Travel Innovation

Business Travel Innovation: Where Is It? - By Greg Abbott, SVP, DataArt, Travel and Hospitality Practice

A man looking at the horizon
Business Travel Innovation: Where Is it?


The name of the game in 2016 is balancing business traveler satisfaction with travel policies and costs. According to BTN’s Travel Happiness Index, travelers in heavily managed programs—those focused on procurement and driving compliance—were only nominally satisfied, registering a 59 on a scale of 100. Their counterparts in less managed travel programs were more satisfied. Today’s business travelers desire seamless technology; booking flexibility; and mobile access to as much of their travel as possible. The problem for travel managers is that since technology hasn’t kept pace with business traveler desires, travelers are “regularly jail-breaking their travel programs in search of better rates and/or more intuitive shopping and booking paths” (BTN, April 2016). 

As a result, the business travel sector has been losing share to leisure/unmanaged travel. A survey of corporate travelers found that while many of them were booking flights via agent/GDS, 48% would turn around and book their accommodations on an OTA, known as “leakage” (TravelPort). Further complicating things, many of the big brands are promoting deeper discounts for rewards members who book directly. Simultaneously, many TMCs are seeing corporate negotiated rates rise 2-3% in 2016 (BTN, May 2016). Largely these problems stem from lagging innovation in business travel. 

Strides have been made, no doubt, but business travel technology is far behind the leisure industry. Managed programs are in need of more than updated compliance policies to recapture corporate travelers, they are in need of the technology that allows them to offer travelers flexibility and mobility—and this is the baseline, this is playing catch up. Going above and beyond this is where innovation happens. 

That said some companies are pioneering the kind of change that will make business travel more satisfying and cost effective. Here’s our take on where the innovation is—and where there could be more. 

Where the Business Travel Innovation Is Now

Companies that are innovating are seeing the company and the traveler have needs. These companies are creating models that merge and meet these needs. One of the few accomplishing this is Rocketrip. Their service incentivizes travelers to book wisely (i.e., to be cost conscious) by earning rewards. Their technology offers real-time budgets for business travelers to meet and encourages them to save while still providing booking flexibility. 

The business travel industry is so focused right now on playing catch up that much innovation is in very specific features rather than disruptive, game-changing technology. For instance, American Express Global Business Travel has launched a feature that creates a digital travel record (combining travel and credit card data) that allows a travel manager to visualize the location of their travelers. This is especially useful in the event of an emergency in which a company needs to reach their travelers. Another progressive feature from MTT focuses on mobile communication on the “Day of Travel,” with real-time flight disruption details, check-in and gate status notifications, and other capabilities that ease stress and elevate communication on travel days. 

Where There’s Opportunity for Innovation

Clearly, the industry is ripe for transformative technology that will not only change the way corporate travelers get from point A to point B but will also change the way they do business. A technology that integrates a business travel itinerary with the company CRM could mean that a sales person who is visiting a client in Cleveland receives a notification that, according to the CRM, he has hot leads in Pittsburgh and Buffalo. Then the system would ask if he would like to add one or both of these stops to his itinerary, saving on travel costs with one trip instead of two or three, and increasing the potential ROI of the trip. 

Open booking is slowly changing managed travel programs. Many travelers are already going rogue, so the opportunity is for companies that embrace it to get a better handle on costs. Technology that supports data integration from disparate systems, specifically integration that doesn’t require the employee to forward confirmation emails, can and will usher in a new phase in business travel. Creating a robust, supportive, and mobile-friendly system for open booking is the natural next evolution. 

The ideal end is to build programs that work for companies and road warriors. Not only do innovative business travel technologies save companies money, but they also have the potential increase traveler satisfaction, which improves employee retention. tClara has found that 76% of business travelers want easier/faster expense reimbursement, 55% desire better trip planning, and 40% want better mobile apps for traveling. The company, which investigates trip friction for companies with travel programs, suggests modifying travel policies and addressing individual needs. Yes. However, supporting travelers also requires technology. Moreover, this technology should support traveler flexibility, autonomy, and mobility. 

About Greg Abbott

Greg Abbott is a Partner at DataArt, leading the Travel & Hospitality Practice, which he formed in 2010. Greg has deep experience in executive sales & travel system operations, with 20+ years in domestic and international online travel industry sector, including entrepreneurship, management, product development, and consulting.  His career in travel began in the early ’90’s while attending the University of California at Berkeley and working at the corporate campus travel agency that was later acquired by STA Travel. 

Over his decade with STA Travel, Greg rose to the Director position and later departed to join NEXGEN Travel in Munich, Germany's leading online travel startup, assuming the role of Product Director for nearly four years. While at NEXGEN, his team tackled some of the most unique system and technology challenges in the hospitality & tour operator distribution landscape. On his return to the U.S., Greg joined DataArt as SVP of Travel & Hospitality to lead the charge in building out DataArt’s service to leading travel technology companies around the globe. He is a frequent speaker and a thought leader, with a loyal following in the press and social media alike. @jgabbott 

About DataArt: 

DataArt is a technology consulting firm that creates end-to-end solutions, from concept and strategy, to design, implementation and support, helping global clients in the financial services,  healthcare,  hospitalitymedia and IoT sectors achieve important business outcomes. Rooted in deep domain knowledge and technology expertise, DataArt designs new products, modernizes enterprise systems and provides managed services delivered by outstanding development teams in the U.S., UK, Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America. As a recognized leader in business and technology services, DataArt has earned the trust of some of the world’s leading brands and most discerning clients, including McGraw-Hill Financial, Coller Capital, BankingUp, Ocado, artnet, Betfair, Skyscanner, Collette Vacations, Booker and Charles River Laboratories.


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