led the successful integration of one of our largest acquisition. Coop leads our Enterprise Account Sales team for North America, this team of consultative professionals work with travel, insurance, media and healthcare businesses to simplify processes in complex payment environments.


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