Experts predict that 2015 is the year big data will revolutionize the way we conduct business in the world of corporate travel. While every reservation--from airline to hotel to car to train--has always left a data trail, the increasing use of travel sites and tools, expense integrated with travel, smartphones, and widespread availability of Wi-Fi has brought with it an avalanche of data that can help improve the travel experiences. At the same time, with these opportunities, needs, and expectations come some potential cons for the traveler, and the company who purchases corporate travel. Here is a glimpse into some items to consider:
Big data allows companies to track and extrapolate the needs and buying trends of the modern road warrior. This process, called personalization, is fast becoming a game changer at some travel sites. The travelers feels their wants and needs are considered, as they can immediately secure their preferences. Booking travel is a complicated juggling act with a lot of moving parts, including choosing an airline, seating preference on the plane, hotel location, preferred amenities, and required technology interfaces. Imagine the stress relief involved in seamlessly booking a business trip without having to continually regurgitate preferences for a morning flight with a window seat and in-flight Wi-Fi, and the need for a hotel with an in-house restaurant that will cater to dietary restrictions. Conversely, if a company has its set of preferences and wants its travelers to consider the widest range of fares and rates every time they travel to ensure the best value to the company, these tools can usurp these considerations. These tools (mostly supplier sites and public sites versus corporate sites which are skewed to company preferences) are set to say “lets not look at all the opportunities, lets just give you your favorite airline, hotel, and car regardless of price and even company preference”.
Now imagine the traveler booking scenario above – booking through a public or supplier site - followed up with a notification to the traveler that a tremendous deal is now also available to upgrade their seat to an aisle or premium economy, speed through check in, have a bag fee waived if they purchase something else, or take advantage of a deal at their favorite tropical vacation spot. I’d even argue that airlines changing frequent flier programs so that miles are based on the flight price is opening up more merchandising. While some of these merchandising opportunities may make the travel experience improve, these opportunities may drive up cost (even in expense categories that you may not have ever even been addressed in your corporate travel policy). They can also distract the employee from their core responsibilities with more spam and more considerations.
In the fall of 2013, 40 airports participated in the TSA Pre Check program; as we begin a new year, the number has jumped to 120 airports, with over 725,000 members enrolled in that time period. There aren’t many cons to these concepts as maneuvering through airports has been increasingly difficult. The only consideration in these opportunities is if you will pay for the likes of them and how this is addressed in your travel policy. Add to these relatively new options (most of which I do not see addresses in any travel policies I now see) Wi-Fi costs onboard aircraft, seat selection improvements, hotel and car rental add-ons and more. Who gets reimbursed for what, where do these line items go, and how much more time does it take to reconcile expense reports? In a recent T&E budget assessment in an RFP we received, it was determined that the company was spending more money on Wi-Fi during travel than on travel agency fees. And the entire RFP was focused of agency fee reduction. The automation of expense reporting is helping manage these challenges as more data can be evaluated.
4. Data security importance
Some of the biggest news stories of 2014 involved data breaches in such companies as Target, Home Depot, and eBay. While the potential theft of such information as credit-card numbers and home addresses is unsettling at best, the information typically held by those types of companies pales in comparison to the wealth of information that travel necessitates. In addition to addresses and credit cards, business travelers--particularly on an international trip--must contend with frequent flyer numbers and ID cards or passports, not to mention confidential business-related data that may or may not need to be part of checked baggage. As the creation of new travel opportunities increases, so does the responsibility to keep travelers (and their information) safe. Ultimately, while there is always risk in navigating uncharted territory, the opportunity to do business and expand your horizons to see the world makes it all worthwhile. So as everything from hotel internet access expands along with a rise in travelers using hotel apps to book, check-in, and secure concierge services, so does the risk of where data may end up.
The bar has been pushed even higher, with many hotels beginning to utilize a mobile app as a hotel room key, thus allowing guests to bypass the front desk altogether. A convenience or also a threat in that someone knows when they enter and depart their room? Then, while the ability to book a flight and reserve a hotel room online is nothing new, the switch to and focus on mobile capabilities is. While only 2 percent of passengers preferred using a smartphone for booking travel in 2012, that number is expected to jump to 70 percent in 2015. Because travelers are rarely separated from their phones, the larger value of mobile technology may reside in its ability to provide a seamless experience while in transit. With the advent of geolocation, you now have the ability to receive status updates based on what part of the travel process you are in, from security lines to flight delays to full itinerary changes. Presently, half of U.S. airports offer mobile updates, and, based on your personalized preferences, they can even direct you to a good place to eat during your layover. Geolocation tools can also help advise and track employees when in “at risk” countries. For some travelers and countries people knowing where you are at all times makes them uncomfortable and maybe in some instances at risk. Then again knowing where your travelers are can be a rick if that data falls into the wrong hands. What is your best practice? Determining your culture and stand on these tools is important to consider and address.
As the creation of new travel tools increases and provides amazing opportunities to share and consider, so does your responsibility to address these items in travel policies to take control of your organizations costs, productivity, and safety. A dialogue and communication on these subjects will ensure an evolved travel procurement system that is good for the company and its travelers.