How AI is changing corporate travel management

Corporate travel is big – really big – business. According
to a July 2017 report from the Global Business Travel Association, global
business travel spend approached $1.3 trillion in 2016, and it’s expected to
grow steadily over the next few years.

For corporate travel managers, the challenge of overseeing these massive budgets – and the myriad of vendors, contracts, invoices and
human resources built into them – is exacerbated by the growing demand of
travelers to make their trips convenient, stress-free and personalized to their

The risk of not meeting those desires is that those
travelers take matters into their own hands, booking flights and accommodations

“What most travel managers are after is adoption of the
channel – making sure they have full transparency of what is going on and where
travelers are booking, and not getting it through expense reports when money is
already cashed out,” says Martin Biermann, vice present of product development
and chief technology officer for HRS, which provides hotel sourcing, booking
and management solutions for more than 3,000 businesses worldwide. 

Traditionally companies have relied on detailed guidelines
and regulations to help them manage their employees’ travel. But Biermann says
this “one-size-fits-all” strategy – with policies that are “very dense, very
narrow and restrict the traveler to a small scope of what they are allowed to
do” are counter to the flexibility and personalization desired by today’s
business travelers.

The answer, he says, is in the abundance of data that is now
available and able to be understood through artificial intelligence, machine
learning and neural network technology.

AI optimization

For nearly two years, the HRS Innovation Hub has been gathering data and developing tools to understand traveler preferences so it can provide both
optimized recommendations for those travelers as well as enhanced sourcing of
hotel content for corporate clients.

By analyzing itinerary behaviors across travelers within a
company and as well as from companies in the same vertical or geographic
region, Biermann says it is able to better predict what accommodation a
traveler will prefer.

“Ideally the first three hotels that are shown to you in
the online booking tool hit perfectly your taste and you don’t even have to
filter any more,” he says.

“When we can cater to preferences without even asking for them,
your search time is heavily reduced and conversion is much increased. We will
see travelers book what is recommended, because it’s so convenient, it’s so
fast. And second you can much earlier understand where you see shifts in
traveler behavior, which need to be answered from a sourcing perspective when negotiating
with properties.”

AI automation

Biermann says as the capabilities of AI are
fine-tuned and more broadly adopted, companies will be able to eliminate
lengthy, restrictive policies. And as these systems become smarter, automation will be enabled even earlier in the booking process. 

“I strongly believe we will see those policies go away,” he

“And then you can probably skip the search portal in the
future. You will just make the appointment in your calendar and you’ll get the
hotel recommendation right into it, maybe even the reservation if the system is
confident this is exactly what you want.”

Eventually an AI-powered recommendation engine could
eliminate the reliance on pre-booking and the potential complications of last
minute changes and re-bookings.

“It’s totally legacy to say you have to plan your business
trip and book a hotel. I think you should go on your trip and at the time you
need it, get the hotel recommendation as you travel.”

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