Expert Insights

Do we need personalisation in business travel?

2 March 2017 by Paul Saggar

If personalisation is tailoring a service or product to individuals' needs/preferences, what's it mean to corporate travel/meetings?

Managing spend through personalisation

In the consumer world, personalisation is a key factor influencing online shopping and social media experiences.  If I shopped for an MP3 player on Amazon, I’d be presented with a huge number of options. After selecting a model, I’d also be shown other offers and the ‘frequently bought with…’ suggestions. With so many other people buying the ‘extras’ – from carrying cases through to extra headphones – I could be encouraged to spend more.

However, personalisation doesn’t have to mean spending more. In fact, from a business travel perspective, it could be used to do the opposite – to actually manage and control costs. At a time when NDC supports the ability for an airline to personalise the experience for online bookers by offering ancillary options such as seat booking and food preferences, travel and procurement managers should make sure they have the suppliers and technology in place to support their desired travel policies.

Most of those policies will have been designed with the aim of reducing costs and unnecessary travel and meetings, while looking after employee welfare. The capacity to examine employee behaviour and choices in order to drive change is the key.

Changing buying behaviour

The consumer world provides a guide for what travellers and travel bookers expect of business travel. People naturally apply their expectations of everyday online shopping to the business travel space. But what does the personalised interaction on offer in the leisure space really mean to travel managers? If travellers want choice, while managers need compliance and governance, how far should it go?

Say that your data tells you that a regular traveller stays in one of your company’s preferred hotels, on a rate that’s been negotiated for you. However, expense data tells you that they never eat at the hotel restaurant. Sending a suitable message or added-value offer to your traveller might encourage them to eat at the hotel.

That could not only potentially increase your opportunities for future rate negotiation with the hotel, but also save money thanks to your agreed food and beverage discounts with that supplier.

The smart approach to personalisation is to use data to spot and predict buying trends, and to examine why travellers make certain choices. The trends can then be influenced by communicating with travellers in the right tone, at the right time and through the most appropriate channel.

Could personalisation frustrate users?

Personalisation supported by artificial intelligence (AI) has seen a surge in recent years. More recently, in business travel in particular, there has been quite a stir about the potential of chatbots. These computer programs are designed to conduct a conversation, either in audio or written form.

However, rather than advanced versions that use AI to learn from conversations, many chatbots are still based on rules rather than learning. That limits functionality and restricts them to basic information requests. When the requests become too complex, bots can require human intervention, leaving the person on the other end of a device frustrated! As we’ve previously reported, the hospitality industry is making some positive steps towards using AI, in hotels for example. However, I’ve yet to have a wholly positive experience of a chatbot for more complex requests.

While the value of AI such as chatbots is in improving business traveller experiences, they’ve got a way to go before I’m convinced that they add greater value than a ‘user-friendly’ online booking system.

Online booking is still top dog

Budget holders might be hoping that chatbots will reduce travel booking costs. In reality, the cost of making a booking is insignificant compared with the savings and rewards that companies achieve through using specialist agencies to manage travel.

Online and mobile booking adoption has grown fast. Technology already removes much of the transactional cost for basic travel and meetings requirements, either at booking stages or during journeys.

It is an exciting time to be a part of our industry. Managed travel is changing fast and personalisation has a big role to play in its future.

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.