Change is constant throughout life, and business travel is no exception. As we near the end of our first quarter of the year, we’re starting to see some changes in the way we’re approaching travel and the way the technology is changing how we get from Point A to Point B.
Sharing economies such as Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft have transitioned from independent rebels operating outside mainstream business to becoming accepted as helpful ways to accomplish business travel goals and keep budgets in line.
Because of the wide acceptance of these services, particularly among small business owners, an article on The Next Web wonders how these companies will expand. For example, in 2014, small business owners only chose Uber over taxis 1 in 3 times. As of the end of 2017, that had reversed, with Uber being the preferred choice 3 to 1. Airbnb has had a similar experience among the same demographic. In 2014, hotels were preferred to Airbnb properties 16 to 1, while just three years later, that ratio was only 6 to 1. It will be interesting to see how these ride sharing and hospitality service economies navigate saturation in the remainder of 2018.
Blockchain technology advances and the use of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are infiltrating marketplace transactions and this year could be a turning point in how it is accepted by the big players in the credit industry. In the final quarter of 2017, American Express, VISA, and MasterCard each announced its intentions to get in on the burgeoning tectonic shift in the way transactions are completed around the world.
One of the main reasons these three players are making moves to stake their claim in this Wild West of transaction technology is because blockchain transactions operate differently and outside of traditional banking systems. A decentralized network of computers has the ability to encrypt and maintain the integrity of a public ledger so that it is immune to hacking and fraud. Blockchain also allows individuals to conduct business without a middleman, such as a credit card company or bank, and this innovation has the potential to alter the landscape of how both businesses and citizens do business in significant ways.
While we are still a ways away from it being ubiquitous and part of the way everyone buys and sells goods and services, blockchain and Bitcoin’s use overseas is forcing banks and credit card companies to implement initiatives so they aren’t left behind.
Much faster than we expected and may be ready for, self-driving cars are no longer a futuristic concept. They’ll be operational in a limited number of cities as early as 2019, after Uber launched its first test fleet in 2016. Its recently-announced partnership with Volvo to add 24,000 such vehicles to its fleet, and Lyft’s partnership with Waymo to make similar advancements in its business strategy, self-driving cars are only going to increase the availability of another viable option for business travel very, very soon.
While it may still be some time before you’ll see a self-driving car pull up to the curb to take you where you need to go, artificial intelligence (AI) has already made significant inroads to the way we create itineraries online for business travel. Labeled “cognitive projects” in an IBM report of the business travel industry leaders, a third of all companies in this space are working on AI enhancements that will personalize the business traveler’s experience.
Whether you call it “interactive customer service” or a “chatbot” that pops up when you’re considering a specific flight itinerary, these cognitive projects are being designed to analyze large data sets and the preferences of other travelers in order to create an itinerary that appears to have been customized.
Business travelers may not even notice the influx of AI into the process, since the technology is being developed in such a way that it can converse in natural language with prospective customers in order to determine and meet their needs.
All of these changes are the result of the fact that there’s money to be made in business travel. According to the Global Business Travel Association, business travel is expected to increase by 6 percent this year, up from 3.5 percent in 2016. Increased trade worldwide and growth in both manufacturing and emerging markets are driving optimism. While this may be good for the economy, businesses will have to find creative ways to absorb or streamline the projected 3.5 and 3.7 percent increases, respectively, in airline tickets and hotel accommodations.
With all this potential for dramatic changes, the mature nature of the business travel industry will find ways to adjust and welcome these shifts because it knows they ultimately result in growth.
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