Tools of the Trade

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Modern day business travel is blessed with a host of tools aimed at making travelling and the booking and management of it a hassle-free experience. But, as with all technology, it’s not that simple, and the issues of training, cost containment and most of all, encouraging employees to adopt the software, are just some of the challenges facing corporates. Lynette Dicey takes a closer look at who is offering what, and how best to use the technology available.   

Earlier this year, travel technology giant, Amadeus released the findings of a global study it conducted, with the report titled ‘From Chaos to Collaboration’. It outlined how transformative technologies and evolving social values and trends will combine to establish a new era of collaborative travel over the next decade and beyond.

The study found that travel is expected to become more collaborative, both in terms of how people travel and how travel providers work together with travellers. This collaboration, the findings stated, will help reduce the stress, uncertainty and chaos that is ever present today, due partly to the onset of mass tourism.

“Understanding these trends in the travel, tourism and airline industry is key to developing longer term solutions that meet traveller needs,” says Andrew Shaw, Solutions Manager for Amadeus Southern Africa.

The study outlines a number of key travel technology predictions. The first trend is the next generation of experience, which focuses on the fact that travel is increasingly about depth rather than breadth of experience. Technologies such as ‘augmented realities’, ‘gamification mechanisms’ and smart mobile devices will transform the travel experience.

The second trend focuses on automatic transit and how checking-in could become the exception rather than the norm, with the rise of faster and more efficient identity management systems. To this end, chips, biometrics, long-range fingerprinting and new field communication (NFC), can be deployed in a more integrated way to fast-forward how people move around.

Another trend the study identified was that all data on payments made before and during a trip will be integrated, acting as a digital memory of expenditure and activity for individuals, groups and travel industry operators. Intelligent passenger records, ‘digital breadcrumbs’ and contactless technologies could be used to personalise and bundle services, delivering higher value and more profitable relationships.

Intelligent recommendation is yet another trend – as technologies make it easier for people to tag and review all aspects of travel experiences, travellers will be more influenced by peer groups and expert curators. The prospect of personal travel guides and mobile tour representatives will give travellers the tools they need to enrich their experience. Taking the stress out of travel is the study’s fifth prediction. Intelligent luggage tags and tickets will provide greater reassurance, while mobile health applications will allow travellers to manage and monitor their health and wellbeing as if they were at home.

The final trend focuses on how the continued emphasis on work-life balance and wellbeing at work may well see the rise of the business tourist, which will demand increased speed and efficiency as well as a ‘home-away-from-home’.

Travelport, a leading provider of business services to companies operating in the global travel industry, also predicts a number of interesting trends, which will impact the technologies used by the travel industry. According to Robyn Christie, the new General Manager of Travelport Southern Africa, consumer buying behaviour has changed as a result of Internet penetration and the convergence of two major industries – the Internet and mobile.

“Around a third of the world’s population is now online – that’s around two billion people – and, empowered by the Internet, consumers are more knowledgeable and more adventurous, looking to discover new destinations and experiences. Added to this, how people are using the web is changing too – search and booking is becoming increasingly on the move,” she says.

Gartner, one of the world leaders in information technology research, predicts that global shipments of smartphones will surpass shipments of notebooks and PCs before the end of 2012. Africa is the fastest growing region for cellphone sales in the world – it’s predicted that by the end of 2012 there will be nearly 750 million cellphone users in Africa. Nigeria already has the tenth largest cellphone subscriber base in the world. It stands to reason that Africa is leading the way in mobile web penetration. More significantly, more than 19% of the web page views in Africa were from mobile devices in January 2012, compared with just 6.3% in January 2011, implying a phenomenal growth in mobile penetration in Africa.

Even in the United States, 25% of those who have started to use their phones to search the web will probably never use a PC to do the same thing. In developing countries such as Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa, smartphone usage will leapfrog traditional wired infrastructure.

“The implications of all this for the business travel industry is that we have to optimise for mobile, given that some customers will never use a large desktop screen,” says Christie. “Search starts to become mobile. More importantly, now you know where your customers are and what their intentions are.”

She adds that smart devices, in addition to driving further efficiencies ensuring a seamless booking experience, will also act as a personal concierge service, to the extent of storing parking bay information, advising travellers of live flight statuses, and even providing city guides. Travelport’s ViewTrip Mobile offers just this – a mobile itinerary management tool for travellers on the go, it works with the Travelport ViewTrip website. By pushing itineraries to customers’ mobile devices, the app offers flexible itinerary management, service and support throughout the journey. ViewTrip Mobile has been designed to integrate with existing workflows at no cost to either the TMC or its customers. The app can be used irrespective of whether the TMC is a subscriber to the Worldspan, Galileo or Apollo systems.

It boasts a number of features to make the lives of travellers easier, including the ability to add events to existing itineraries. A trip list displays all upcoming trips; a flight status and airport guide provides pertinent information; pro-active flight alerts inform travellers of updates; a location-aware service pushes location-specific information to travellers; push ad messages provide timely, relevant messages and helpful trip reminders; there’s a currency conversion; travel and events guide; as well as a five-day weather forecast.

With increasing smartphone ownership and the growing influence of mobile technology on modern life, it’s only a matter of time before more of the travel industry embraces mobile opportunities. Shaw points out that more travel agents need to ensure that their services are adapted for all mobile devices, including different smartphone brands as well as tablets.

“It’s critical that agents are able to communicate with travellers no matter where in the world they are, whether they are communicating flight delays or simply sending itineraries,” he says.

Robert Wilke, CEO of Travel with Flair, agrees that mobile apps are the way of the future.

“In addition to mobile applications, online technology solutions and enhancements which streamline and make the travel reservation process a breeze for travel management companies and customers alike, are likely to become increasingly popular,” he predicts. “While smartphones and other smart devices have already made an impact on the business travel industry, I foresee this impact growing exponentially in the years to come. In fact, I believe that travel and the management thereof will move to a fully mobile environment within the next three to five years.”

Paul East, COO of Wings Travel Management, points out that its not just about smart devices – the other key factor is connectivity. As countries improve their communication infrastructure, with greater bandwidth at a reasonable cost and the introduction of 4G, access to the Internet through tablets and other mobile applications becomes more efficient. This leads to an increase in websites and applications with travel content.

“For companies that have a clear policy around the use of online tools, this brings benefits to both the TMC and the corporate client through cost reduction,” explains East. “For the TMC, it allows the booking process to be managed by a smaller, select group of consultants who will focus more on the complex travel, leaving robotic software to manage the point-to-point travel. Cost reduction, however, is determined by the controls you have in place. We spend a great deal of our time working with clients to ensure they maintain control whilst driving efficiency and cost.”

Travellers want flexible technology that allows them to manage their travel and expenses in their time and place, rather than being tied to a desk or office hours, maintains Yvette Charles, MD of Skyjunxion.

“In my experience, travellers want to be able to utilise that dead time sitting at the airport waiting for their flight, which is why smartphones and tablets such as iPads will become the devices of choice for making travel bookings on the move.”

In keeping with this trend, Skyjunxion’s complete travel and expense management solution is available online, on tablet and on mobile. Charles agrees that moving business travel online offers businesses the opportunity to make real cost savings and bring travel spend under control.

While Maurice de Vries, Business Solutions Director at HRG Rennies concurs that mobile travel applications will have a big impact on the business travel industry, he also predicts that workflow integration platforms and automated expense management facilities will become increasingly popular.

“There is no doubt that more mobile apps will make the travel experience more interesting, certainly more transparent, and will change the way we think about travel,” points out UNIGLOBE Travel’s Mike Gray.

It seems we are moving beyond online booking and administration tools to total customer experience management – designing seamless experiences for everyone involved in the journey, from policy decision making through to after service care. The days of stand-alone tools or solutions are over. And the days of purely consultant-driven travel arrangements are definitely over.

Latest New Products

The latest software and technology offerings promise to do much to meet the future needs of travellers. In addition to ViewTrip Mobile, Travelport has also launched Travelport Smartpoint and Travelport Mobile Agents. The former is an add-on application to evolve the Galileo desktop with interactive technology, to improve travel consultant productivity and customer service. Travelport Mobile Agents, on the other hand, is a mobile app which enables Travelport-connected agencies to gain full access to the Galileo platform directly on their mobile device. The tool is currently available via Apple’s app store.

The latest product releases from Wings Travel Management focus on its clients and are enhancements on existing products.

“Our latest online tool has certainly bought additional benefits to both the corporate and the traveller,” explains East. “With the improved travel policy tools’ new mobile access, clients can certainly drive their total cost of travel down.”

The company’s refund management tool, goTrack, has been enhanced to provide clients with even more control over requesting and monitoring the refund process.

“By simply going online and reviewing each ticket, clients instantly update the status of their itinerary and then watch the refund flow through our accounting process,” says East. “It goes without saying that every travel management company offers an e-ticketing tracking tool, but very few provide the complete tracking and refunding application that puts clients in total control.”

Two of its most popular products are goLocate and goReconcile. The former product captures the most up to date information on where travellers are at any given time and stores it within a master database, accessible through a secure login portal, 24 hours a day. Even if clients make a change to the booking with one of Wings Travel Management’s overseas operations, the information is automatically updated in the master database within seconds. goReconcile is an account reconciliation programme guaranteed to save its clients’ finance departments a great deal of time and trouble.

Skyjunxion’s new generation products offer a full travel and expense management system, which allows business travellers to search and book flights (including on low-cost carriers), cars and hotels, as well as create expense submissions from their itineraries, record trip spend for management reporting and vendor management, upload pictures of receipts, manage VAT, handle foreign exchange and submit expense reports.

“Our products are equally at home being used by travellers and travel managers alike, due to their inherent user friendliness,” explains Charles.

The company is in the process of introducing a new feature called Side Trips, which enables multiple destinations to be contained within a single itinerary.

“It’s a very useful and flexible tool for today’s increasingly complex business travel requirements,” she reveals. “The goal with all our products is to make the process of business travel as easy as possible at the lowest possible cost.”

To this end, moving the whole process online offers the potential not only for significant savings to corporates, but also puts the traveller in control of their own travel and expenses.

“For example, travellers use their smartphone to take a picture of their receipts and upload them onto the expense management system, which allows them to submit their expenses before they have even arrived home,” says Charles.

Travel with Flair’s latest products are focused on mobile and mobile app enhancements. According to Wilke, travellers are able to book through all channels, including mobile and online, or through more traditional channels and receive all travel documents via their mobile device.

HRG Rennies Travel’s mobile travel application is aimed at addressing the needs of both the busy traveller as well as the company procurement practitioner. Not only do travellers have access to critical information on the move via their smart devices, but the app also addresses issues such as policy adherence and risk management.

Logiwiz, HRG Rennies Travel’s internal point of sale technology, ensures that critical information is captured accurately from the outset by the travel consultant. It has the ability to build customised fields according to specific client needs.

“Making sure that items such as order numbers and cost centres are captured correctly makes a significant impact on the quality of the invoicing and management reporting that the client receives,” explains De Vries.

Furthermore, the automation made possible by the company’s proprietary Finwiz technology further secures uniformity and standardization from a financial perspective.

“This end-to-end automation is a vital support to the client in their effort to manage business travel effectively,” he adds.

Amadeus Ticket Changer is an entirely automated solution aimed specifically at travel agents, but is also suitable for corporate customers. It allows agents to service their customers’ change requests anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds, as well as provide the correct fare and penalty charges. Also from the Amadeus stable, Amadeus Communicator Reporting is a browser-based data analysis tool, which provides online access to consolidated real time statistics and information on travel arrangements and travellers.

“Although Communicator is designed for travel agents, corporate customers can be given access to their own database via the security settings available,” says Shaw. “Agents can now provide summarised and detailed reports that support decision makers, help them better manage their travel and reduce costs. One such report, ‘Who is Where’, gives agents a snapshot of where their clients are travelling in the world at any given point.”

Amadeus has a number of products specifically geared towards corporate users, including an online self-booking tool called e-Travel Management, which serves every aspect of a corporate’s travel needs through a single entry point. Employees are able to plan, book and purchase complete travel itineraries within their company’s guidelines and travel policies, and with preferred suppliers and negotiated rates integrated into the easy to use site. An approval process can even be implemented whereby travel plans are sent to a line manager before they are booked. E-Reporter compliments this product by providing management with the ability to pull reports on employee travel movements.

UNIGLOBE Travel has a number of new products on offer, with online travel management tools catering for the special needs of different types of travel, including small businesses, large corporate acccounts and even individual leisure travel.

“Our objective is to provide transparent, efficient and economic travel, financial and loyalty management, online reporting tools to provide easy access to documentation, and management reports of all kinds,” says Gray. “Raw data can also be particularly important for business travel. This includes aspects such as integration to reconcile credit card transactions with ease, mobile apps which allow travellers to check travel-related information while on the road, and e-ticket tracking which manages unflown tickets costs.”

Implementing New Business Travel Technologies

Charles advises corporates to have a clear understanding of their reasons for wanting to implement a travel solution and what they envisage achieving – cost savings, control, centralising travel arrangements, implementing proper vendor management through the availability of comprehensive reporting, or all of these. The next step is to look for a solution that meets these objectives, is intuitive to use, requires minimal training and offers the best value.

“The ideal solution is one that allows corporates to choose which features they want to use without having to pay extra for these services,” she adds.

A thorough analysis of a company’s internal workflow processes to identify gaps and opportunities is also a good idea, suggests De Vries. Integration with the TMC system will undoubtedly offer good synergies, but if full integration is not possible, then it’s a good idea to adopt the TMC’s own workflow tools to streamline the process as far as possible.

“The management of booking changes, authorisation hierarchies, the escalation of out of policy requests and budget alignment, are just some of the areas where software and technology can make a difference to a company’s travel management practices,” says De Vries.

One of the biggest challenges facing businesses that invest in corporate travel software and technology is adoption.

“Businesses need to ensure that the tool is adopted by encouraging employees to make use of it,” advises Christie. “All too often, corporates invest in travel technologies but the adoption, usage or implementation is not supported.”

East concurs. “Don’t just implement corporate travel software because it is the thing to do. A key role of account managers is to make recommendations of software and technology that are right for their client.”

He advises corporates to work with a small test group to review and understand how best to use the software and then to work with the travel management company to implement the software in the business.

“It’s important to keep the communication flowing to the end users during the implementation period. Include product updates, frequently asked questions, or even a small competition to keep the focus on the project in hand.”

Expect resistance to change, advises Gray. “New technology with enhanced control features will ensure more accountability, but the downside is that employees may resist this change. So, it’s important that corporates are committed to its implementation.”

“For implementation to be successful, buy-in from senior management is crucial,” argues Shaw.

Similarly, travellers need to feel part of the process and understand why the company is using the online tool. He also suggests that corporates document their travel policy and specify terms, such as whether or not employees need to use certain carriers or book the cheapest possible flights.

There is no doubt that in the global business environment, business travel is big business and an area which needs constant monitoring in order to contain costs. The tools and technologies available certainly go some way towards keeping a lid on costs, while at the same time meeting the needs of travellers on the move. The trick is to know what you’re dealing with, what your clients need, and what systems are the best fit for your business.

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