The overall state of business travel is often considered to be a strong indicator of the overall health of the U.S. economy. Two of the leading causes that slowed business travel in 2016 — the U.S. presidential election and the British vote to leave the European Union – are resolved, leaving the outlook for 2017 particularly promising.
According to a poll of 63 travel managers conducted in the fourth quarter of 2016, a rise in overall travel and air spending, as well as an increase in the number of trips and air transactions is expected.
The poll, conducted for ARC by the BTN Group, reported the following business travel outlooks for 2017:
- About 70 percent of those polled expect their organization’s air spending to increase, while 30 percent expect spending to decrease.
- About one-third of those polled expect air spending in their managed travel programs to increase by 2 to 5 percent this year, while 11 percent expect less than a 2 percent rise.
- More than 20 percent of respondents expect air spending increases of 8.1 percent or more in 2017.
- Of those who expect spending declines in their travel programs, most predicted modest reductions of less than 5 percent.
The chart below highlights some additional findings:
This is all good news for business travelers. With a stable economic footing, CFOs and travel managers are more lenient about spending and approving business trips so that business can be conducted as usual. With both business travel volume and travel costs forecasted to rise this year, it is more important than ever that travel managers optimize their travel programs by gaining insight into recent and upcoming travel trends.
2017 Business Travel Trends
This year, travelers can expect the use of technology to further enhance their experience, including:
There are several versions of the digital wallet (e.g. Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay). Apple Pay reported a growth of one million new users per week, suggesting the platform is a preferred method of payment, particularly among millennials. For travelers, mobile wallets mean you can pay for a movie on the plane, lunch in the airport, and request an Uber ride to your hotel simply with a touch of your smartphone or smartwatch. Cash and cards are becoming outdated, with the more secure and convenient use of digital wallets.
In November, Qatar Airways announced it was integrating Apple Pay for the purchasing of flights through its mobile app. Now, all you do is scan your fingerprint (Touch ID) or enter your unique passcode. You can also use your digital wallet to store boarding passes and loyalty cards. JetBlue and Emirates were the first airlines to partner with Apple Pay. More travel suppliers are now on board, including Airbnb, British Airways, Delta, Easyjet Expedia, Marriott and Uber.
The chat bot buzz continues to grow and 2017 is the year that travel chat bots are expected to really take off. What exactly are chat bots? Similar to Apple’s virtual assistant Siri, which is voice activated, chat bots are programmed so that they mimic human conversation. Powered by artificial intelligence, these cyber helpers are showing up on travel websites to provide automated customer service or to assist travelers with booking travel. From Radisson Edwardian Blu’s concierge “Edward” to Lufthansa’s “Mildred”, these chat bots can help locate the cheapest flight or hotel stay, make a complaint, tell you what time to check in, email your boarding pass and change your seat all without human intervention.
As part of the new “sharing economy”, Uber and similar tech-based firms such as Airbnb, TaskRabbit and BlaBlaCar, are redefining business travel with a plethora of accommodation and car rental services. Whether business travelers seek luxury, boutique hotel travel experiences or require long-term options, there is no shortage of choices for corporate business travelers, regardless of budget. Sharing economy services, along with the data they collect, will continue to be embraced by companies in 2017.
Carpooling in an Uber ride, renting a co-living apartment or splitting a restaurant bill has never been so easy with the use of mobile payment processing tools which are helping drive the success of the sharing economy. Traveler demand for fast and easy ways to share services will drive the travel industry to make use of these technologies. According to Juniper Research, sharing economy revenues are expected to exceed US$20 billion a year by 2020. According to BBT Travel Trends 2017, “Sharing economy services – and the data they collect – will continue to be embraced by companies looking to provide a high-level duty of care and better understand the needs of individual business travelers.”
Last year, the world’s first voice-activated hotel rooms were unveiled at Starwood’s Aloft hotels in Boston and Santa Clara. Saying “Goodnight” will shut off the lights and “Good morning” will turn them back on. Siri can also control room temperatures and speakers via a hotel-supplied iPad. Plans for 2017 include entire voice-activated hotels equipped with “triggers” programmed to react to your personal preferences and routines.
The Hilton HHonors app can be used to check in, access your room with a “digital key” instead of a plastic one, and select your own room—an industry first for Hilton. A recent partnership with Google Maps even displays which rooms face certain streets. You can also message the front desk, make restaurant reservations or request champagne on arrival.
As of December 2016, Hilton says the digital key is compatible with about 700 hotels and they will continue to roll out the updated service across all its hotels and brands. Your smartphone will also function as a remote control – when you approach your door, it automatically opens. Starwood unveiled SPG Keyless for smartphones in 2014. The same technology has been adopted by Marriott (with which it merged in late 2016), and is being tested by IHG and Hyatt.
The new year brings about many exciting changes in business travel, as well as a projected increase in overall air spending. As predictive travel analytics and new technologies change the landscape of business travel, travelers can expect more personalized experiences. How is your organization positioned for these changes?
2017 is the year travel managers must think beyond the proliferation of technology innovation. While the shiny devices, latest mobile applications, and digital capabilities are exciting; companies must assess which technologies to adopt based on what will drive savings and increase program compliance. After analyzing how the latest trends and tools align with your travel policy and processes, only then will you be able to explore the technology options best suited to support your business goals.