A 2013 survey conducted by PhoCusWright found that 92% of business travelers own a smartphone, and more than six in 10 own a tablet. It is no wonder that today’s travelers want to take control over their business trips and access information anytime, anywhere. This is not to say that the role of the Travel Management Companies (TMC’s) or corporate travel policies are dead – it is merely stating the time has come to incorporate a harmonious union between these entities. TMC’s volume has leveled off from the OTA’s poaching market share, however, they have managed to maintain a place in this new world order and through the advent of technology, can deliver this new mobile seamless environment.

Travel itself from the path to purchase to trip execution is in a constant state of change. New technology, travel patterns, shifting demographics and social media are successfully engaging frequent travelers and presenting a challenge to TMC’s to balance this with internal policies. How is it possible to drive program adherence while empowering the individual who is on the trip?

The best way to unravel this complex web is to examine the evolution first from the traveler perspective and then from the Travel Management point of view. From here, we can draw some conclusions that will assist in closing this gap.

Today’s Business Traveler Profile

It’s difficult to speak about the preferences and annoyances affecting today’s traveler without first acknowledging the diverse demographics of the new face of the modern business traveler. Nearly half of these travelers are women and, while according to the Pew Research Center, more than one-in-three American workers today are Millennials, quickly outpacing both Baby Boomers and GenX.

A great snapshot into the minds of the contemporary traveler can be found in The 2015 Business Travel Survey produced by Travizon Travel Management. Let me share some interesting information uncovered during the study.

  • 84% of the individuals surveyed confirmed their employer works with a travel management company
  • Yet only 18% preferred delegating trip planning responsibilities to a third party
  • Surprisingly 59% percent stated they never book flights on their mobile device.
  • Business travel apps are primarily used for viewing real-time flight info, as over half of respondents indicate this to be the most useful feature. Instant itinerary access, weather and travel alerts were also considered important
  • Even though there has been a lot of buzz around shared services (namely Uber, Airbnb, and Zipcar) 54-56% of Boomers and Gen X participants show little to no interest in any of those offerings, however only 13% of Millennials felt the same way
  • 78% of the frequent flyers, however, believe access to Uber would improve their business travel experiences. In fact, Uber received the most support overall—with 40% of the total group indicating an interest in its services
  • Gamification, companies, turning business travel booking into a game with points and prizes for choosing preferred airlines, hotels, restaurants, etc. is quickly gaining momentum! 41% of all participants noted they would play and want to win with an additional 32% willing to take part just to be a team The most competitive target segment? 70% of Millennials were motivated to play and win.
  • 54% of all respondents say their company has no policy guidelines for booking with suppliers via a mobile device
  • 33% of the most frequent travelers dread reporting travel expenses to the point where they pay for things themselves
  • 54 % of senior management said it was a hassle If you’ve ever had to change or cancel your business travel plans
  • The expectation that the individual is simultaneously in the field and available for conference calls is a major concern.
  • One common statement among participants was that they would be better able to focus on business trips if they did not have to worry about missing flight connections.
  • Finally, an overwhelming majority stated, “A travel app that would allow me to quickly change my flights and reservations would be very helpful.”

The New Travel Management Company Profile 

For corporate enterprise companies, the role of the Travel Management Company (TMCs) plays a significant role in implementing, improving and successfully operating global travel programs. So what does a present day TMC look like as it relates to the new age traveler? A recent white paper produced by American Express and PhoCusWright examines Strategies and Ideas for Travel and Expense Program Management. Let’s take a look at what they have to say.

  • Travel program managers are innovating travel programs around the needs of frequent business travelers as part of company-wide efforts to increase employee productivity, reduce service interruptions and drive program compliance to deliver savings for their organizations
  • The most innovative travel program managers are successfully engaging frequent travelers and driving program adherence by treating their business travelers as customers and employing engagement strategies along with mandates.
  • According to the PhoCusWright qualitative research, frequent travelers’ experiences and expectations are key drivers of change in travel programs. Travel program managers have begun adjusting how program services and tools can be delivered via mobile technology
  • While 32% of companies do not have a mobile app policy in place concerning travel-related applications, some companies are developing their own apps to increase productivity and service satisfaction.
  • To make it easy for road warriors to focus more on their work and less on the burden of expense management, providing access to the tools and interfaces travelers are familiar with, making it easier for them to stay within the parameters of the program.
  • Additionally, mobile technology provides new opportunities for travel program managers to influence choices along the traveler’s purchasing path. Rather than only influencing purchasing decisions prior to departure (such as booking a hotel, airfare or train tickets), mobile technology can enable managers to communicate with and influence travelers at every single step of the trip
  • The introduction of two-way communication during a trip with SMS tools to respond to keyword inquiries such as “Taxi,” “Hotel” and “restaurant “allows the ability to by send an automated message with in-policy recommendations
  • Travel program managers must become more savvy financial managers, balancing fiscal responsibility and traveler productivity.

Upon examination of the profiles of both the traveler and the TMC, we can clearly see that the overall goals and vison of both parties are not that far apart.   Once the TMC’s have a clearer understanding of what today’s traveler wants they then can then collaborate with their enterprise customers by offering unique services. The more TMCs become involved in how they can socialize their expertise to travelers and create innovative products, (such as Cornerstone’s recently launched solutions TravelOptix™ and 4site™)  helps to service the information needs of their clients .

It is clear that mobile technology is a great medium for delivering information to the empowered road warrior that is looking for real time information that an agency can provide. To continually improve global programs in the future will rely on a partnership with open communication between the individual out in the trenches and the agency.