Technology will take centre stage in 2019

Technology is set to dominate the travel space in 2019, with corporate travel no different. Personalisation has been a developing trend for business travellers, with large TMCs beginning to jump on board.

Frank Palapies, COO, Africa & Middle East for Wings Travel, told Travel & Meetings Buyer (TAM) that frequent travellers were looking more at ways they could take their lifestyle with them. “If I spend a lot of time travelling, I would ideally like to do it in a way that is as least disruptive to my lifestyle as possible,” he says, explaining that this is where the personalisation of a service comes in. “If a TMC’s system can start recording, remembering and recommending, based on data collected on an individual traveller, that traveller’s life will be easier.” He says, for example, that it is becoming standard that a booking tool records a traveller’s meal preferences. What if the system was also constantly researching things about the destinations you are heading to, Palapies asks? For example, a system could say that it has found a vegetarian restaurant in Lagos that you can try on your trip to Nigeria in February.

Marco Ciocchetti, CEO of XL Travel Group Head Office, agrees that personalisation is the way forward. “Travel websites are ‘learning’ to deliver more personalised results for travel planners.” He notes that the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in travel has been powering emerging technology platforms.

Palapies says the use of robots in travel is not far away but that most important is the way in which AI or robot technology is introduced to the market. “In the corporate travel space, our margins are based on cost efficiency. If the robot is designed at business level to help improve cost efficiency, it ties in directly with our business margins.” He says in South Africa, there has been a reluctance to embrace this kind of technology. “We didn’t need it because we didn’t have a shortage of labour.” He also suggests that perhaps this kind of change is seen more as a threat than having the potential to enhance the industry.

Airlines are also looking to stay on top of evolving trends in tech. British Airways is hoping to improve punctuality in airports through new technology like digital bag tags. The airline is also looking at new technology that will automatically book hotel rooms for passengers who miss flights due to disruptions. FlySafair is examining ways of improving its customer experience, both at the airport and on board the aircraft, using technology to personalise the journey.

Both Palapies and Ciocchetti note that South Africa’s travel industry must stay on top of technological trends. Palapies says, as the new generation of business traveller emerges, the systems that are facilitating that travel must be up to date as well. Ciocchetti says: “We need to ensure that our clients are in a position to access us differently, in line with how they live the rest of their life, which is often via their phones.”

Ciocchetti believes that the agent or travel planner will always be crucial to ensuring efficient and successful travel, but that the industry must evolve as the rest of the world does.

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