Although there is no industry that hasn’t already been disrupted by the dizzying pace in which technology is evolving, it can be claimed that travel is one of the trades particularly affected by it.
In Singapore alone, 680 tour agencies ceased business during the period 2013-2018 and the remaining ones are struggling to keep afloat against the competition of online booking websites and apps.
The dynamism of technology makes difficult to predict what the future trends will look like and who will be the next game changer.
David Thompson, Global Chief Information and Technology Officer at American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT), talks in this interview with CIO ASEAN about the current challenges facing the business travel industry and why big data has become an integral part to the business and value-add services.
What are the challenges facing the business travel industry?
Thompson says that one of the main challenges for the business travel industry today is keeping up with customer demands of business travel technology. This stems from users increasingly expecting consumer travel tech capabilities and multi-channel options to book travel, which hasn’t historically been available in business travel.
“A growing desire for personalisation has sparked a need for predictive, intelligent products which requires travel management companies to manage supplier partnerships in order to integrate effectively,” he tells CIO ASEAN.
“The biggest hurdle for us is getting travel managers to embrace these technologies and become enablers and supporters of these programs. A seamless merger of technology and corporate processes allows us to create a truly frictionless experience.”
Data security and compliance is by no means and exclusive challenge of the travel industry, but the nature of the business, which requires storing high amounts of sensitive information, makes it necessary to set high standards.
“The travel industry is well equipped to lead on GDPR as travel management companies (TMCs) typically have a long history of managing sensitive data,” says Thompson. “TMCs must ensure these standards are a significant component of their product design and data architecture to lead successfully.”
But which challenges is the industry facing in Southeast Asia in particular? With the region being now home to some of the strongest emerging markets, the growing economy and regional trade continues to drive business travel between nations.
“The variety of cultures within the region means there is high value placed on face-to-face meetings, more so than in other regions where teleconferencing would suffice for a lot of business communication,” explains the IT executive.
“Therefore, business travellers spend more time travelling, so their wellbeing is a focus for GBT in APAC. In a turbulent world with plenty of travel disruptions, be they man-made or environmental crises, there are many scenarios in which companies need to ensure they’re assisting their staff in times of distress. We assist them in meeting these demands through our traveller care technology, and helping businesses meet their duty of care expectations is particularly valued within APAC.”
Using big data to achieve best results
For Thompson, delivering results for clients is a twofold practice at Amex GBT. On one hand, he aims to provide the most positive experience possible for the corporate traveler. On the other, he also wants to provide companies with the data, insights, and expertise, to manage their travel program as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible.
“For the business traveller, we utilise technology to help them safely and efficiently reach their destination, so they can be productive once they land,” he says. “With ongoing weather and security issues within Asia-Pacific (APAC), we’re seeing an increased emphasis on duty of care solutions which help companies track and communicate with travellers.”
According to the CTO, Amex GBT has one of the most robust and secure data sets in business travel with traveller information captured across all travel booking channels globally.
“Recent GBT research has shown that close to one in five travellers in APAC have had to reschedule business travel due to safety concerns. Technology initiatives such as GBTs Expert Care enable travellers to be tracked and contacted during such travel disruption, ensuring travelling staff feel valued and looked after.”
Big data and data science are major components of GBT’s overarching technology strategy and have become integral to our business and value-add services.
GBT’s big data and analytics platform, a repository that houses more than six years of data, drives the company’s reporting and analytics tools. Thompson reveals that GBT will be launching a new benchmarking service, Peer Travel Insights (PTI), that uses advanced analytic capabilities to measure travel program performance and competitiveness. It helps travel managers understand if they are doing a good job as well as measuring traveller well-being metrics.
“We employ our big data and analytics platform to respond to business questions and customer requests for information in a significantly more efficient manner than the past where answers would be created by collecting multiple data elements from various databases of queries against GBT,” explains Thompson.
“The big data and analytics platform compiles this information in one area and has become a powerful tool for improving our response time for business and financial questions. It also helps provide insights to businesses on their travel spend, and how to consolidate and increase efficiency.”