A study by Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and FCM — “The Evolution of Travel Program Technology” — explores how technology has impacted the travel manager’s role, the traveller experience, and the travel management company (TMC) business.
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 role of the corporate travel manager changed significantly as a result of the pandemic, elevating the position as companies navigated unprecedented challenges. Given the fast pace of change, technology has played a vital role in ensuring the efficiency of travel programs,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA.
“Keeping updated and communicating with travellers has taken on renewed urgency for companies, and travel managers looking to their TMCs to advise on innovative ways to manage travel programs effectively while keeping travellers safe. “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,” said Marcus Eklund, Global Managing Director, FCM.
“The study also showed that on average nine in ten global travel managers say a consistent technology experience is of utmost importance. It’s essential TMCs be at the forefront of technological advancements to advise travel managers and help solve corporate global travel challenges.”
Key highlights from the study:
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 (four per cent) or is configured to exclude less sustainable options from search results (two per cent). 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 traveler 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 travellers 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 managers’ 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 14 February to 21 March 2022, by GBTA with responses from 309 travel managers based in the US, Canada, Europe, and Asia Pacific.