GO TO ANY BUSINESS TRAVEL CONFERENCE ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD and two subjects are sure to come up: the inexorable rise in the importance of using mobile devices; and the challenges of making sure corporate travel policy is fit for purpose and meets the company’s key objectives.
Strangely enough, these two increasingly important elements of managed business travel have so far been mostly left in isolation from each other. Many firms already have some sort of policy about how staff should use their mobile devices, but this tends to be from an IT perspective and does not specifically relate to how mobile should be used within the travel process – both in the pre-trip phase and when staff are on the road.
Key takeaways from managing mobile
|Mobile use is set to grow even more rapidly as international roaming charges are reduced or disappear completely|
|Booking hotels, rail and car hire through corporate travel apps is set to grow, although air travel is likely to take longer to be widely introduced due to its complexity|
|Buyers can make a name for themselves by leading the process of drawing up a mobile strategy, including how devices should be used for travel|
|Using mobile apps to complete the approval process can save time for managers with sign-off responsibilities|
|Itinerary-based apps are set to become more ‘intuitive’ and offer more destination-based services|
Sari Viljamaa, managing director of the Finnish Business Travel Association, made the case for corporates to start deploying specific mobile policies around travel during the CAPA Aviation Summit in Helsinki last autumn. “More companies are developing mobile policies, but they are usually about devices and data security, and are part of IT policy,” she says. “Sadly, travel is not included, nor even thought about, in this context. And yet, who are the people who carry mobile devices – phones, pads, laptops? The travellers.
“The travel manager, or category manager, should be advocating for a mobile policy, and not only wait and react after a policy has been published – probably with no mention of travel at all.”
BCD Travel, in its white paper Mobilise Your Travel Programme, argues that travel buyers can enhance their own careers and reputations within their companies by taking a lead on developing a strategy that marries up travel policy and mobile use.
“Travel is a corporate activity where mobile services are a great fit, so you may easily find yourself pioneering mobile strategy for the whole of your enterprise,” says BCD in the report.
Matthew Pancaldi, global client management director at HRG, says that developing mobile policies is “still in its infancy” among clients. He adds: “Gradually, corporates are tackling mobile strategy. Some have embraced it while a lot are starting to think: ‘Where do I start and is the company ready?’ I think a lot more will tackle it in the next year or so, and there will be a lot of engagement around mobile strategy being part of travel programmes.”
Buyers already see the potentially positive impact of the growth of mobile use – an overwhelming majority (84 per cent) of buyers surveyed for the 2016Business Travel Show said that mobile technology would help policy compliance, with only 16 per cent thinking it would be a hindrance. Similarly, a study by Carlson Wagonlit Travel found that 92 per cent of travel managers are expecting mobile technology to have a “positive impact” on traveller satisfaction, as well as boosting productivity.
It’s just as well that buyers see the mobile revolution as being such a positive development – because business travellers seem to have an insatiable desire to use their devices to improve and enrich their experiences. According to BCD’s report, 97 per cent of all travellers take a mobile phone with them, while 87 per cent of business travellers “routinely interact” with multiple devices when planning trips, booking hotels and checking itineraries.
The incentives for business travellers in Europe to use their mobile devices on the road will rise even further as the European Commission first cuts the level of roaming charges that mobile firms can charge from April 2016, before abolishing them completely in June 2017.
Craig Palmer, sales and consulting manager for Amadeus, says: “A lot of the barriers in place for using mobile are being removed. Data roaming charges will be disappearing in Europe. More corporates are also paying for data roaming, so from the traveller perspective it’s not going to be a barrier for them. They can also use wifi easily by going into a coffee shop. Connecting with travellers will be easier than it’s ever been.”
There has been much talk in recent years about the ‘consumerisation’ of business travel and this particularly applies to mobile services. The theory being that unless travel management suppliers start offering online platforms that can match the experience offered by leisure-orientated apps, then individual travellers will make their bookings outside the programme, which will increase leakage.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Most travel management companies (TMCs) and technology specialists can now offer some form of app to their clients. But, so far, these services have been mostly confined to offering itinerary-based tools, which allow the traveller to view their trip details, use mobile airline check-in and receive airport gate or flight information.
Evan Konwiser, digital traveller vice-president at American Express Global Business Travel, says: “There are currently many great tools for communicating with and supporting travellers on the road that fulfil important needs, such as itinerary management, and basic messaging.” But Konwiser admits that it is difficult for corporate travel apps to keep pace with consumer options. “Creating corporate travel apps is an inherently more complex process due to the data security, compliance and regulatory factors that impact the corporate side,” he says. “Where corporate travel may have the edge, however, is in our strong relationships with suppliers and the policy and preference data we hold.”
TMCs and other suppliers are continually improving the functionality of their apps, with new options being added, such as restaurant recommendations in the city they are staying in. Amadeus’s Palmer says: “We can allow them to explore additional services, such as looking for a café or somewhere to have lunch through using an external supplier. This can also be linked to flight times, so suggestions can be made for lunch or breakfast, depending on the time they arrive.
“We are moving into booking by integrating taxis and hotels, which will allow travellers to book services on the move. The aim is to create happy travellers.”
Carlson Wagonlit says that it updates the CWT To Go itinerary app every ten to 12 weeks with new functionality. Director of product marketing, Dan Kelly, says: “The latest version has the ability for travel arrangers to have a version of the app to be able to see how their traveller’s journey is going – for example, if they are disrupted or there is a gate change, the travel arranger will also know and be able to take proactive steps, such as rearranging meeting timings.
“It’s also now got airport maps, which is brilliant for travellers who aren’t familiar with their airport, the distance between gates, or where the lounges and facilities might be.”
HRG’s Pancaldi says one of the other major benefits of mobile technology is that it can give travel approvers the ability to sign off trips while they are on the road. “We see a lot of companies looking to use mobile for their approval processes,” he says. “The idea is to have a mobile device that enables them to approve travel for people who report to them. This is very useful for customers in sectors such as professional services or energy, where approvers are on the road all the time.”
One area where corporate travel apps have been slower to keep up with their consumer counterparts has been in the area of bookings. Some TMC apps are now offering booking facilities, particularly for products such as hotels and rail journeys, but the process of being able to book flights through these apps still seems some way off.
Expedia-owned TMC Egencia has been leading the way in mobile flight booking with its Trip Navigator app. This now allows travellers to search and book flights, and features personalised elements, such as individual and company preferences. Booking air through the app was originally launched in North America and was rolled out to other parts of the world, including Europe, in late 2015.
CWT began offering hotel booking through its app last year and although mobile still represents “a small number” of the TMC’s overall hotel sales, there has been an “upward trend” in bookings, particularly in the final few months of 2015.
Corporate hotels specialist HRS also launched its own app last year, which automatically displays negotiated corporate rates for each traveller, as well as recording all booking details for invoicing purposes and offering special mobile tariffs.
HRS’s head of product management, Heiko Reintsch, says: “As the functionality of booking engines continues to improve within the business travel industry, bookers will find they start to have more personalised experiences similar to the consumer travel apps.
“For example, we are trialling a recommendation engine this year which will intuitively match the needs of the traveller to a recommended hotel.”
But what about booking flights via apps on mobile devices? HRG’s Pancaldi says it is being held back by the “layers of complexity” associated with air travel, which draw more scrutiny than other travel products.
“When it comes to complex air bookings, they are overlaid by different hierarchy and policy approval processes, which are more rigorous,” he explains. “We are not seeing a huge appetite for air bookings on mobile – but I think we will eventually see booking on mobile starting to emerge and grow.”
As travel research firm Phocuswright points out in its Managed Travel: 2020 report, “predicting the future based on today’s technology can be challenging”, particularly when it comes to “disruptive” technology such as smartphones/tablets and the kind of services these devices may spawn. But the report adds: “What will dictate the level of change is how the emerging ecosystem embraces new technology, understands traveller behaviour and meets expectations.”
The report says that new mobile technology is likely to help the “tightly managed” corporate travel market to gain “even greater control” over their travellers. Phocuswright estimates that this group makes up 15-20 per cent of the entire managed market, and typically contains sectors such as financial services where travellers are often only allowed to download pre-approved apps to their company devices.
More widely, Amex’s Konwiser adds: “How does mobile fit with online and telephone servicing? How do we interact with travellers in the overall programme? We are just barely exploiting mobile for what it could be and will be, which is the single most important point of interaction through every stage of the trip with our travellers. In future, if we fulfil the promise of the mobile platform, people will book more travel on mobile when sat at their desks than they will on the desktop browser in front of them.”
The proliferation of mobile devices will also increasingly encourage suppliers to send offers and promotions directly to the travellers, particularly for ancillary products while they are on the road – posing a potential threat to traveller compliance. Andy Slough, director of IT for Chambers Travel Group, says: “With the growth in mobile adoption for consuming travel on the move, ancillary products and upselling will certainly be a focus for travel suppliers. Clients will need to start to understand how this spend represents leakage from their travel programme.”
This will represent another challenge for buyers, which again reinforces the case for having a mobile policy that looks beyond the direct concerns of IT departments and considers how companies want and expect mobile devices to be used by their travellers in the coming years.