Business travel and the role of the travel manager have both changed significantly during the pandemic. As business travel returns, many are questioning what changes will become permanent, and how the industry will continue to evolve to navigate new headwinds including inflation, Covid-19 infection spikes, and the threat of further travel disruptions.
The research study recently released by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and FCM, The Evolution of Travel Program Technology, explores how technology has impacted the travel manager’s role, the traveller experience, and the travel management company (TMC) business.
During the pandemic, digitalisation and the use of technology accelerated as travellers were driven online, experiencing contactless and touchless travel.
But surprisingly, this research now shows that two in five travel managers cite technology as one of their top pain points, highlighting that there is still work to be done in achieving the right balance.
As companies return to travel and update their travel policies, many are using this opportunity to reassess supplier relationships and technology requirements for the post-lockdown environment.
“Keeping updated and communicating with travellers has taken on renewed urgency for companies, and travel managers looking to their TMCs to advise on innovative ways to manage travel programmes effectively while keeping travellers safe.
“The rapid pace of technological innovation presents tremendous opportunities for travel managers and managed travel programmes as we return to business travel. Travel managers cite technology as the most important factor when selecting a TMC,” said Marcus Eklund, global managing director, FCM.
“The study also showed that on average nine in 10 global travel managers say a consistent technology experience is of utmost importance. It’s essential TMCs be at the forefront of technological advancements to advise travel managers and help solve corporate global travel challenges.”
Here are other key highlights from the study:
Technology is the most important factor when travel managers select a TMC, ahead of costs/fees and account management quality and support. Three in five (59%) travel managers include technology as one of the most important factors when selecting a TMC. However, two in five respondents (42%) include technology as one of the top pain points of their primary TMC.
Almost all travel programmes (96%) use an online booking tool (OBT), and as such, is the most popular technology component of a travel programme. However, other technology solutions are less frequent including reporting dashboards, TMC mobile apps, re-shopping tools and single-use virtual payments to name a few. This suggests many travel managers might largely associate travel technology almost exclusively with OBTs and thus, might be unaware of other solutions that can create efficiencies and streamline travel programme components.
Few travel programmes use their OBT to promote sustainability. Fewer than half say their OBT shows carbon emissions in search results (44%) or displays lower emission flights higher in search results (10%), provides sustainability messaging (four per cent) or is configured to exclude less sustainable options from search results (two per cent). However, a decent number of travel managers are interested in configuring their OBT to do these things. These practices will likely become more common as sustainability concerns grow, OBTs design key features and travel managers learn more about them.
There is widespread interest in chatbots. Seven in 10 travel managers are interested in artificial intelligence-enabled chat. These chatbots can answer travellers questions or help them make bookings. Despite the strong interest, chatbots are largely not a reality for most travel programmes. Fewer than half say their TMC app includes a chatbot that can answer traveller questions (44%) or can help travellers make bookings (29%).
Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to dramatically transform how travel programs operate. Travel Managers are widely interested in using AI to enhance reporting (87%), data cleansing (82%), personalization of search results (78%), and auditing of expense reports (62%).
Travel managers’ understanding of the New Distribution Capability (NDC) is mixed, with many being largely uninitiated with the XML-based data transmission standard. One-third (30%) say they know “some but have more to learn,” while one in five say they know “virtually nothing” or only “a little” about NDC (20% each). While one in five (21%) travel managers report their programme offers NDC content through their TMC/OBT, a third (34%) are unaware if their TMC/OBT offers NDC content – suggesting NDC is not top of mind among many travel managers.