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IBM and Travelport want to Revolutionise Corporate Travel With AI

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 $1.2 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.

Gap in the Market Volume 8 – Corporate Travel

Corporate travel business trips meetings

As part of our Gap in the Market series, every so often we take a closer look at a particular travel industry niche. The general idea is that we provide ambitious business minds with the information, inspiration, and motivation to consider setting up a marketplace in that space. This week we’re delving into the world of corporate travel. Let’s get started.

So for those of you that are new to the concept, what is corporate travel, and what kind of services does it entail?

Corporate travel refers to travel for business purposes. In an increasingly connected and globalized world, companies are doing business across borders more than ever. And although Skype is great, often partnerships require international trips for meetings, conferences and the like. That’s where corporate travel agencies come in handy. They handle bookings for corporate travellers, transfers, flights and accommodation, along with anything else that might be needed for a successful business trip.

Increasingly it’s less about simply arranging travel and more about service in the corporate travel sector. Business travellers require ever more personalised bookings, from specific transport requests to workspace allocation and networking opportunities. The ability to meet these growing needs are what separate corporate travel agencies from the norm. We’ll touch on some of these later.

Corporate is one travel sector where loyalty still exists

It’s no secret that loyalty in the travel industry is a rare thing these days. With huge competition online, travelers booking trips for leisure and tourists around the world have a host of options to choose from. This means that loyalty, though hardly a thing of the past, is certainly on the wane. Customers will go first and foremost to where the price is right. But that’s not necessarily the case in the world of corporate travel. Businesses want to work with agencies that meet their needs and provide an excellent, reliable service. Tick those boxes and your very own corporate travel startup could be on to a winner, with loyal businesses that value consistency.

Corporate travel is more complex than you might think

When we break it down, corporate travel is a little more complex than its sister sectors in the industry. Think about the relationship between buyer and seller. The dynamic is different than with most travel transactions. First of all, the person making the booking is unlikely to be the person actually doing the travelling. Therefore corporate travel agencies are more likely to deal directly with admin staff representing companies, who are themselves acting as an intermediary for the travellers. So many corporate travel marketplaces will actually find themselves, despite already being essentially middlemen, dealing with others who are essentially middlemen as well. This is an interesting dynamic.

Especially when you consider that for the travel agency to deliver the perfect service, they’re going to need detailed information on the personal requirements of those travelling – a lot more than simply the date and standard of accommodation required. Of course, the end result is going to be the same. If the end user is happy, the customer is happy. But there’s no doubting the increased importance of effective communication for corporate travel bookings.

So what defines the happiness of corporate travellers? Well, according to research carried out by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), there are four key areas that impact upon business travel satisfaction. These are “booking”, “productivity during travel”, “tracking and reporting” and “personal life”.

Now, booking and productivity during travel both play a role in forecasting whether or not a corporate traveller is going to get back home satisfied with how things went. The same goes for “tracking and reporting” and “personal life”, but there is a slight generation split on just how important these final two factors are. Older travellers with families, for example, are more likely to care about having strong communication links while away on business. In any case, we can focus on the primary two drivers of business travel satisfaction: booking and productivity on the go. Booking is an easy one for agencies to get right. As long as the process is swift, efficient and self-explanatory, everyone’s a winner.

Productivity on the go, however, is more difficult for agencies to guarantee. They in turn will need to work with partners to ensure that all transport services and accommodation available are suitable for remote working, which may be easier said than done.

What does the future hold for corporate travellers?

While expenditure on corporate travel is growing globally, it’s difficult to say how it will go hand in hand with the also-rising trend of remote work. The sharing economy, the democratisation of space and more and more choosing self-employment may mean that corporate travel is going to continue to grow, but perhaps not as we know it in its current form. There’s no reason why business travel won’t also be disrupted by these emerging trends in the world of work and technology.

One great example in this exciting, developing space is Beewake, a corporate travel startup turning conventional business travel on its head. Instead of just sorting you out with a room for the night (not that there’s anything wrong with doing just that, of course) Beewake brings corporate travellers and vacant day spaces together. Through Beewake you can hire out office space, a meeting room or a hotel room as part of an on-demand service, whether you need somewhere to work, recuperate or get together with clients.

Sure, it’s a simple idea, but there’s no doubt that it’s tapping into where the demand is in the world of business travel. Corporate travellers want flexibility just as much as your average tourist.

Anyway, we got in touch with the team at Beewake to talk some more about their concept, the corporate travel market, and life as a young startup in the industry. Here are the highlights.

Beewake corporate travel

Beewake – On demand space for corporate travellers.

Every travel startup begins as an idea, as a moment of inspiration. And for Beewake co-founder Jeremie Catez, things were no different. 

Having worked in the hospitality industry for a decade, Jeremie had seen firsthand how the sharing economy and online travel sites were cutting into profits on the traditional hotel scene. He told me, “Hotels were doing a fantastic job of selling overnight stays. However, they never really sold daytime spaces, such as sleeping rooms or meeting rooms, despite the growing demand for daytime spaces from both business and leisure customers.”

And so Beewake was born. But despite the obvious appeal of the concept to both customers and hoteliers looking to utilise empty space, it hasn’t always been plain sailing. Jeremie described two challenges that they quickly ran into after setting up. The first was that “The hotels are professionals of space management, and while they are very organised, they are also very fragmented in the sense that there are hundred of hotels brands and even more non-branded properties, which means dealing with thousands of legacy systems (PMS, CRS and channel managers).”

On top of that, disrupting the most traditional of markets comes with its unique challenges. “The hotel industry has always focused on overnight business, and therefore we are facing some challenges in educating hoteliers about the daytime business opportunity,” says Jeremie. “At Beewake we are targeting the business travellers, but [in the eyes of hotelliers] daytime use is frequently associated with romance”.

Hurdles that need to be overcome are a standard part of any travel startup’s successful journey. Vital in finding the solutions and breaking through challenges are founders and staff working towards a shared vision with a genuine passion for the product on offer.

Jeremie Catez agrees: “I do believe that in any corporation, but even more importantly in a startup, the team is the key to success, the same as in a relationship. Good teamwork is essential in all organisations. It signifies that people are working towards a shared purpose and common goals and in so doing they are sharing their varied skills in complementary roles and in cooperation with each other.”

But while Beewake is clearly the result of a team with a passion for travel, the focus is very much on perfecting the product and making it as appealing as possible to corporate travellers. “From the beginning,” says Jeremie, “we have decided to invest time and energy in the product, since we believe that the product has to be perfect if we want people to use it. Our product is the most important aspect in our marketing, as without it there is nothing to be promoted, strategically placed and priced.

Beewake appears to be riding the wave of remote work at the perfect time. “We’ve definitely seen the evolution of the workplace in the last decade, and thanks to new technologies it’s now easier for people to work from everywhere,” says Jeremie. “Mobility and the cloud have changed the way that we work. Specifically, when and where we work. Now that cloud technology has made data and applications more accessible, productivity is not confined to the four walls of an office anymore.”

He explains that a recent survey of business leaders at the Global Leadership Summit in London found that 34% said more than half their company’s full-time workforce would be working remotely by 2020. A full 25% said more than three-quarters would not work in a traditional office by 2020. “This is not some far off, futuristic era,” points out Jeremie. “It’s four years from now.”

Beewake certainly seems to be on an upward trajectory, particularly given the growing demand for daytime spaces in the world of business, never mind the huge amount of potential space available in the world’s major cities. If you want to find out more about Beewake, you can download the app on Android or iOS, or visit the website: www.Beewake.com

Interested in setting up your own corporate travel marketplace? We can help with that.

So there’s our dive into the world of corporate travel. There’s no doubt that the way we work is changing, but as of yet it’s difficult to say how that will affect the industry that’s grown around business trips. Does more remote work mean a higher demand for daytime working spaces out of the office? Quite possibly. Does a more connected world mean that companies will have greater justification for sending employees abroad? Almost certainly.

In case you didn’t already know, our proprietary marketplace software is a powerful solution for any startup in the travel industry looking to bring buyers and sellers together. Our solution helps you aggregate sellers and build a popular, SEO-friendly travel marketplace, while a range of content marketing features help you shout just as loud as the big online players in the industry.

Contact us today to find out more.