Business travel is changing, technology needs to keep up

Joanne Sully of American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) shares more about the changing technology needs of today's business travellers, and how TMCs can meet their needs head-on.


Corporate travel can be a complex industry. Managing traveller preferences, as well as duty of care obligations, can be an arduous task for companies, which is where travel management companies (TMCs) can add value.

Many business travellers acknowledge that efficient booking processes and easy-to-use tools for communicating with their employers while travelling, are assets that support seamless and productive business journeys. The corporate travel world has transformed in recent years, and technology is expected to play as much of a part in the experience as it does in leisure travel, however I believe we’re still only starting to scratch the surface of where this will take us.

Because of the complexities of the corporate travel industry, it’s been a constant challenge for innovations in technology to keep pace with the leisure sector.

In our 2018 Traveller 360° research report we found that 74% of business travellers said their company had an online system or app for booking travel, with 65% reporting this as being easy to use. The changing needs of the business traveller present an opportunity for TMCs in meeting these needs and expectations throughout their journey, driving innovation.

As well as expectations of a consumer-grade experience when using their corporate Online Booking Tool (OBT), business travellers want mobile access to manage their travel. The level of smartphone adoption in Asia-Pacific is fast dictating the need for travel companies to provide advanced mobile capabilities. We identified this need and are now providing real-time live chat functionality, via the Amex GBT Mobile TM app. This enables travellers to pick up and continue a chat conversation even if they close their app to attend to a call or a meeting.

Technology is hugely important when it comes to travel disruptions. One-in-five travellers reported rescheduling or postponing a business trip due to travel safety concerns and in these instances technology such as live chat can offer immediate support and reassurance.

A 2018 GlobalData report listed the six technology trends for the travel industry as Augmented and Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things, Voice Technology, Wi-Fi connectivity and wearable devices.

AI is particularly interesting as a driver in the evolution of business travel as it is increasingly enabling more personalised services for travellers. While AI is in early stages, we are already using it for trip recommendations in our proprietary online booking tool Neo. This tool analyses travellers’ previous behaviour, also taking into account both patterns of similar travellers and company policy, to make predictive recommendations when our travellers are booking online. TMCs need to continue to invest in this technology until we reach a true point of seamless automation.

AI can help to minimise laborious manual processes, for instance through our Hotel Re-Shop Expert and Air Re-Shop Expert technology, we can automate the constant monitoring of air fares and hotel rates following a booking and trigger a rebooking when a like-for-like booking becomes available at a lower rate or fare.

As the corporate travel industry continues down the path of digitisation, the most important thing is for companies to listen to traveller feedback on what they need to reduce the stress of the business journey. In our 2018 traveller survey, the top words used by many business travellers coming home from a trip were “relief” to be home and “exhausted”. We strive to help travellers be present both physically and mentally so they achieve more optimal business results.

Joanne Sully is the vice-president & regional general manager, Australia, New Zealand & Southeast Asia, of American Express GBT. She is responsible for developing strategies for Australia and South-east Asia, and is leading efforts to drive business growth and performance while managing the Australia and South-east Asia GBT team, encompassing approximately 500 people.

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