Corporate travel: Striking the balance between tech and the human touch

The world of corporate travel is dynamic, and poised for continuous growth and expansion.

More people are venturing around the world in pursuit of not only personal development, but professional too, viewing travel as a vehicle for self-empowerment, career advancement and business success.

In fact, WorldBank suggests that international travel departures have more than doubled in the last decade, from roughly 600 million to 1.3 billion.

Despite the rise in digital tools that allow for easy, global communication, the value of face-to-face meetings is still holding true. In-person meetings help to grow and foster professional relationships and ultimately help to grow businesses. However, this has also added increased pressure on procurement professionals. To relieve some of the burden and support them in their roles, those responsible for corporate travel are turning to technology. 

Aside from the benefits that implementing technologies such as AI, chatbots and the Internet of Things (IoT) can bring to the corporate travel industry, as with many industries, there is still the need for a balance between technology and the human touch.

Personalisation is key 

AI is firmly leaving its mark on a wide range of industries, and corporate travel is no exception. Now embedded in nearly every part of the travel process, from booking to the trip itself, AI and machine learning technologies can support travellers in organising their trip, seamlessly recommending preferred flights, accommodation and services based on their location. 

With masses of data now available to us, AI is being used to process much of it seamlessly and provide insights to the user. For instance, if a traveller is on a flight that’s been delayed, meaning they will miss their connecting flight, AI can take control of the situation. While the traveller is in mid-air, AI can be used to automate the handling of a flight delay by accurately predicting what alternative flight the traveler would choose. Once landed, they’ll receive an alert updating them on the situation, relieving them of all the stress and pressure that comes from disrupted travel.

Above all, AI has the power to make the whole process more personalised and tailor offerings to each individual traveller. For instance, when booking travel, the most used flights and hotels are often front and centre and visibility into logistics is enhanced. This means whole trips can be booked in minutes, as opposed to hours. AI also helps support agents to sort problems more efficiently as their insights are more personalised. This means there is considerably less back and forth when adjusting bookings as the travellers preferences will already be noted, helping to foster the relationship between the traveller and booking platform.  

How reliable are chatbots? 

Chatbots have undoubtedly revolutionised the corporate travel industry. As technology made its way into all aspects of our everyday lives and as consumers became more demanding, travel companies met the demands of the new-age traveller by adopting technologies such as digital assistants. Their popularity is only set to grow, as according to Salesforce, the use of chatbots in travel, transportation and hospitality is expected to increase 241% by mid-2020. 

In the travel industry, chatbots have the potential to deliver a user-friendly, consistent and intuitive solution that can make travelling more efficient. For instance, when it comes to booking travel, chatbots are able to respond to basic queries almost instantaneously, and passing off scenarios that require human intervention In this way, they are complementing the human touch, not replacing it, freeing up humans from lower value, easily automated tasks, for higher value interactions with travellers.

The possibilities of IoT 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the way we send and receive information, and the way we conduct our personal and professional lives. As consumers and professionals we are demanding end-to-end experiences where processes are simplified, making our busy, overworked lives easier. When it comes to corporate travel, IoT has huge potential, with companies at every stage of the travel experience investing in IoT technologies. For instance, in hotels the check-in process can be simplified, with hotels sending electronic key cards to guests’ phones. Once used, the traveller is checked in, skipping the check in queue at the front desk. Even in airports, sensors can send information to a traveller’s phone, alerting them where their baggage is once they’ve reached the baggage hall. 

With the ability to link together the fragmented pieces of the corporate travel experience, from booking the trip to real-time customer service, IoT promises to improve traveller comfort, safety and experience.

Nothing beats human interaction 

Despite the abundance of positives technology has brought to the world of corporate travel, the demand for a “return to humanity” has been a growing theme among business travellers. They are beginning to tire of robotic customer service operators and longing for a human connection. Even those travellers, dubbed the ‘early adopters, avid and demanding travellers’ who are most likely to engage with the latest technology, likely still want help from a person when a serious issue arises. 

In fact, TripActions’ recent Business Travel Report revealed that 70% of travellers have felt like they had to fend for themselves when something went wrong while travelling. Even if an hour away from home or the other side of the world, when a problem arises, it’s reassuring to know that someone – a real, live human – is there for you should you need them. Where a chabot lacks the ability to take control of a situation. For instance, a person can call an airline or hotel with a query about a booking, whereas a chabot can convey the message that this has been done.  

The blend of technology and the human touch 

The benefits that technology brings the corporate travel industry are undeniable, but the organisations retaining the most satisfied customers are the ones that know when it’s ok to provide automation and when to provide help from a real-life human being. There’s a fine line between balancing the two, but when it comes to corporate travel, one shouldn’t exist without the other. 

About the Author

Ilan Twig is CTO at TripActions. We believe being there in person is powerful. It enables employees to build relationships, close deals and drive growth. Fast becoming the default for corporate travel, TripActions is the modern business travel platform that combines the latest AI-driven technologies with unrivalled inventory choice and global 24×7 365 live human support to delight employees, finance leaders and travel managers alike—all while empowering organizations to seize travel as a strategic lever for growth.

Featured image: ©Miki Studio