August 16, 2018

IBM and Travelport want to Revolutionise Corporate Travel With AI

by Malek Murison

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For businesses who regularly send employees away from the office to work with clients or abroad for meetings and conferences, the cost of corporate travel can be significant. Particularly when trips and accommodation are often organised at the last minute, and those tasked with doing so have to source information from a range of different sources.

Travel commerce platform Travelport and technology giant IBM have together launched IBM Travel Manager, an industry-first AI platform designed to help businesses manage corporate travel spend and take the guesswork out of organising travel.   

IBM Watson tracks and manages travel costs

So how does it work?

IBM Travel Manager is operated through IBM Cloud. The platform harnesses IBM's resident AI, Watson, to intelligently track, manage, predict and analyze travel costs in one place.

In a bold statement, Travelport and IBM claim that their new capability will "fundamentally change how companies manage and optimize their travel programs."

Annual global business travel spends are expected to hit beyond .2 trillion this year according to the Global Business Travel Association. With numbers like that, it's easy to see what kind of impact a disruptive corporate travel solution could have.

It also means corporate travel managers are always looking for innovative ways to reduce costs.

Currently for businesses to get a full picture of travel patterns, a travel manager might have to sift through data from various travel agencies, cards, expense systems and suppliers. It's the only realistic way to get a full understanding of spend and compliance.

However, the important part here is that this process usually happens after the fact, from a historical view rather than in real time.

Read more: Gap in the Market Volume 8: Corporate Travel

Using AI to Analyse corporate travel data in real time

The new platform features advanced artificial intelligence that combines cognitive computing with predictive data analytics. IBM says the technology uses “what-if”, hypothetical scenarios with integrated travel and expense data "to help travel management teams, procurement category managers, business units, finance and human resource departments optimize their travel program, control spend and enhance the end-traveler experience."

In English, that means the new platform uses IBM Watson to gather travel data and cost information from a variety of sources, before analysing the most cost-effective outcome, assessing the bigger picture and making sure corporate travel managers book the right things at the right time.

IBM Travel Manager gives users complete, unified access to previous siloed information. But the real power of this platform potentially comes from the integration of travel data from the Travelport global distribution system (GDS). Together they offer real-time predictive analytics, recommending how adjustments in travel booking behavior patterns can positively impact a company’s travel budget.

“IBM Travel Manager, with Travelport’s data, is unlike any traditional travel spend reporting solution currently available today from travel management companies, suppliers, corporate booking tools or other third parties,” said Fiona Shanley, Travelport’s Chief Customer and Marketing Officer.

Read more: The Trump Effect is Real: US Travel Industry Slump in Numbers

“While other solutions only provide a fragmented historical picture, IBM Travel Manager combines and normalizes data from all key sources, allowing for more robust insights and benchmarking than other reporting solutions.”

“IBM and Travelport are using the power of AI to unlock previously unavailable insights from multiple internal and external data sources. Travel managers can use this information to proactively drive improved supplier negotiations via real time and holistic data, enable budget holders to understand and change spending patterns, and improve travel policy compliance monitoring,” said Elizabeth Pollock, IBM Industry Client Leader for Travel & Transportation.

So how will businesses find working with IBM Travel Manager? So far we know that it will feature "an interactive and intuitive dashboard that offers end-to-end visibility of travel spending, the ability to create alerts and notifications, predictive and pre-defined spending trend analysis, and natural language understanding to analyze text and uncover insights from structured and unstructured data."

The product is expected to be commercially available to customers around the world through both IBM and Travelport.

Read more: Report Digs into Travel Technology Trends for 2018

Another tech giant enters the travel industry

We've written plenty about how Google has been slowly moving into the travel industry. Given the influence the company has over search results and new technologies that are changing the way we travel, from translation services to virtual assistants, the company's potential impact shouldn't be underestimated.

IBM's partnership with Travelport - whose own travel commerce platform provides distribution, technology, payment and other solutions for the global travel and tourism industry - is another example of technology giants moving into the lucrative travel market.

The application of AI - and importantly the reams of data it will have access to through Travelport's GDS - should give business travel managers more insight than ever before and empower them to make more cost-effective decisions.

There were other announcements in the corporate travel sector this week, including partnerships between a variety of travel management companies, global distribution systems, and airlines. American Express Global Business Travel and Carlson Wagonlit Travel, for example, are teaming up with Sabre and Amadeus on various initiatives.