This month saw more than seven thousand travel professionals gather in Chicago for the largest Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Convention in history. The five-day event focused on current issues in the field of corporate travel, with technology and the future of corporate travel management emerging as key themes throughout the gathering.
Cirium was on the ground, joining debates around the costs of travel disruption, the applications of artificial intelligence and the use of smart data to engage customers proactively.
Here are our key takeaways from this year’s event:
A step closer to NDC success
New Distribution Capability (NDC) took center stage at this year’s GBTA Convention, with a focus on NDC’s impact today and in the future.
The convention demonstrated that through the collaborative work of organizations across the travel industry, NDC is now starting to gain traction and become a reality on a global scale.
Travel Management Companies (TMCs) strive to stay on top of NDC advancements and the race is on to implement NDC technology and unlock new value for passengers. Although the GDS market is heavily invested and participating in NDC innovation aggressively, TMCs are no longer relying exclusively on GDS’s. Multiple aggregators and solution providers are emerging in the market.
TMCs are increasingly having to differentiate themselves and are under pressure to improve their competitiveness—making NDC an attractive solution. NDC enables TMCs to provide added value services to corporate buyers, such as offering real-time tracking of passenger itineraries with airline changes to TMC bookings, and more options for personalization and ancillary purchases.
When implemented comprehensively, travelers and corporate buyers will benefit greatly from NDC. It will ensure duty of care for the duration of travel. Currently, if bookings arranged through TMCs are changed at short notice by an airline, companies may lose track of their employees when traveling for business.
For the airlines, NDC will provide greater control over the distribution of their product and enable smart insights into consumer behaviors, helping them tailor the customer experience in the air and on the ground. NDC will ultimately make ticket revenue settlement more efficient as well.
“NDC is an active thing that is very hot in the industry right now, and it’s very meaningful,” said Pedro Ceron, Managing Partner at TravelCAST. “But one of the things that I’m really interested in as well is finding a way to bring that consumer experience into the entire corporate travel life cycle because we have only pieces of it right now—and NDC is an important component but it’s not the silver bullet that is going to solve everything. In fact, it’s going to demand so many other solutions to deliver that final experience.”
To achieve full standardization and reap the benefits of NDC, organizations across the global travel industry have to speak the same language. Without a clear, industry-wide consensus, the development of NDC-enabled solutions will remain limited.
While travel providers are starting to dabble in big data and artificial intelligence (AI) technology to improve the customer experience, professionals at the GBTA Convention agreed the use of AI solutions in the travel sector is still very much in its infancy.
Currently, AI bots are used in a basic capacity, assisting with processes like corporate travel booking and reservations. But when it comes to making suggestions based on traveler preferences and applications in yield management, there’s still a huge amount of untapped potential.
“I wish suppliers were more connected with their use of data,” said Nadim Hajje, VP of IT and Data Analytics at Omega World Travel. “If I have a really long travel day and I show up to a hotel, the last thing I want is for the hotel to ask for my I.D. and a credit card for incidentals. I want them to recognize me as I walk in and get me to my room right away because they know I had a long day. Then I want them to send me freshly squeezed orange juice and an egg white omelet the next morning because they know that is what I have for breakfast. I would love for data to one day be shared among all suppliers, so they know what the traveler journey has been like for their guests and they can anticipate their needs.”
This next-generation means of communication is also an important consideration for travel providers. If travel companies expect customers to book online, they must reach them via the top five most-commonly used apps on their mobile devices.
Such digital touchpoints have proven to be a success for airlines like Air France-KLM, the world’s first carrier to offer customers the opportunity to receive flight status updates via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or WeChat.
Indeed, a key topic this year was the rise of omni-channel communication. There was a clear message that AI is diversifying the booking process, rather than replacing face-to-face and direct booking.
While younger travelers prefer chatbots, many corporate travelers still opt to phone their agent and engage with a real human when making a booking. But the availability of other options offers greater choice, and value, to customers in an increasingly segmented market, which has become more comfortable with AI technology.
In other words, the industry agrees that in an age of increased automation, the desire for a personal touch is not going to disappear any time soon.
The costs of disruption
The financial impact of travel disruption is an ongoing concern for both airlines and travel providers. While delays and cancellations are inevitable, the costs incurred as a result are often difficult to anticipate.
During one educational session at GBTA, The Financial Impact of Flight Disruptions on Your Travel Program, Trish Earles, Sr Global Manager, TE Corporate Card MIS at Halliburton, reported an additional $3.5 million in hidden costs that stemmed from travel disruption on a program size of about $100 million.
It’s no surprise that industry professionals are seeking technology-led solutions to help manage these unexpected costs.
In particular, technology and big data solutions (including NDC) can help mitigate or better manage the impact of travel disruption on passengers and travel providers.
Even amidst travel disruption, providers can now deliver a rapid response and proactively re-accommodate passengers, thanks to quality data and solutions such as Cirium’s Travel Waiver Services.
At Cirium, we track more than 35 million flights per year, capturing information on delays and cancelations. Using passenger name record (PNR) information, we then match traveler trips to applicable waivers and relay these to passengers in an accessible way – enabling affected travelers to make alternative arrangements at no extra cost.
“We have really worked very hard to not just communicate disruption, but also work in partnership with airlines to proactively support corporate travelers,” said Robyn Grassanovits, VP Travel Products & Emerging Business at Cirium. “The publishing of travel waivers is an important part of that because it helps create cost avoidance for those extra hotel nights and get travelers re-accommodated on the very next flight before those lines start.”
Waiver automation is now increasingly part of many corporations’ service level agreements (SLAs) with TMCs, suggesting a clear demand for technological solutions to reduce the costs of travel disruption and improve the customer experience.
The global travel industry will reunite next summer in Denver for the 52nd GBTA Convention.