Ready for take-off: the consumerisation of business travel
Digital innovation has landed in business travel. The rise of the ‘bleisure’ traveller has softened the lines between work and play, as more people are tacking holidays onto their business trips, expecting the same level of convenience when travelling for business as they do when travelling for pleasure
From board meetings abroad to catch-ups with international clients, business travellers are looking for slick and seamless travel experiences as they work.
This could mean using their mobile to pay for things instead of having to carry cash, using Uber or contactless to pay for taxi journeys, or fast access to the products and services they need to keep them moving quickly through their day.
“We are seeing the consumerisation of business travel,” says Helen Hodgkinson, Head of Travel Product for Barclaycard Commercial Payments. “It takes a little longer for consumer travel trends to play out in corporate travel as there are different systems for booking and travel policies to comply with, but these trends are now having a significant influence on the sector.”
Travel websites like Skyscanner and Airbnb have become mainstays for the modern traveller, helping people get the best deals on air travel and organise home-from-home accommodation that perfectly suits their requirements. But getting the best out of travel innovation doesn’t have to stop at booking. From AI assistants in hotels to apps helping you find the best seats on a flight, there is a whole world of innovation fuelling business travel.
For many business travellers, the days of setting up shop in a spare corner of the airport, laptop balanced precariously on a knee, may soon be at an end. From the pod bedrooms Heathrow’s No 1 Lounge to the indoor oasis of Dubai International’s ‘Zen Gardens’, airports are jumping on board with the growing trend for comfortable and calming relaxation spaces – with unlimited WiFi as standard, of course.
Research from YouGov and Spafax suggests the airport lounge of the future will be very different, as airports and airlines seek to appeal to travellers in more technologically driven ways. Those expecting a long wait may be able to enjoy augmentedreality entertainment, virtual reality to help waylaid passengers explore the cities they are headed to, and hyper-personalised assistance provided by artificial intelligence across the board.
In the air
Delta Airlines aims to bring a more personal experience to the skies. A phone/tablet hybrid, Delta’s ‘phablet’ devices are used by flight attendants, enabling them to recognise high-value customers, provide connecting gate information and cater to specific food and drink preferences– giving business travellers a more personalised on-board experience.
For corporate customers, it’s important to not only find the best airfares, but to also get a seat on the plane to work or relax and unwind. SeatGuru provides detailed seat maps with improved seat and amenity information, and enables users to submit seat and cabin reviews from their phones. The app can be used both on-the-go and at the airport, and provides real-time flight status alerts, to keep business travellers up to date.
Doing business in Tokyo? Your language skills could be the difference between asking your new boss what floor they want to get off at (“Nan gai desuka”) or how old they are (“Nan sai desuka”). Whether you want the fluency to communicate with colleagues in your company’s overseas office or to master the basics for a short trip, a good language app could be a lifesaver. The beauty of a great app lies in simple, well-thought out design. If you’ve left it a little late to learn a new language, the latest Google Translate update might be an idea. Snap a photo that features text, highlight and translate to English.
If you’re looking to really get to know a city, the Culture Trip app features recommendations from locals, personalised stories, tips for unique experiences, and 1000 short articles a month on everything from Japanese onsen to New York holiday window displays. Save the content that inspires you to specific wishlists and experience a new city your way.
Catch some ZZZs…
According to research from Booking.com, checking in and out of hotels is one of the most annoying elements of business travel. Some hotels are working hard to streamline this process; instead of the usual key cards the Blow-Up Hall 5050 hotel in Poznan, Poland provides guests with iPhones at reception. These are linked to specific rooms and use digital recognition software to guide users to their door, unlocking their rooms when they get close.
Down in the lobby, technology and AI are helping hotels give business travellers a more personal service. An AI assistant developed by a Hong Kong-based firm gives hotel staff information on the guests around them via a smartphone app. The app captures signals from room keys via Bluetooth beacons as guests move around the hotel, alerts staff on their room number, and name and delivers recommendations on how best to serve them. This could mean telling staff which language they prefer to speak or predicting where they might be going next based on accumulated behavioural data.
How about a robot hotel? The Henn na Hotel in Japan is staffed entirely by robots. After a long day of business negotiations, corporate customers are quickly checked-in, and then left to relax and unwind. The rooms are also equipped with an LG Styler; a clothes-steaming gadget to keep business travellers looking fresh and ready to face the following day’s meetings.
It’s not all about the travellers themselves. Technology is also having a big impact behind the scenes as APIs are integrated into multiple booking tools to take the friction out of payments. Barclaycard recently launched a new partnership with Amadeus; a leading provider of advanced technology solutions for the travel industry. Integrating Precisionpay into the brand’s B2B payment solution and providing virtual cards, this partnership is set to help travel agents and other businesses form better relationships with suppliers and pay for products without tying up precious capital.
Having meaningful data and control are other benefits to the new integrated travel systems. Commenting on the advantages available, Helen Hodgkinson said: “While business travel is increasingly reflecting the frictionless consumer experience, there is still a need to balance this with the necessary controls and maximise efficiencies. Integrating virtual payments within booking and travel management systems is very powerful as transaction and payment details are automatically linked for better reconciliation and reporting.”
When it comes to getting the most out corporate travel management systems and ensuring business travellers are experiencing the same ease and convenience of getting around as in their personal lives, the future is here. With robot hotels already open for business, the sky really is the limit for corporate travel.