By Wendy White, vice president, marketing
I’ve been a business traveller for longer than I care to admit. Let’s just say I took business trips when you needed a paper ticket, complete with red carbon paper backing, to board a plane. A lot has changed since then. Some aspects of business travel have grown a bit more stressful. At the same time, advances in data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) have led to improvements that would have been hard to imagine even a few years ago.
Travel as more than business process
I’ve seen a fundamental shift in the way corporations view the travel experience. There was a time when there was business and then there was travel for business. The two never intersected. Travel took you to where you did the business. That is less and less the case now.
To improve the business travel experience, it helps to look at travel as part of a business process. Travel is really just one more operational element required to make the business succeed. Non-stop connectivity contributes to this new perspective. Answering an email from a plane is still, well, answering an email. I’m a living, breathing business process element. Moving my body from Seattle to London is a step in a business process workflow.
That said, the business-trip-as-business-process could do with some optimisation. Like all business processes, there is always room for improvement. The more efficiently I can get to London, the more streamlined and successful the process will be. This is where AI can shine. Making travel an integral part of business success is also a matter of culture, as recent research from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services shows. The report, “Travel culture: Your competitive advantage in a global market”, reveals that more than half of business leaders feel that having a strong travel culture is very important to their organisations’ business performance today. Companies with a strong travel culture have twice the rate of improvement in key areas of performance compared to businesses with weak travel cultures. The divergence became apparent in customer loyalty and retention (50 percent versus 21 percent), market share (43 percent versus 22 percent) and employee satisfaction (35 percent versus 15 percent).
Understanding the role of data in corporate travel
Data analysis in travel is nothing new, but advances in data science are having a transformative effect on the industry and an individual traveller's experience. Data science and AI are the mechanisms that make it possible to improve the business-trip-as-business-process. Predictive analytics is one example. By examining a variety of data streams from my travel history, for example, predictive analytics could anticipate a problem I might have on a trip before I even take off. AI uses machine learning (ML) to let our travel management platform continuously learn about me and get better at delivering a good travel experience for me.
Putting data science to work in business travel
The data science that delivers AI, ML and predictive analytics is changing the corporate travel experience. It enables an optimal business-trip-as-business-process. At a high level, this works through the capacity to personalise the travel experience.
Our travel platform can now tailor business trips to my preferences. Based on my travel history, peer reviews, data about my company and more, the travel management platform can help me do my best work on the road while staying compliant with travel policies. In specific terms, I see AI and related technologies help with travel planning and organisation, getting the small but important details right and keeping me safe so that I’m not worried and can enjoy some downtime after hours. I can also report the business results of my trip more effectively.
Making planning and organisation easier
Planning a business trip and getting organised for it can be time-consuming. The personalisation possible with AI and ML eases the planning and organising processes. For example, the platform knows what I want from my previous history and the other data streams it consumes. It will suggest a hotel I will probably like, a car rental company that my peers say is reliable and so forth. A travel platform that uses AI and ML can also help with seemingly minor things that actually contribute to exhaustion and stress on a trip – like airport shuttles and knowing where to eat.
On the ground
There are few things more exhausting than arriving in a foreign country and immediately getting stuck in a traffic jam. AI-based travel tools mitigate this hassle by helping you navigate on the ground. This is still a little more in the future than the present, but with GPS-to-GPS communications and real-time analysis of traffic, for example, you can be directed around traffic even if you have no idea where you are. AI in travel apps can also help you use public transport. In some countries, this is vastly preferable to getting around in a car.
As a woman who often travels alone, safety is a high priority. However, it can be challenging to stay safe (and feel safe) in a foreign country where you don’t know public norms or who you can trust. For example, in some countries, you really need to know which car services are trustworthy. AI helps with safety by aggregating data from other travellers and various other sources to present a quick, clear summary of what’s what. It’s possible to do all your safety research by hand, but who has the time? AI makes it available instantly.
Focusing on you
When you travel at the company’s cost, you’re there for them. However, as we all know, you won’t work well if you’re a wreck. In my experience on the road, it’s definitely worth enjoying a little personal time when the workday ends. AI and personalisation contribute to a positive experience in this department as well. For example, I can get suggestions for activities and dining options based on my personal preferences and the location. In some cases, an AI-powered travel personalisation tool will leverage your device’s Bluetooth to identify enjoyable, restorative things to do that are nearby.
Maintaining an open loop of travel data
Reporting on the results of your business-trip-as-business-process is an integral part of optimising the process. Good data reporting, which is built into all travel platforms now, is part of this. Developments in data science take it further, making it easier for you to assess how your travel contributed to the business. The data can tell your managers, in effect, “I went to London. It cost £2,500, but we earned £850,000 — and the trip cost 5 percent less than the average employee trip to London”.
You can also socialise your business travel experience by tweeting during trips and the like. This isn’t for fun. Your social posts contribute unstructured data to the travel AI equation. If you tweet, “I was sick after eating here ;( #sickontheroad”, that data point will contribute to your colleagues’ business-trips-as-business-processes.
Data science, AI and ML are having an impact on business travel, especially through the power of personalisation. It’s still somewhat early in the evolution of these capabilities, but there are already very promising results. Read more to learn more about how Egencia is putting AI and ML to work in personalisation of business travel.