In India - the world’s fastest-growing business travel markets - a considerable percentage of the rise in overall corporate travel is attributed to the rise of SMEs.
Rise in SMEs’ corporate travel is due to factors like organizational globalization, aviation sector growth, business climate improvement and government focus on employment and entrepreneurship. Business travel is important to the overall growth of SMEs and average travel spends have increased significantly over the past decade.
Travel spending is the second largest expense besides payroll for most SMEs. This has invariably heightened the need for managed travel, and many SMEs are enrolling for travel expense management programs.
With managed travel, SMEs expect to keep tabs on funds outflow using tools to optimize planning, approval and booking processes. SMEs want to boost their bottom lines through efficient travel expense management moving complex offline processes online such as travel policies, approval matrices and centralized payments. They expect detailed reports, thorough cost analyses and well-documented returns on spend. They are also looking for good data to improve their travel expense management systems.
TMCs are designing end-to-end travel experiences democratized for the SME market with new technology solutions that enable SMEs to manage their travel programs, create compliance and change behavior through traveler engagement.
They are guided by aspects of personalization, proactive servicing, real-time information accessibility, consistency and visibility, aimed at providing SMEs greater insights into spend through simple processes and expert knowledge.
Technology is Key - Technology is driving and enabling managed travel. While technology is the influencing factor in travel management, the travelers define their requirements and how those are met.
In our digitally interactive world, mobile use, data application to support predictive and personalized interactions, digital payments, AI and machine learning along with new means of accessing content, is the way forward. SMEs and their travelers are demanding greater user experience, no boundaries to accessing travel expense environments, and total security around bookings, payments and data.
“TMCs are designing end-to-end travel experiences democratized for the SME market with new technology solutions that enable SMEs to manage their travel programs, create compliance and change behavior through traveler engagement.”
Managed travel is transforming itself strategically and operationally, to compete effectively in a virtual, digital and mobile marketplace. Focus on the corporate traveler is resulting in a shift from a B2B, channel-centric approach to a customer-centric one enabled by technology. As the corporate traveler’s purchasing habits evolve, managed travel needs to respond by building a rewarding and connected traveler journey. Implementing appropriate solutions and services at each stage of the traveler journey will be crucial to success.
Mobile Use - Mobile devices allow travelers and TMCs to move beyond traditional booking to a truly connected travel experience pre, during and post trip. Location awareness is mobile’s key benefit in bringing a new travel experience.
The traveler can expect seamless integration across standalone apps. Apps allow social sign-in to add to the traveler’s corporate profile and other information about who they are.
Current and historical geo-location information is shared with eco-system partners to make apps more relevant to where they are, with location-specific information, advertisements and offers that most likely prompt a response.
Today mobile check-in, travel alerts, information, in-policy search and book are facilities travelers get. Tomorrow, apps will pre-book in-policy alternative flights in case of disruption; propose what fellow travelers have booked for the perfect trip, help chat with them and see their reviews; and maps and tips on getting to destinations will be pre-loaded on phones. For managed travel this is an opportunity to keep travelers engaged in an end-to-end app experience.
Digital Payments - Advances from the consumer world have moved into managed travel, with mobile devices, online booking and now payments. Electronic payments allow more room for SMEs and TMCs to track and control spend.
Most travelers pay out of their own account and reclaim expenses. As more travel and expense becomes bookable through electronic platforms, payments become an automated part of the process, executed directly by SME or TMC.
This benefits travelers, who do not have to pay out of pocket, or complete expense reports; and SMEs gets better data on travel spend. This also pushes employees to book their travel within remits of corporate travel booking environments.
TMCs act as merchants of record, leveraging their buying power with suppliers to give customers significant value. Greater emphasis on digital payments, enabling greater expense management and reporting based on aggregated data will be seen in future.
Predictive and personalized experience - With corporate travelers seeking unique experiences, travel intermediaries are customizing to sell better at every step of their travel. Data science and the ability to extract and make intelligent use of it come into play. Understanding travelers’ past behaviors, profiles and preferences are central to creating a relevant, contextual and predictive experience.
For example, when a traveler travels for business, travel providers use the traveler’s data to personalize and automate booking. He sees flights, hotels and other travel services matching his preferences, along with reasons why each offer is a good match and within corporate policies on his mobile device. This enables the traveler to make informed and quick decisions.
Data analytics can deliver the intelligence required to make sense of what travelers want, as the industry becomes more complex with multi-channels, partnerships, cross-selling, unbundled products and travel retailing. With powerful business intelligence TMCs deliver that experience.
Virtual and connected world - Managed travel will become personalized, seamless and always connected in a more sophisticated virtual world. Existing and adopted technologies will simplify user interaction and optimize business processes and experience through automation.
Under the influence of IoT, mobile devices will act as virtual travel assistants that ease and influence decision-making. With sensors and computing embedded in devices, TMCs will gather highly relevant data and trigger appropriate actions automatically.
Billions of connected devices will create more opportunities for innovation in travel. Against this backdrop of fast evolving technologies, TMCs are strengthening their position in the value chain as technology integrators, delivering efficient and differentiated solutions to customers.
Technology is transforming the managed travel landscape, helping level the playing field for SMEs, enabling them to be more powerful. The customer-supplier engagement is also evolving, with SMEs and their travelers having fast changing needs and being easily influenced.
New challenges demand from service providers, fresh solutions, business models and technical innovations. Anticipating needs will mean predicting customer behavior and preference to make the right offer at the right time through the right channel.
Services will involve technology aided by the human factor that is more efficient, targeted, personalized and timely. The future will be about the traveler, the technology, the experience and the economics of managed travel.
Andy Watson is Senior Vice President & General Manager, Asia Pacific Japan and Greater China, SAP Concur
Disclaimer: This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the contributing authors and not of IDG Media and its editor(s).