Expert Insights

6 top trends the business travel industry is talking about in 2017

16 January 2017 by Toni Byrne

According to research firm Frost & Sullivan, 12 ‘mega trends’ will determine the way we work, rest and play in future... 

Each is a global force that could define the future world by impacting businesses, societies, economies, cultures and personal lives.

These mega trends range from aspects of urbanisation to health and wellbeing and could affect mobility, energy and infrastructure. For example, by 2025 it is predicted that robots will be an everyday part of home life; high-speed rail links will connect Europe with China, and there will be over six million driverless cars on the road.

It’s all very Tomorrow’s World – but what about the trends that will shape how we manage business travel over the next 12 to 18 months? Here are six key issues we believe are already shaking up our industry’s immediate future.

1. Big data – it’s what you do with it that counts

Ninety per cent of the world’s data has been created in the last two years alone, while global data traffic will surpass 100 zetabytes a year by 2025. In fact, technology analysts Gartner predict most big companies will employ a chief data officer by the end of 2019.

The clever bit will be using data to make smarter travel policy and buying decisions. Traditionally, procurement and human resources, as owners of travel transactional services and policy respectively, don’t seamlessly interact. Policies are built and published, and travel management companies (TMCs) apply them on a day-to-day basis. With different departments working in silos, companies are missing opportunities to use their data to understand and influence booking behaviour.

Using intelligence from combined data sources will help companies build up a more rounded picture of their travellers and bookers. It will help explain why people make the travel and meetings decisions they do – as well as the impact of these decisions on both the organisation and on individuals. Which brings us to:

2. Personalisation – targeting your travellers and bookers

Of course, insights from company data are useless unless you can action them to influence your people to make smarter decisions. That can mean using your data to support a more personalised approach.

For example, travel managers have to find ways of transferring knowledge and behavioural nudges to all their travellers, from the seasoned, set-in-their-ways road warriors to newbies who have never travelled on business before.

A one-size-fits-all approach to communicating with travellers can lead to ineffective messages that are easily ignored by employees. But using your data sources can help identify those different types of traveller – which means you can target them with more direct, personalised advice and support.

Corporates will work more closely with their TMCs on the personalisation of communications sent to employees, to get the most relevant messages to the right person, at the right time, through the best channel.

3. The sharing economy is here to stay

We often read about how the business travel industry is supposedly becoming more receptive to sharing economy providers such as Airbnb and Uber. Certainly, short-term rentals seem to be on firmer legal ground after a series of regulatory decisions in cities including London.

However, that doesn’t make them a done deal for travel managers, as we have previously analysed, and many corporates remain nervous about their use.

On the other hand, some organisations are now dominated by a millennial generation of travelling employees who like the idea of combining business with leisure travel – ‘bleisure’ is a reality.

So we’ll certainly see more sharing economy providers capitalise on this by attempting to enter and grow within the business travel space in 2017.

Smart agencies will be up to speed on the limitations of the sharing economy – but will be ready for however the market develops.

4. Duty of care remains a top priority

In 2017, corporates will continue to work with their travellers to keep them within policy, and reiterate the value that TMCs bring – especially when it comes to peace of mind, comfort and safety.

Many hotel brands have been investing heavily in encouraging travellers to book with them directly, rather than through a TMC. As a result, there is massive concern among corporates that duty-of-care obligations and traveller security protocols could be breached, if their employees are tempted away from preferred agencies and hotel programmes.

That’s especially true in the fragmented UK accommodation market, where no single hotel chain can easily satisfy every company’s needs.

5. The impacts of Brexit on UK business travel

Needless to say, any fall in the value of sterling makes overseas accommodation more expensive for British business travellers. It could also put pressure on UK hotel rates, making the UK cheaper for in-bound travellers. That could potentially make the UK a more attractive global events destination than other European countries.

Whatever the costs, 2017 could see increased business travel between the UK, continental Europe and further afield, as companies look for new trading partners in readiness for life after Article 50.

Research by forecasting specialist Oxford Economics unveiled at the GTMC conference last year showed that business travel is a significant and direct factor in economic growth. Indeed, the Business Travel Show’s latest survey apparently tells us it’s ‘business as usual’ for buyers.

Few UK travel or events bookers ignore low-cost airlines in their programmes. With the slump in the pound pushing up the budget carriers’ fuel costs, we’ll be keeping a very close eye on flight prices.

And of course, a good TMC should be helping you find ways to keep your travel costs down – even in an uncertain market.

6. The rise and rise of technology

We’ll see further personalisation of travel tech to support compliance to company preferred travel and meetings programmes in 2017. Part of that will see the importance of mobile continue to grow – along with business travellers’ demand for reliable WiFi.

With some hotel brands already using artificial intelligence (AI) to improve guest experiences, we’ll be watching traveller reactions to this trend with interest.

As we have previously reported, virtual reality (VR) technology is hotly tipped by the HBAA to transform the travel and events world – and it’s set to make yet more headway in the event space this year. Allowing people to experience the sights and sounds of a different location, VR experiences from venues, hotels, airlines and destinations can help bring their offerings to life – with huge potential for the incentive travel market.

As well as offering imaginative and unique experiences, VR also has plenty of practical applications, such as allowing events bookers to preview venues remotely.

Similarly, augmented reality (AR) can offer benefits to business users. Rather than replacing the real world, like VR, AR overlays information and images onto your existing view of your surroundings.

There are already a few apps that can overlay data about attractions and directions onto landmarks or streets. Needless to say, these could offer big opportunities for business travel. If AR can be combined with user insights into travel infrastructure – such as live transport departures – it could really make life easier on the move for users.

Interested? Let’s have a chat about your company’s travel, meetings and events objectives - from the stuff that keeps you awake at night, to the everyday experiences of your employees! Call us on 0330 390 0340, or submit your details below.