After spending the better part of a week at one of the business travel industry’s largest and most influential events, the Global Business Travel Association’s 2013 convention, it is strikingly clear that the lines between personal and business travel have completely blurred.
It is in the corporate travel manager’s DNA to invest wisely and make sure travelers are safe and accounted for when they are away from the office. That will always be priority number one. But in recent years, consumer travel technology has pulled companies in a new direction by creating demand for shinier toys to better navigate airports, hotel lobbies, foreign countries, and the like. These tools have made travel easier for employees in their personal lives and now they’re insisting on similar technologies when on the road for work. It was plain to see while walking the convention floor at GBTA that we’ve reached a tipping point this year now that there are technologies that can deliver on both fronts.
Those that are leading the way in bridging that divide have embraced the concept of consumerization by creating technology with a similar look and feel to popular consumer technology but with back-end technology that addresses corporate needs.
One trend that was abundantly clear this year was that the race to address the goals of both the business traveler and the corporate travel manager has put business travel tools in a new technology class.
The Business Travel Youth Movement
Millennials now make up 35% of the workforce, a figure that is expected to double by 2020. No shocker there, but what is perhaps surprising is how quickly the baby boomer generation has started to behave like Millennials in how they interact with social and mobile technologies. According to a GlobalWebIndex study, the 55-64 age bracket on Twitter is the fastest growing demographic, with 79% growth since 2012. On Facebook and Google+, the fastest growing demographic is the 45-54 age bracket, growing at 46% and 56% respectively. The average age of today’s social gamer is 39 years old, a nod to how popular games like Candy Crush and Angry Birds are with all age groups.
With these demographics, our industry is experiencing what you might call a "youth movement." Certainly, it is being driven by the Millennials and Gen X-ers, but older generations are sitting shotgun, having become more comfortable with technology in their personal lives. Regardless of age, the next-generation business travelers have different expectations when it comes to the travel tools they use today.
At GBTA, I saw how even the airlines are revamping their offerings for the growing group of next-generation business travelers. For example, JetBlue, which has historically been class–agnostic, has introduced a business traveler "experience" fully equipped with touchscreen seat controls, charging stations, and free WiFi.
A Mobile Arms Race is Forming.
Travel is inherently mobile. This is nothing new. What is new, however, is a mobile-centric approach among technology providers who recognize that end users are more likely to completely bypass web or PC-based technology and opt for mobile access.
TripCase leaned even further into the corporate travel world this year with new technology offerings that allow travelers to manage personal and business travel in one place while keeping corporate programs informed of their employees’ business itineraries.
Stronger back-end data capabilities and corporate card integrations are helping travelers stay one step ahead by elevating their experience with automatic trip updates and notifications when their respective travel-related card benefits, such as airport lounge access and in-flight Wi-Fi, are available.
(Full disclosure: American Express and TripCase recently introduced itinerary management and card benefit integration.)
For the Love of the Game
Just as applications such as Foursquare and Get Glue have made it fun for consumers to regularly check in to businesses and events, we are seeing new tools that are doing the same for business travel. Rather than relying solely on staid and, frankly, often ignored travel policies, travel managers can now encourage and reward smart employee travel behavior through applications and platforms that bring those policies to life.
Compliance generally equals savings for corporations, but the real benefit lies in, you guessed it, the data. With better insight into employees’ behavioral data, corporations can adjust travel programs to realize those savings and keep employees happy at the same time.
The concept of gamification, by far one of the hottest topics leading up to GBTA 2013, remained top of mind throughout the conference as companies discussed how incentivizing travelers throughout the different stages of travel—from purchasing to on-trip—can bring benefits across the board. Expect these platforms, like Marriott’s app, Xplor, which combines its reward program with social-gaming mechanics to continue to build loyalty and engagement.
What to Expect in 2014
For starters, more integration. Upstart technology companies and travel service suppliers will continue to join forces to create frictionless and engaging travel experiences for travelers. The bar has been set for technology that delivers the best user experience without sacrificing the priorities of corporate travel programs, and it’s evident that this is the first year that the technology tools have been able to balance those objectives.
Take the sharing economy, for example. These peer-to-peer services have been picking up steam with consumers, but safety and security issues raise red flags for corporate travel programs, which could be a major roadblock to entering the business-travel world. On the other hand, platforms like SeatGuru are gaining traction, and I wouldn’t be surprised if companies like them have a presence at the convention next year. If they can find a way to securely integrate with corporate-booking platforms and travel policies, it may provide an attractive option for travelers and travel managers.
I expect other corporate travel leaders are as inspired as I am by the level of innovation and energy from this year’s show, and I wouldn’t be surprised if those discussions are already under way.
—Kim Goodman is president of American Express Global Business Travel.
[Image: Flickr user Andreas]