Last month I attended the annual Business Travel Show (BTS), Europe’s largest travel event where major brands in the travel supply chain (Hotels, Airlines, Technology Companies, Travel Buyers, TMCs and OTAs) showcase their expertise and exhibit innovative solutions. This year, there was a clear focus on the importance of providing an excellent customer experience for business travellers.
Three areas that came up repeatedly by various speakers throughout the event included:
- The importance of personalisation strategies
- Harnessing technology: ‘using digital to treat consumers differently’
- The growth of ground transportation in corporate travel
Creating a personalised experience leads to satisfied consumers that feel as though their needs and wants have been both recognised and fulfilled, and in turn can help drive brand loyalty. Business travellers are consumers first and foremost. KAE previously discussed the convergence of customer expectations from the B2C to the B2B space, and the same goes for customer experience in the travel sector. As consumers are experiencing better customer experience in personal travel, these expectations are carried over to business travel. As a result, there is an ever-growing demand for personalised and seamless business travel. In response, travel brands should ensure they have a personalisation strategy in place as part of their wider customer experience strategy.
Personalisation strategies are a major talking point for marketing professionals, but what does personalisation look like in business travel? It can be as simple as a business traveller having an App and not having to re-enter information multiple times. Consumers are now used to having websites saving their preferences, such as Netflix knowing our favourite shows and recommending similar series, and in business travel this could translate to knowing most frequent destinations and preferred hotels so new employees can easily book their business travel with more relevant options. Another area of growth which travel experts expect to see more of in the near future is creating a web or App-based portal for corporations to manage all their business travel and various suppliers in a ‘one-stop-shop’ environment.
Various talks at the BTS suggested that travel companies could be better utilising their customer data to increase personalisation, such as using it to understand traveller needs and well-being. An example of this is Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), a travel management company (TMC) which says granular data is essential to successful personalisation. CWT’s data on its corporate travellers are termed ‘smart profiles’ and includes specific data on a traveller’s previous itineraries, App usage, what time they prefer to eat on a long-haul flight, etc.
Technology providers reiterated that this data should not be looked at in isolation but should be objective-driven and empowering. One example from the BTS is data from travel buyers on price comparison sites. Marketeers are aware that users of comparison sites need a slight marketing push to get them close to the sale, so personalising that marketing can be extremely valuable. The speaker suggested offering the travel buyer a value-add service in conjunction with the offer they were browsing, for example arranging a taxi service from the airport to their hotel to proactively ease any potential painpoints in the booking journey.
A segment where there is opportunity for more personalisation in business travel is millennials, a demographic which are increasingly booking ‘bleisure’ trips (‘bleisure’ is an extension of a business trip for personal vacation). According to recent statistics¹, 57% of companies have a policy in place for employees aged 20-30 to extend business trips with vacation time. TMCs, OTAs, and other travel companies have an opportunity to differentiate themselves by offering assistance with managing a bleisure trip.
Providers did not shy away from the topic of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) when discussing customer data – most were in agreement that it will require substantial investment of time and resources, but good GDPR compliance could also be a competitive edge for travel companies in the near future.
Technology has already transformed the travel industry, but to remain competitive providers now need to go beyond mobile bookings and basic chat bots embedded in messaging systems. There are many start-ups and more established brands in the travel space aiming to remove the friction in the planning and booking process, for example having the ability to text smart virtual assistants rather than visiting numerous travel websites.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a tech phenomenon helping increase the degree of personalisation. Amazon’s home device, Alexa, has propelled AI into the spotlight, and while some travel companies are still experimenting with AI, Amazon recently partnered with Concur to enable business travellers to ask Alexa about their upcoming business trips. Concur business travellers can now ask Alexa questions including “Do I have a car booked?” and “What is my flight number?”. Amazon is an example of a brand aiming to create a more frictionless customer journey for business travellers.
A recent report² stated that travel companies must first envision the customer experience they want to deliver prior to exploring the technology options best suited to support their goals. The BTS echoed this perspective, with speakers inferring that investment into technology should be in line with personalisation strategies to truly be impactful to customers.
Growth in Ground Transportation
Sharing economy brands, including Airbnb and Uber, have witnessed year-on-year growth in popularity thanks to lower prices and greater convenience, in turn making the customer experience more positive and seamless. Uber and Lyft have disrupted the taxi industry, in both personal and corporate environments. Uber claimed 9% of all expenses and receipts processed in 2017 by Certify³ (a cloud-based T&E report management solution), a figure 6% higher than Starbucks which was the second most popular brand with corporate travellers. While Uber was a market leader in ground transportation in 2017 expense count, Certify’s T&E data³ also indicates that ground transportation is gaining traction with corporate travellers faster than other innovations of the sharing economy age, including Airbnb which has experienced strong B2B growth.
It is not surprising that business travellers are using the same brands they use for their personal travel, as mentioned previously we are living in an era where there is a continuation of blurred lines between B2C and B2B experiences and expectations. What is surprising is that the BTS revealed that the majority (55%) of travel programme managers at corporations do not have a defined taxi expense policy in place. Growth in ground transportation shows no signs of slowing down and it is suggested that travel companies still have not leveraged all the opportunities it offers.
What can we expect next in business travel?
In conclusion, while customer experience in the B2B environment is sometimes overlooked, it is increasingly at the forefront of travel management companies’ objectives. Where is there room for improvement?
From the BTS it is clear that having a personalisation strategy is a crucial element to creating successful customer experience and supporting brand loyalty. Over the course of the next year there will undoubtedly be more innovative solutions launched as the travel sector continues to strive for frictionless and personalised business travel experiences. We also anticipate more corporate services offering advice or packages for bleisure, capturing spend from millennial business travellers. Uber and Lyft continue to cannibalise corporate travel spend and we expect to see more T&E policies in place from companies to support similar disruptive travel platforms.