Amex GBT global CTO on why APAC is leading the business travel industry

In an exclusive interview, David Thompson spoke about the emerging technologies which are affecting the business travel industry and what makes APAC the fastest growing business travel market worldwide

david thompson
Amex GBT

A white paper on travel business authored by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), a leading body in the industry, forecasts Asia Pacific (APAC) to lead business travel worldwide in the coming years. The average business travel growth in the region is forecast at 6.2% per annum.

The WTTC goes even further and predicts that by 2027, business travel spending in APAC will more than double to US$645 billion from the current US$334 billion. The region will make up half of the global total, easily outperforming the Americas, the current region with the largest business travel spend.

In the middle of this fast-moving industry is David Thompson, Global Chief Information and Technology Officer at American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT).

An award winning CIO/CTO and respected technology leader, Thompson is responsible for Amex GBT enterprise technology, application development, information security, product development, IT operations and data systems.

In this exclusive interview with CIO ASEAN, the CTO spoke about which emerging technologies are affecting the business travel industry and what makes APAC the fastest growing business travel market worldwide.

What are the technology trends in the travel industry in 2019?

According to a report by GlobalData, the travel industry top technology trends in 2018 were augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR), artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), voice technology, Wi-Fi connectivity and wearable devices.

We asked Thompson if these emerging technologies will still play a key role throughout 2019. Do they reflect accurately the current tech landscape in the APAC region?

“These tech trends are still relevant in 2019, and will be relevant for years to come as we’re only scratching the surface with many of these technologies in terms of their capabilities,” he said. “The focus this year will be on how these trends continue to enhance the traveller experience and support companies in managing their business travel.”

According to the CTO, the level of smartphone adoption around the world, and particularly in APAC, has driven a mobile-first strategy for GBT services. This had led the company to place a special emphasis on improving mobile capabilities, voice technology and developing data driven products throughout 2019.

One of the latest enhancements to the Amex GBT Mobile app include the possibility for customers to have access to a global, real-time messaging platform that enables live conversations with travel counsellors.

“Once a sci-fi film fantasy, AI is already demonstrating how it can simplify and enhance everyday life, including business travel. Over the next decade, I anticipate that we’ll work towards innovation between suppliers and travellers allowing us to reach a true point of seamless automation,” explained Thomson.

Which emerging tech is Amex GBT investing on?

Blockchain, IoT, cloud, AI… Today, the emerging technologies market doesn’t lack of choices. Whereas some businesses are rushing towards the implementation of as many of them as possible, smart investment becomes vital if firms want to avoid a situation where thousands, or even millions, of dollars end up down the drain.

AI is undoubtedly the apple of the tech giant's eye, and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of restraint at the time of injecting funding into research and products involving the golden technology.

AMEX GBT is not behind and as Thompson explained us, he and his team have a clear idea where they want to put the big bucks on.

“At American Express GBT, investment in AI and machine learning is a major focus within APAC, and we’ve developed products such as Hotel Re-Shop and Trip Recommender which are supported by this technology,” he said.

Hotel Re-shop, which will be available in APAC later this year, constantly monitors room rates following a hotel booking and can automatically trigger a rebooking when a like-for-like room with the same key amenities becomes available in a hotel at a lower rate. This enables GBT to help optimise hotel programme performance for their clients.

“Where this was once a manual effort through a variety of processes, it is now powered by machine-learning. This hasn’t come without its challenges, and there’s been a steep learning curve for GBT’s AI technology due to seemingly minor but significant differences between hotels across APAC cities such as “Free Wi-Fi v free high-speed internet v free internet,” he continued.

Another automation initiative by GBT is Trip Recommender™, an app that is the first iteration of true automation between supplier and traveller. It combines client preferences with supplier data sets to make informed recommendations on accommodation and transport on a personalised basis. The plan, however, is that in 10 years time all this will happen automatically without travellers having to think about their logistics - it will be all left to a simple check of their app and go.  

“With traveller information captured across all travel booking channels globally, GBT has one of the most robust and secure data sets in business travel. Its big data and analytics platform, a repository that houses more than six years of data, drives GBT’s reporting and analytics tools,” the CTO told CIO ASEAN.

Which factors make APAC the fastest growing business travel market worldwide?

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) predicts the fastest global growing business travel markets over the next five years to be India and Indonesia at 11.3% and 8.7% growth as a result of increased regional trade and growing populations.

“With strong economic growth in APAC, comes strong growth in arterial activities,” explained Thompson. “Growth in business travel is a reaction to increased business and trade movements in the region. Coupled with the regional cultural factors around in person meetings, this makes the APAC business travel market the fastest growing in the world, predicted to lead through to at least 2023.”

China, despite its economic slowdown and the drums of trade war, is set to remain the largest fifth fastest-growing business travel market in the world over the next five years, driven largely by a surge within the professional services, hospitality and retail sectors. The Asian nation continues to be the biggest trading partner in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and India, among other countries.

“Because of the diverse cultures in Asia, there is emphasis on face-to-face meetings over teleconferencing, so business travel growth is both an effect of and an enabler of further economic growth,” concluded the executive.

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