Future of business travel: it’s personal
Business travel is getting ever more sophisticated and competitive. To stand out, airlines need to be able to offer a more personalised experience to their business customers.
Airlines are under increasing pressure to offer more personalised choice to business travellers on convenience, comfort and price as every business traveller’s needs are unique. The challenge for airlines is how to understand their customers as individuals and be able to target them with attractive offers and experiences that appeal to them at the right place at the right time.
Why are business travellers different?
A business traveller generally has unique requirements compared to someone flying for leisure. Business travellers tend to be more schedule-driven as opposed to price-driven. They value flexibility to accommodate changes in their itinerary and require amenities such as early boarding, lounge access, wireless connectivity and premium seating. Leisure travellers on the other hand, have differing priorities – for example, seeking cheaper fares or extra baggage allowance.
To understand and cater to the nuances of business travellers’ individual needs, technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) will all play a key role. They will make the process of shopping, booking and on-boarding of business travellers much more tailored and frictionless.
With the traveller’s consent, airlines can identify trends shown by traveller data such as personal preferences, past trips, choice of airlines, airports or amenities, and their favoured payment method. Airlines can take this data and create the “right” offer for those customers, while still giving them the choice of alternative options. The more relevant data sets that airlines can collect, the more accurate their offers can become, meaning the experience will continually improve for business travellers.
NLP-assisted bots on the other hand can facilitate any real-time interaction or human support required throughout shopping, booking or boarding.
Another huge opportunity for airlines is in delivering a simpler, end-to-end travel experience. Currently, most travel – including business travel – is fragmented. While a lot of emphasis is placed on the flight ticket, airlines have a wide open playing field in facilitating other components of the entire journey – be it pre-trip planning, the ride to the airport, transit through security and boarding, airport pick-up at the other end, hotel check-in, and the same services back home.
Personalisation in business travel must allow for timely changes for schedule revisions or unexpected disruptions along the journey. To further improve the offering, airlines can make it easy for business travellers to provide feedback throughout the journey.
How will business travel evolve in the coming years?
Travel is evolving faster than ever before, and we have seen recent academic research and working prototypes reminiscent of classic sci-fi movies and series across some exciting technological developments.
Augmented Reality (AR): There will be an increased deployment of AR to provide seamless touchpoints during the entire travel experience. AR could be used for checking bag size or seat pitch, or embedded directions to connecting gates and gesture-driven actions. With AR glasses, ground staff can recognise business traveller preferences within the airport, lounge or on-board.
Internet of Things devices (IoT): One of the business traveller’s great fears is luggage lost in transit, so airlines are putting their minds at rest by using internet enabled devices to track bags throughout their journey. Using low-power consumption tags, coupled with cost-efficient transponders and receivers, they are able to track bags from check-in to ramp, across multiple airlines and onto the baggage carousel.
Virtual Reality (VR): This technology could replace the current in-flight entertainment system to provide a dramatically different and immersive on-board experience. VR could be used for comfort, entertainment and shopping.
Blended offers: Airlines will look to offer a wider spectrum of their offer to business customers drawn from commercial and general aviation. For example, platforms can connect to present the best options available. Could we see an Uber-style service for private jets in the future for instance?
In the near-term, we can expect to see more open search engines for ultra-specific travel questions, such as “when is the most cost-effective flight from London City airport to Geneva?” People booking business travel will no longer need to visit multiple websites to find the information they need.
Looking even further ahead into the future, we could see VTOLs (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft, autonomous vehicles and electric planes.
The future is exciting! From research to booking, transit either end, airport security and lounges, right through to the in-flight experience and hotel stay, the experience will continue to improve for business travellers.
* The writer is senior vice-president of Engineering and Head of Innovation for Airlines at Amadeus