Not to put too fine a point on it, but both business travel and the role of the travel manager 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 Evolution of Travel Program Technology – newly released research by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and made possible by FCM — explores how technology has impacted the travel manager’s role, the traveler experience, and the TMC business.
During the pandemic, digitalization and the use of technology accelerated as travellers were driven online, experiencing contactless and touchless travel.
But surprisingly, the new 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-COVID environment.
Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA, observes that: “The role of the corporate travel manager changed significantly as a result of the pandemic, elevating the position as companies navigated unprecedented challenges.”
Neufang continued: “Given the fast pace of change, technology has played a vital role in ensuring the efficiency of travel programs. Keeping updated and communicating with travellers has taken on renewed urgency for companies, and travel managers looking to their travel management company (TMC) to advise on innovative ways to manage travel programs effectively while keeping travellers safe,”
Marcus Eklund, Global Managing Director, FCM, points out that: “The rapid pace of technological innovation presents tremendous opportunities for travel managers and managed travel programs as we return to business travel. Travel managers cite technology as the most important factor when selecting a TMC.”
Eklund notes that: “The study also showed that on average nine in ten global travel managers say a consistent technology experience is of utmost importance. It is essential TMCs be at the forefront of technological advancements to advise travel managers, and help solve corporate global travel challenges.”
Highlights of the study include:
- 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 programs (96%) use an online booking tool (OBT), and as such is the most popular technology component of a travel program. 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 program components.
- Few travel programs use their online booking tool 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 (4%) or is configured to exclude less sustainable options from search results (2%). 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 traveller questions or help them make bookings. Despite strong interest, chatbots are largely not a reality for most travel programs. Fewer than half say their TMC app includes a chatbot that can answer traveler questions (44%) or can help travelers 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 manager’s 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 program 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.
This survey was conducted from Feb. 14 to March 21, 2022, by GBTA with responses from 309 travel managers based in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia Pacific.