We are in an age of Digital Darwinism. Blink, and you could miss the arrival of the latest innovation. Whether you’re tracking your heart rate with a FitBit or relaying your shopping list to Alexa, the desire for an ever more connected and personalised experience sits at the heart of this rapid evolution.

And it’s taking off in business travel too. A significant 49% of travellers [i] would be willing to share basic information in return for a more personalised offering which jumps to 64% in APAC.

Hotels were early adopters when it came to personalisation. Initiatives such as keyless room entry were designed to emulate the feeling of ‘coming home’. Now, airlines are stepping up too. If you’re flying British Airways from Orlando to London Gatwick, you can now use biometric boarding at the gate. If you’re a Delta Sky Club member and you’ve signed up for CLEAR’s biometric service, you can even use your fingerprints to enter the Sky Clubs.

It’s impressive, but what does this mean for the experience of the everyday business traveller? Well, you can book your flights through Skyscanner using your Alexa. Although, based on the latest reviews it might not be advisable (round trips not yet available).

The reality, is that despite being on our way to more than 20 billion connected devices by 2020, the Internet of Things is still in its infancy. When Sabre asked travellers what personalisation really meant to them today, targeted messaging and the ability to purchase extras came out on top. For the 80% that said they purchase extras when flying, at the top of the wish list were:

  • Preferred seating
  • Extra leg room
  • Fast track security screening
  • Cabin class upgrade
  • In flight food and beverage

 

Addressing traveller friction points

At its best, technology brings convenience and connectivity to the travel experience. It can be seen in the latest R&M/Mobile feature, designed to remove the check-out frustrations for pre-paid hotel bookings.

Because, if you use a virtual card to pre pay the cost of a hotel, you will know the frustration when asked to present the card at check out. The lack of a physical card is, at best, an administrative headache, and at worst the traveller ends up out of pocket.  So now, within R&M/Mobile, travellers can show both sides of their virtual payment card, saving time and improving the checkout experience.

Yet no hotel checkout quite compares with airport security, regularly cited as the biggest traveller pain point. And this is where personalisation starts to get very interesting. A report from the World Economic Forum, claims that the electronic passport could unlock new ways to facilitate the low-risk traveller’s journey. It can do this, while still ensuring high levels of security. This has the potential to transform the way in which we travel. So, it would seem the future is bright for increased efficiency, but can computers really know us?

 

Efficiency v Empathy

Amazon is often hailed as the hero of personalisation; they pride themselves on making their customers feel like they really know them. Through smart recommendation and personalised content, they create an impressive shopping experience. At Reed & Mackay we often look beyond the business travel sector to build something truly user friendly and we’re not alone. A recent influx of new entrants emulate this approach to the extreme, veering away from the human touch, championing chatbots and branding themselves as tech-first travel companies.

But busy professionals don’t just want to feel like you know them. They want you to actually know them. Research not only shows the need to balance digital and human customer engagement [ii], it reveals that when booking a complex trip, travellers still want to talk to a person [iii].

What we know is that business travel is personal, and although AI may be efficient, it doesn’t yet have empathy. Not only is there not yet enough intelligence in the artificial form to handle a multi sector itinerary, when you’re stuck at an airport in the early hours, you want to talk to a person who understands your frustrations and will move mountains to help you. When a client broke his back skiing he called his very trusted consultant to help him; because not even his medical repatriation company had been able to. Not one for Alexa then.

That’s why at Reed & Mackay, we’re working to bring together real human experts with technology that integrates the value add, (rather than fly by night fad) elements of AI and machine learning.

The Internet of Things may be in its infancy but change is coming and at Reed & Mackay, we’re ready

 

[1] Sabre
[1] [1] Veriant
[1][1][1] Sabre