Business travelers rely more on tech than human interaction

AS quickly as you can say “digital”, the world of business travel is fast-evolving. More and more, corporate travelers are relying on technology to keep their trips seamless and hassle-free, which enables them to stay focused on their business objectives.

According to a recent study by Egencia, the business arm of sister company Expedia, there’s an increasing demand among corporate travelers for more access to technology and better cross-device integration to make trips more productive.

Instead of perks like airport lounge access and priority boarding, travelers are looking for minimal human interaction; more than half the 4,521 surveyed expressed preference for technology that removes the need for in-person contact with airline staff, unless absolutely necessary.

In fact, 66 percent said they preferred to manage all their bookings digitally.

“They want to avoid standing in lines. They want to skip the check-in process at the counter with the gate agent. They want to use their mobile devices from the start of the check-in process, all the way to boarding the plane,” Egencia chief product officer Michael Gulmann said in a Forbes article.

The trend signals an image shift from the clichéd, pampered luxury of business travel to a focus on maximum efficiency aided by technological support.

In fact, at least two-thirds of business travelers want to manage their trips – more specifically their travel finances – on more devices than just their smartphones. It’s no surprise why; for the business traveler who spends most of his or her time in hotels and aboard a plane, trip management, expense reports and trawling through reams of receipts can be quite a pain in the neck.

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Simply put, corporate travelers want to get from A to B quickly and without incident, and they believe technology can make the process as efficient as possible.

And rightfully, more global hospitality players are taking notice.

Egencia is one example. Earlier this year, it launched the Open Sync service, which allows users to upload receipts and credit card transactions in one place to streamline expense reports into one database. This piece of tech also utilizes what is arguably the best-selling point of any modern service provider: one click and you’re done.

Ava, a robot powered by Irobot. Source: Hilton Worldwide

Hospitality giant Hilton Worldwide, meanwhile, has been looking into artificial intelligence (AI) to improve guest services. Ava, a robot powered by Irobot, joined the Hilton McLean Tysons Corner team in Virginia, US, late 2015.

On top of greeting guests, Ava also serves as a translator for foreign travelers. More interestingly, she even helps guests remotely sign into meetings. According to The Washington Post, two service members from Kuwait recently used Ava to dial in from their home country and “walk” around the American Red Cross’s Salute to Service Gala held at the property’s ballroom.

Tysons, located beside Hilton Worldwide’s headquarters, is the hospitality group’s “innovation hub” where new tech is tested out on guests. The same property has also introduced Connie, a concierge robot powered by IBM’s Watson computing system that can answer guest queries on hotel amenities and even suggest restaurants.

Similarly, airlines and airports have been investing in technology to improve check-in and boarding processes, which saves time for the business traveler on a tight schedule.

SEE ALSO: The tools and tech driving the meetings industry

In February, Dutch airline KLM conducted pilot testing of facial recognition software to speed up the boarding process. After an initial registration at a kiosk beforehand, passengers no longer needed to present their boarding passes or passports at the gates to get on their flight.

Facial recognition technology in airports would speed up the check-in process. Source: Shutterstock

According to airline technology company SITA in January, more than 90 percent of airports have check-in kiosks, 61 percent have “assisted bag drops” and over a quarter even allow passengers to do it by themselves.

“Doing it yourself is fast and with more airports offering the service, fewer passengers will need to wait for an agent’s help,” SITA airport solutions vice-president Matthy Serfontein told Business Insider.

“2017 is set to see the number of self-service bag drop areas really increasing. SITA’s research shows  up to 72 percent of airports plan to have it by the end of 2019.”

Still, while these facilities certainly improve air travel across the board, airline tech offerings specifically for the business traveler remain few and far between. For example, not every major airline provides business-specific tech to aid travelers in their expenses or trip management.

Singapore Airlines, however, recently launched a company travel program aimed at both small companies and corporations. This includes a dashboard to track spending and a travel management portal to “manage all your employees’ travel needs”.

New technology, therefore, seems to be out there, although not always tailored to the business traveler’s specifications. Still, as the lines between tech and travel continue to blur, we expect to see more collaborations between tech firms and hospitality brands targeting the corporate traveler.

As Egencia president Rob Greyber says: “We are at a turning point in business travel where standalone products are just not enough. Expectations of global business travelers are higher than ever before: they want instant access to information and management tools on every device, while operating autonomously.”