You're already really familiar with Google and Amazon—you may even use their services to supply your company's technological needs like email and cloud computing services. Would you turn to these big names for tools to handle your corporate travel needs?
You might, and I think it's extremely important for everyone who works inside and within the corporate travel industry be proactive about how these companies and their technology is utilized. We have to address their impact on corporate travel and how we will stay in front of the changes they bring to the industry.
Staying on top of what Google, Amazon, and other tech-based companies are doing in the travel sector isn't just important for the agents and agencies who book travel, but also for the managers and businesses whose employees travel frequently. As leaders in the travel industry and those who use travel services on a regular basis, we need to monitor technological developments and create forward-thinking strategies for working with these new options.
Education Will Be Key
A major reason to keep a close eye on what tech companies are doing to impact travel is to be able to educate travel professionals. It is critical they know and understand what's to come in the future—4 or 5 years out. Thankfully, ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents), has developed a technology committee which will deliver webinars and other educational experiences to help members make sense of the rapidly changing travel landscape.
Google and Amazon, seeing an opportunity to get a chunk of the billions spent on travel each year in the U.S., are both working on utilizing their existing strengths to make buying travel easier. With Google Flights, for example, you can search for the ticket you want and connect directly to the airline website to book. Amazon could easily book and sell hotel rooms to its more than 300 million regular customers.
What does this mean for corporate travel? Likely, more options, as well as better assistance in planning and booking flights and hotels for business travelers.
Considering how Amazon, Google, and others are getting into the travel space, it's important for industry leaders to be at the forefront, identifying opportunities, threats and what's just smoke and mirrors. Top leaders—including those of us at Safe Harbors—are already using new technologies to enhance the services we provide and to help the industry as a whole benefit from new players in the space and from the tools they offer.
Using New Technology to Provide Excellent Service
In a world where artificial intelligence and chatbots infiltrate the mainstream, it can seem on the surface that human travel agents won't play as big of a role. Managing the new technology will be essential and travel agents who utilize new tools need to be as tech-savvy as possible which will make the jobs of managers and accountants easier.
For example, you may book a flight with Google, but what happens if that flight is canceled due to weather conditions? Leisure travelers can take their time rescheduling, but your corporate executives must quickly figure out how to shake off the delay and get to their destinations. They don't want to stand in lines and wait on hold to find a solution. A professional travel agent can help you rebook your corporate travelers using tools like chatbots to communicate quickly and directly with airlines.
The hotel industry relies on third-party booking sites—as Amazon may strive to become—to fill rooms that would otherwise be empty. But hotels themselves also struggle with miscommunication and issues with these external booking sites. Your corporate execs don't want to be relegated to a lower-tier room, and they don't want to deal with an overbooking situation, which can crop up with third-party sites.
Google and Amazon may be able to use technological tools to help users locate good prices and the right routes and schedules. After all, it's pretty cool to say, "Alexa, find me a cheap hotel in New York," and have that booked for you. But these corporations aren't necessarily poised to provide the excellent service that corporate travelers demand. By understanding the limitations of these business giants to provide top-notch service, and developing ways to use new tools to aid the business traveler, travel agents can be an invaluable partner in your travel needs.
The Need for Speed—and Control
With the introduction of new tools available for consumers, many corporate travelers have decided to take matters into their own hands and book their own travel. In fact, as many as 40% of corporate travelers prefer the control they have in booking their own arrangements.
This limits you as a manager and what you can do if something goes wrong. If a storm hits in the city where your management team members have a connection, it would be great to have them re-routed before they even leave their destination. If each team member made his or her own booking, this could be a tough task, even for experienced travel professionals.
When employees take responsibility for their own travel, you lose the ability to monitor conditions and spending. The solution? Managed travel booking interfaces that give employees the control they want in making their own arrangements and requesting amenities to fit their individual needs, but with oversight, so you know where they are and what they're spending.
In the past, many corporate travel booking options have been clunky or not as feature-rich as the consumer sites that travelers are used to. But with new technology, it will be easier to incorporate these features into an interface that appeals to business travelers and managers. Mobile apps and interfaces with services like Airbnb or Lyft and Uber give travelers the autonomy they want and increases compliance with corporate rules and guidelines. Using these new tools can help keep costs down by offering employees palatable choices that fall within specific parameters.
My vision is for corporate travel agencies to be on top of the curve, learning about the potential pros and cons for new digital tools well before they're commonplace. With more and more options on the horizon, having a valued travel partner to make the path simpler will help to adapt to new technologies and offerings from tech giants like Google and Amazon.