Top image: Hong Kong International Airport. Photo by Ben Mack.
Travelling for business can be tiresome. It involves strange hours, jet lag and time away from your family. Luckily, as new technology comes in, the business travel experience is rapidly improving.
Printed tickets are a thing of the past and next time you have a customer service issue it’s unlikely you’ll deal directly with a human.
These smart technologies, including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, are reshaping how we research, book and experience the journeys we take.
Perth Airport. Photo by Ben Mack.
If you don’t like the idea of AI bots and machine learning infiltrating your travel experience you’re in the minority. Recent research conducted by Booking.com for Business, (full disclosure: I work for Booking.com) has found that the majority of professionals (75 percent) agree that technology has made it easier to plan and book business travel and accommodation today versus using a traditional travel agent.
While there is still room for increased speed, simplification and personalisation across every aspect of the user experience, there is plenty to be excited about. Here are some of my favourite examples of how technology is transforming the world of business travel now, and in the more immediate future:
- Keeping it simple: At the most basic level, technology has ensured that booking a business trip is cheaper, quicker and greener than ever before. Smartphones enable us to browse and compare deals on flights and accommodation. We can look at online reviews in order to make a decision before confirming a booking. Smartphones enable us to check-in on the way to the airport, meaning there’s no need to print out and carry a heap of paper documents, which is better both for the traveller and the planet.
- The Ultimate Personal Assistants: When planning an upcoming trip, half (50 percent) of travellers don’t have a preference for a real person or computer, as long as their questions are answered. AI chat platforms, or chat bots, are becoming increasingly advanced – and the more they learn, the more they can do. These systems are capable of gathering information on what business travellers like and dislike, making tailored recommendations. Booking.com’s Booking Assistant, for example, employs mobile messaging and a conversational user interface to enable first-line support in an easy, familiar way. Using AI chat functionality, the Booking Assistant responds to queries and requests about existing reservations, property policies and common stay-related requests swiftly. If the Booking Assistant doesn’t know the answer, it redirects messages to property owners or to Booking.com’s Customer Service Team to ensure a response.
- Robots at Your Service: AI-infused robots are already handling simple face-to-face customer interactions and transactions. In Geneva airport for example, roaming self-service kiosks assist with check-ins and issuing boarding passes, so that airport staff are freed up to focus on more complex interactions and procedures. In the hotel industry, concierge and butler services are increasingly becoming automated so that some tasks are performed by robots instead. A robot named AURA (Automated Room-Service Associate) has become a stand-out feature at the M Social Hotel in Singapore, employed for room service and other deliveries to hotel guests. AURA has been designed to navigate corridors, avoid obstacles, effectively use elevators and even alert guests upon arrival to their rooms. These robot butlers can help business travellers use their time more constructively by having deliveries, special requests and personal touches brought straight to their door.
- Smartphone Tech – the gateway to experiences: Thanks to advances in mobile technology, business travel has become increasingly seamless and on-the-go – with nearly all research, bookings and changes to flights or hotels able to be made directly on a mobile device. But beyond that, smartphones are now becoming the gateway to personalised, curated experiences for travellers – helping them discover and explore the destinations they visit, in line with their personal – and professional – likes and preferences. According to research by Booking.com for Business, a quarter (24 percent) of professionals said that they often incorporate time for leisure and non-work activities into existing timeframes of business trips.
AI and human-machine interfaces are making significant advances towards transforming how business travellers search, book, manage and conduct business travel. Ultimately, these cutting-edge technologies have the potential to make travel, both business and leisure, much more efficient, smart and enjoyable.
Joshua Nu’u-Steele is New Zealand area manager for Booking.com.
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