WEX Findings Mirror State of Disruptive Technology in Travel

Travel TechnologyThe results of WEX’s first Payments Pulse Survey are in! Designed to identify payment processing practices and views on disruptive technologies, the survey of 500 US CFOs “confirmed what we thought and what we’re hearing from customers,” said Jim Pratt, Senior Vice President, Global Sales & Marketing, Corporate Payments.

Pratt acknowledges there were some surprises. “The entities seen as most likely to innovate were payment processing companies, like WEX.” He adds that the criteria found to influence payment platform selection weren’t unexpected, but “user experience” coming in on top, at 70%, was.

The CFOs were also asked about disruptive technology. Some of the survey’s key findings were:

  • 50% expect blockchain technology to change how their accounts payable operate
  • 44% believe it will allow their business to scale more quickly and internationally
  • 55% feel mobile capabilities to manage and approve payments are very important to their business over the next 2 years and the same percentage cite mobile payments as very important
  • 40% see artificial intelligence (AI) as very important and 37% rank augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) as very important

What do these technologies mean for the travel industry?

Blockchain

“Blockchain is potentially not just evolutionary,” said Pratt, “but a disruptive technology. Blockchain is an enabler in much the same way the Internet is an enabler. So, it’s the applications and functionality built on top of blockchain that will be the disruptors.”

In “Beyond the Buzz: The Potential of Blockchain Technology for Airlines” Accenture Consulting explains that the travel industry is well suited for this technology because “a web of complex and seemingly endless data reconciliation is happening behind the scenes of every touchpoint of every traveler’s trip.”

The TUI Group  is testing the technology’s ability to better manage hotel inventory by adding their “smart contracts” to a blockchain. As Patrick Whyte wrote this summer for Skift, “TUI plans to put its full inventory onto the blockchain and then connect this up to the purchasing and property management systems.”

Mobile payments

The technology behind mobile payments is maturing. Security issues have been reduced, and it’s easier for businesses to implement, which is why consumers expect to be able to do it all–from browsing to buying—on their mobile devices. Estimates are that US mobile payments reached $27 billion last year, nearly triple the 2015 total.

Just like they do with other purchases, customers want a seamless mobile experience when making their travel plans. This benefits travel operators because research has shown that when it’s easy to make mobile payments purchase decisions are faster and upselling increases as does brand loyalty.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

AI is here in travel, and it needs considerable data for accurate predictions and recommendation. That’s one reason many companies begin with search and chat functions. Greg Oates notes in Skift’s 2017 Megatrends “there’s still a long way to go before AI and human-machine interfaces truly transform travel research and the user experience across a broad spectrum of brands. ”

Hello Hipmunk, Hipmunk’s virtual travel assistant uses AI to answer travelers’ questions early in the planning process. “Rather than just providing flight and accommodation options when asked about specific dates and destinations,” said Adam Goldstein, CEO and co-founder, “we can give advice and recommendations and respond to questions like, ‘What’s the best time to go to Cancun from Chicago?’”

Augmented reality & virtual reality (AR & VR)

Giselle Abramovich recently reported on Adobe’s cmo.com that “new analysis of 321 million social engagements by Adobe Digital Insights (ADI) has found at least eight of the largest hotels have tested some kind of VR experience during the past six months.” ADI also found a 13% year-over-year increase in social mentions for travel and AR/VR.

An indoor navigation system at Gatwick Airport is a “first of it’s kind” AR application for airports. As International Airport Review explains, “passengers can be shown directions in the camera view of their mobile device, making it easier for them to find check in areas, departure gates, baggage belts etc.” The system opens up the possibility of other “real-time services” from airlines and airport retailers.

And traditional travel agents are quickly adopting these new technologies too.  This past spring, Bradley Gerrard wrote for The Telegraph, “the whole industry is embracing digital technology, making travel agents’ shops more interactive.” One example he cited are the Thomas Cook’s “Discovery” stores, which offer customers VR headsets so they can experience hotels and other aspects of their potential trip.

These disruptive technologies and their current applications are likely just the beginning. And they certainly present challenges for companies looking to determine how best to take advantage of the opportunities they present for their brand and their customers. Who knows where it will lead?