Tech Talk: Taking the plunge

Some start-ups are promoting healthier habits, but how far can travel buyers influence their travellers’ lifestyles?

Wellbeing is defined as “the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy”. Compare that to the average experience for a business traveller at an airport or train station and wellbeing isn’t what springs to mind.

However, because the travel management community is beginning to put business travellers at the centre of the discussion, their health and welfare has become a topic of interest. FCM Travel Solutions released a white paper in May highlighting some of the signs of stress in travellers that employers need to look for. These include absence after a trip, reluctance to travel, poor employee retention among regular travellers, frequent non-compliant bookings and unproductive business trips.

Food for thought
While stakeholders from governments, airports, airlines and the TMC community decide how to tackle the big security stuff and create a seamless traveller experience, some companies are striking out with initiatives that bring positive changes for business travellers in terms of wellbeing.

GOLO is a good example. It is a mobile ordering platform and part of the Paysafe Group, and has partnered with start-up AtYourGate to deliver food or other items from airport outlets to the departure gate. The service, initially trialled at San Diego International and set to expand, lets business travellers use an app to order what they want to eat in advance, meaning they no longer have to traipse around airports, standing in queues to grab a quick, unhealthy snack before boarding.

And while GOLO is trying to change ingrained eating habits, one Dublin-based start-up, Sanctifly, is hoping to change traveller habits by providing access to health and fitness facilities at airports.

Karl Llewellyn, founder of the membership club, feels strongly about traveller wellbeing, having been a road warrior himself for many years. “There’s a very real cost in travel avoidance and in losing people because of how you are managing their travel,” he argues.

Llewellyn took a sabbatical to explore his idea of an enterprise solution that companies could offer their staff as part of a loyalty scheme, wellbeing initiative or just as a perk. The service works via an app, which is loaded with passes to health and fitness facilities.

For smaller companies, travel buyers can position Sanctify as a tool to help employee recruitment and retention with potential recruits these days asking about policy elements such as class of travel.

Llewellyn also believes it can help TMCs demonstrate their added value as well as continuing to highlight the importance of a more holistic approach to duty-of-care. But he believes corporates have been slow to consider traveller wellbeing.

Meanwhile, he adds, travellers themselves must learn to alter their own habits: “The current habit is to get to the airport 90 minutes before a flight departs and leave it immediately on arrival. If there is a delay, travellers just sit it out. We’re trying to say that there are opportunities to do something during that time rather than having a burger and a beer. It needs to be more built in to how you travel.”

Sarah Marshall, travel and security manager for international development company DAI, says many staff simply like to have a routine that they find reassuring, so questions if they would want to hit the gym before a flight or pre-order a healthy salad to eat at the gate. But she says wellbeing is also considered part of duty-of-care. “It’s the unknown people don’t like. There are security implications that affect how travellers behave in airports.”

However, Kate Suddards, business development director at Inc Travel Group, says her clients are now focusing on the wellbeing of their employees: “Although there is growing awareness of facilities via apps and technology, our clients are wanting to know what facilities are available at airports and hotels before booking.”

Another challenge is how to embed the technology to create a seamless travel experience.

The latter issue is on the radar at Gray Dawes Group. Ian Currington, head of account management, says: “We are using technology to signpost travellers to on-the-ground facilities along their journey to maximise their wellbeing, such as airport gyms, lounges and other facilities.

“We are also working with partners like Maiden Voyage to focus on the end-to-end wellbeing and safety of women travellers through providing access to their library of e-learning modules, which includes leisure time.”

Once wellness technology does become better integrated into the booking process and trip, travel buyers can then measure its effectiveness, and find out who really wins in the battle between a beer at the bar or gyrating in the gym.

Lounging about
A start-up has come up with a plan to offer travellers a better deal when hit by flight delays. Airpod is proposing a private capsule (pictured), aimed at people looking for a quiet place to sleep, work or relax, while at the airport. The pods feature seats that convert into a bed, high-speed wifi, flight status information and other elements, such as storage. It is launching a prototype in advance of a commercial trial coming to EU airports later this year.

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