Corporate travel, at least until recently, has not been known for its innovative technology. While the leisure travel industry has rapidly evolved to make booking travel easy and seamless, corporate travel has lagged behind. As the travel technology gap continues to widen, the result has been that business travelers skirt the established rules and tools of their corporate travel departments and simply book their own travel online. Corporate travel managers pay the price – losing visibility and control, and having less and less insight into where their employees are and how much they’re spending.
The problem is well-known and industry-wide. According to GBTA Foundation survey, nearly 40% of business travelers regularly book their own travel. A study by MMGY Global places the percentage much higher, at 69%. This resistance to using travel agents, call centers and corporate travel departments shows a greater need for self-service and control, especially for frequent travelers. Employees are accustomed to booking their own leisure travel – finding the best fares, the best routes, and the amenities they prefer – and they have a hard time relinquishing that control when they travel for business.
The solution, of course, is to provide employees what they want. If corporate travel tools were as easy as leisure travel tools, or even provided additional benefits, compliance will increase, cost savings will occur, and duty of care obligations will be met. The question remains – what can the industry do to actually make these changes, and to improve their employees’ travel experiences?
Improved OBT Interfaces
Corporate online booking tools (OBTs) provide many benefits to travel managers, such as increased compliance with travel policies, and better utilization of preferred vendors. Of course, they also provide the necessary data on where employees are and how much they’re spending. However, many employees are not happy with their current OBT. According to research from the Global Business Travel Association, only 36% of travelers reported being very satisfied with their OBT.
Many OBTs are recognizing that this dissatisfaction is a problem and are making changes to improve the user interfaces of their tools. Concur and American Express Business Travel have made recent technology acquisitions to improve their travel technology and improve the customer experience. This consolidation and talent acquisition is likely to continue as the industry strives to meet the needs of business travelers.
Business travelers, like consumers in virtually every industry, are demanding mobile access. They want and expect to book their travel on their smartphone, to make changes on the fly, and even to pay for purchases. Apps such as the MyCoPilot app for the aviation industry, give them mobile access and increased functionality. MyCoPilot allows pilots to pay for purchases with their smartphone using an automatically generated virtual card number, which reduces the need for them to carry an individual corporate card, and also reduces the risk of fraud. Receipts can also be captured on the app so employees don’t need to save paper receipts for expense purposes. This technology makes it easier both for the traveler, the travel manager, and the accounting department.
Leisure Travel Vendors
While business travelers no doubt value cost-savings, especially on the company’s dime, they have other things on their minds as well. For frequent travelers, convenience is at the top of the list. For this reason, they are apt to use services such Uber or Lyft rather than hoping to find a taxi when they’re racing to an early morning business meeting. These companies recognize this need and now offer business travel solutions that provide enhanced tracking and can even integrate with existing systems. According to the GBTA Foundation, ride-sharing services are now allowed by one-half of corporate travel policies worldwide. This trend also spills into lodging, with Airbnb becoming a popular alternative to business hotels.
These three trends have one thing in common: They improve the experience for the business traveler. Satisfied business travelers are more apt to be compliant with travel policies, and they’re also more likely to be long-term employees. Improving the technology of corporate travel tools is a win-win for everyone. And while an all-in-one solution remains elusive, successful travel managers are finding many innovative ways they can use technology to enhance the experience of their employees. As with leisure travel, technology evolves every day and new solutions are constantly being developed. Savvy corporate travel managers understand the need to stay flexible, be open to new technologies, and to partner with existing vendors who can provide the data needed to get the big picture on employee travel.