BCD travel -- emerging tech and travel management

Blockchain, chatbots, machine learning, virtual reality (VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are among the emerging technologies capturing the imagination of the business travel community. These innovations have the potential to be truly disruptive forces. But precisely how they will change corporate travel, and how travel buyers can prepare, isn’t yet clear.

We’ll help you understand how these emerging technologies can deal with some of the challenges you face in managing different parts of your travel programmes.


This report takes a closer look at how technologies like machine learning, can transform sourcing by making it more dynamic and enabling real-time engagement with traveller management. Machine learning is a form of artificial intelligence where computers predict the future by autonomously learning from the past.

By sourcing, we mean:

  • Identifying and selecting suppliers
  • Specifying products and services
  • Pricing and contracting
  • Presenting choices to travellers
  • Payment
  • Supplier performance management

Emerging technologies promise many improvements, which together can make sourcing more dynamic and support smarter, more compliant booking by travellers.

The use of algorithms driven by rapid, cloud-based processing of huge data sets, already allows buyers to analyse spend and supplier pricing faster and smarter than a few years ago.

Machine learning is now taking these intelligent sourcing processes to the next level.

Machine learning will also combine with CIAM (customer identity and access management) technology to provide new insights into traveller preferences and buying habits. These can be used to develop smarter personalisation, making it easier to influence traveller behaviour.

It doesn’t just USE algorithms – it BUILDS them to pick out patterns from data and provide recommendations within predefined parameters. And by identifying irregular booking patterns, it can help to prevent fraud, too.

Essentially, machine learning enables a system to audit, analyse and act.

Improve compliance with personalised messaging:

  • Sending personalised messages to steer travellers to decisions that meet their needs and are within policy, too.
  • Directing them to hotels close to clients or to those highly rated by colleagues.

Improve compliance with hotels travellers like:

  • Machine learning alerts you that travellers are regularly using an alternative to a preferred hotel.
  • Using sentiment analysis, work out why they dislike the preferred hotel.
  • Keep travellers happy and make savings by negotiating a rate with the alternative hotel.
  • Use machine learning to check how often the negotiated rate is available at the preferred hotel, and ensure it’s offered at the new hotel, too.

Save Money by capping hotel rates:

  • Machine learning shows travellers regularly booking a hotel below the company’s rate cap.
  • Traveller sentiment analysis about this hotel on social media is positive.
  • The rate cap is automatically lowered to the level charged by the popular hotel.
  • Hotels charging above this rate are ‘de-preferenced’ from the online booking tool.

Save money by making sourcing dynamic:

  • Constantly monitoring contract performance and automatically advising if there are better suppliers or pricing in the market.
  • Triggering automated request for proposals for new suppliers when better options are identified.
  • Advising travellers on the best booking behaviours, so they can help control costs too.


How emerging technology can transform travel sourcing


  • Machine learning
    • Traveller segmentation
    • Identifying travellers’ supplier preferences
    • Spend effect of supplier change


  • Augmented and virtual reality
  • VR meetings
  • Meeting room selection, configuration
  • Hotel tours
  • Preview of aircraft seats, hotel rooms


  • Machine learning
  • Tender process optimisation
  • Using criteria to filter offers
  • Price cap adjustment
  • Managing non-compliant suppliers


  • Blockchain
    • Smart contracts for pricing, contracting and performance monitoring
    • Anomaly tracking


  • Internet of Things
    • Contract fulfilment

Day after tomorrow

  • Augmented and virtual reality
    • 3D spend models


  • Internet of Things
    • Supplier performance monitoring


  • Bots and virtual assistants
    • Sending RFP to digital marketplace


  • Blockchain
    • Supplier identity management
    • Distribution platform
    • Over-booking avoidance
    • Payment

This is how we see the application of these emerging technologies to travel sourcing. But things are changing fast, and some developments may happen more quickly than we expect.

Challenges remain

The emerging technologies we’ve reviewed can make corporate travel sourcing faster and smarter. But innovation is not without risks and practical obstacles. Here are three challenges

Technology inertia

Updating technology can be costly and time consuming. Parts of the travel industry still use very old technology. Even today, travellers may need to confirm a hotel room by phone or fax. Many hotels also continue to depend on a broad range of (often ageing) property management systems. These simply wouldn’t be able to feed data into a smart contract sitting on a blockchain. Buyers will therefore have to run any new technologies they introduce in parallel with the much older processes still used by some suppliers. This will cause more fragmentation and less consistency.

Data security

Emerging technologies offer improved security to individual users. For example, blockchain will make payment more secure, as travellers will no longer need to carry credit cards. But an increased overall reliance on machines and digitisation increases systemic risk. The more data stored in one place – particularly personal information – the greater the risk for catastrophic data security breaches and the heavier the protection measures needed.

Data protection legislation

Companies risk breaching data protection laws if they lose or leak personal data. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has substantially increased the penalties for companies anywhere in the world, if their actions (or negligence) result in breaches of personal data of EU citizens. But there are two other ways that GDPR presents challenges for new sourcing technologies.

Profiling travellers

The problem:

  • Using machine-learning personalisation techniques to target travellers and predict their behaviour could violate GDPR restrictions on ‘profiling’.
  • In some cases, profiling should only happen if the traveller has freely given informed consent.
  • Defining profiling is complex.
  • Expert advice is essential to ensure any use of personalisation in travel sourcing is GDPR-compliant.


Getting the best from emerging technology

Emerging technologies can help to restore sourcing as a highly effective way of managing travel costs. The various technologies will make the travel buyer-supplier relationship much more dynamic. Tools using these technologies will:

  • Constantly assess and activate new buying opportunities.
  • Monitor and fix potential problems as they occur.
  • Deliver the best, most compliant pricing options to travellers, so they won’t want to look elsewhere.

Travel manager checklist

To make the best of the opportunities these new technologies present, we recommend that you:


Keep informed:

  • Talk to suppliers, travel service providers and other travel buyers.
  • Read the relevant trade press.
  • Find out how these technologies are being applied elsewhere in your business, especially in other procurement categories.


  • Get involved in beta-testing or piloting new tools with service providers.
  • Get input from a select group of frequent travellers.
  • Find out what the technology can and cannot do.
  • Review and compare multiple tools and software.

Get new-tech ready:

  • Declutter and consolidate data and systems before introducing new technologies.
  • Make sure all travel contracts are gathered on a single platform.
  • Get an analysis bot to scan and compare existing contracts.

Understand relevant legislation:

  • To work with data tools, ensure you have a working knowledge of GDPR and other data protection laws.
  • Beware: Such legislation can be difficult to understand in detail.
  • Consult internal or external experts for advice.

About BCD Travel

BCD Travel helps companies make the most of what they spend on travel. For travellers, this means keeping them safe and productive, and equipping them to make good choices on the road. For travel and procurement managers, it means advising them on how to grow the value of their travel programme. In short, we help our clients travel smart and achieve more. For more information, visit www.bcdtravel.com/za