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Business Travelers and Technology: Embracing Self-Service and Personalized Travel Options

Embracing technology is nothing new to the business traveler. The Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. has a vintage travel insurance machine on display that used to be a fixture at airports around the world. The machines were designed for the traveler who needed a little bit more peace of mind regarding the security of air travel. Additionally, the transition from gas station attendants to stations that allowed people to fill up their own vehicles came as business travelers wanted to save time and chose to do things themselves. These examples of a bygone era of business travel demonstrate what a recent GBTA Foundation study, The Digital Business Traveler: A Survey of Business Travelers in North America, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the Nordic Countries, sponsored by Sabre Corporation reinforces. Business travelers now, like then, are embracing technology that makes their travel more personalized and self-service driven.

The study found that more than 7 in 10 business travelers in the United States (78 percent), Italy (77 percent), Canada (74 percent) and Spain (73 percent) prefer using self-service technology to manage their travel, while the rate is slightly lower for the Nordic countries (60 percent) and Germany (56 percent). Additionally, business travelers are willing to share personal information with vendors if it means a more personalized travel experience. In North America and Europe, the vast majority of business travelers want to receive personalized travel options, though they are hesitant to share too much personal information to obtain them.

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Business travelers in Europe and North America are commonly willing to share details such as their frequent flyer or hotel loyalty number, preferred airline and hotel brands and aircraft seat preferences, but fewer than half would share their travel history, preferred leisure activities while traveling, their business calendar with booked appointments and their social media account names.

The most common uses for travel-related mobile apps by North American business travelers include flight check-in/status, generating an online boarding pass and booking hotels and flights. In the European countries surveyed, business travelers use travel-related apps for many of the same reasons as their North American counterparts. However, compared with U.S.-based business travelers, Germany and Nordic-based travelers are less likely to use travel-related apps for booking, while Spain-based travelers are more likely to do so. The European business travelers surveyed were less likely than North Americans to use apps to request a ride-sharing service or taxi.

Similarly, survey respondents across all countries surveyed stated they would use mobile payment or e-wallet technology for business travel. The share of respondents ranged from 43 percent in the Nordic countries all the way up to 75 percent in Italy. Millennials and Gen-X travelers are much more likely than Baby Boomers to want to use mobile payments.

Booking travel and using mobile payments help business travelers get the customization and self-service options that they want. However, technology also makes it easier for companies to ensure that duty of care protocols can be implemented and followed in a much less cumbersome fashion. Mobile apps commonly developed by TMCs or third-party safety or security firms can assist with duty of care by allowing travelers to check-in with their company upon arrival at a destination or by allowing companies to track their employees’ location and send push notifications in an emergency among other features.

Only a small share of travelers currently use these apps, however. Only 22 percent of survey respondents have used a mobile app to check-in with their company during a trip over the past year and even fewer (15 percent) have used a mobile app that allows their company to track their location. Still, despite low use, 63 percent said they would allow their company to track their location via their mobile device for duty of care purposes.

Regardless of whether the emerging technology is an insurance vending machine next to an airport gate or an entire online travel marketplace that is fully equipped with a traveler’s preferred options, loyalty numbers and frequent itineraries, business travelers continue to embrace technology.