October 15, 2021
 

Digital revolution

Technological transformation in travel is happening so fast it’s hard to keep up but there's no need to be afraid, says Bev Fearis

In the first six months of the pandemic, while we were all busy baking banana bread, clapping for the NHS and buying puppies, a technological transformation was taking place – a transformation so significant that, according to a report from Amadeus and the Business Travel Association, it would usually have taken place over two to three years.

Even in the early days of the Covid outbreak, before many of us had understood its significance and the enormous impact it would have on our daily lives, somewhere in the world there were teams of clever travel techies tapping, clicking and swiping at their screens to develop digital solutions we didn’t even know we needed.

They had realised that, as we emerged from the crisis, we would all be relying on touchless, virtual, and cloud-based technology, to keep our travellers safe and restore their confidence.

“As we return to business travel, travel technology will be more critical than ever before to ensure a seamless and safe experience for the traveller and the proper duty of care that travel managers and their businesses require,” says Simone Buckley, VP Marketing TripActions.

“This includes features that offer real-time visibility, such as live reporting, traveller maps, Covid-19 dashboards, as well as integrated health and safety tools, such as digital health passports and trip change notifications.”

Full throttle

Of course, many of these solutions would have eventually come into being even without Covid, but nowhere near as quickly.

“Very few of these trends are new, but they are moving fast and are significantly impacted by the new needs of our companies, colleagues and travellers as we emerge, as a diverse geographically spread workforce, into a post-Covid hybrid world,” says Chris Crowley, who was recently appointed Senior Vice President Of Global Sales at Duetto.

“The worst thing you can do is go digital for digital’s sake”

Rudy Daniello, Amadeus EVP Corporations, agrees: “Most companies had these transformation tasks on their to-do list anyway, but the pandemic has shone a very bright light on some of the shortcomings business travellers have tolerated for too long,” he says.

“It’s already clear that strategic technology projects in areas like contactless services, biometric digital identity and digital payments and expense are being accelerated at a rapid pace.”

Starting block

Amadeus and the traditional technology companies have been busy developing and tweaking their products while a host of newbies have entered the travel technology marketplace. The trouble now for many corporates, perhaps, is that there is simply too much choice.

So, if you haven’t already embraced the digital revolution, where do you start?

“You’ve got to take that leap of faith,” says Jeff Berk, CEO of TripKick, a tech add-on for corporate travel programmes.

“Technology is not something to be feared. It’s not always about replacing what’s being done. In a lot of ways you’re adding new ways, you’re not necessarily stopping with the old ways, so it shouldn’t be scary. For example, I now use Slack but I can still email; I text but I can still call people. People can transition when they’re ready.”

“The pandemic has shone a very bright light on some of the shortcomings business travellers have tolerated for too long”

He believes now is the time for travel managers to be having conversations with their senior executives and travellers about exploring new technologies.

“Executives are expecting this. They are expecting travel to look very different, and your travellers are expecting travel to look very different. Nobody wants to see travel programmes resume where they left off.”

It’s important, he says, to keep an eye on what those around you are doing.

“Remember, yours is not the first department within your company that’s going through a digital transformation. There is a lot to be learned out there from the other parts of your business and also from your peers in the industry,” he advises.

Automatic override

Karen Hutchings, Global Travel, Meetings & Events Leader for EY, says technology should be used to automate the simple, repetitive tasks and free up time for the rich interactions that we all thrive on.

Forced to cut her workforce by one third in the crisis, the department was able to continue operating effectively thanks to its ‘digital workforce’.

“Be curious, go and learn. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at. We should all be curious”

“Most companies will already be using a digital workforce in some way,” she says.

“What we did was find out where we were using it and looked at how we could adapt it. It’s about understanding what the technology can do and how it can help.

“Once you get that understanding, you can take away the simple, mundane and repetitive tasks and this means you can make everybody’s roles more meaningful and interesting and we can have those human interactions that we are all craving right now,” she says.

“Be curious, go and learn. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at. We should all be curious. There are so many new companies sitting in our space and there are new things happening all the time, and if there isn’t anything out there you can build things yourself which can enhance the experience of your people and your customers.”

Jerry Hubbard, Vice President Customer Office and Professional Services EMEA at Blue Prism, believes it’s all about being selective. “The worst thing you can do is go digital for digital’s sake,” he says.

“Sometimes we are overwhelmed by technology. You have to take a holistic view and look at which tasks are high impact, high effort. Technology should be the enabler, the tool to help us thrive, and propel our businesses forward.”