In a survey conducted recently among business travelers, we found that close to 75% out of the 600 plus respondents were keen on being informed well ahead about incidents that could disrupt their journey. This testifies to the fact that business travel is not always a smooth and simple experience. There is a lot of unpredictability inherent to travel due to multiple external factors such as weather, aircraft technical snags, local airport incidents etc. However, a traveller can be made to feel more assured if there is a process that provides information and decision support in a timely manner. Such a process that supports a traveller during pre-trip, in-trip and post-trip phases of business travel can be called proactive traveller support.
What does proactive traveller support involve?
The foundation of proactive traveller support is the ability to provide timely information and alerts to a traveller. Such information could include the following.
- Flight Status: Delays and changes in flight timings are very much part and parcel of air travel. They can be disruptive, but when it comes to meetings that need to be postponed and conferences that cannot be moved ahead, timely updates on flight changes/cancellations can come in handy to a traveller.
- Baggage Status: While travelling, one of the greatest fears is that of losing one’s baggage. If notification about baggage can be proactively provided, a great deal of stress is eliminated for the traveler.
- Check-In Reminders: Web check-ins are a boon for busy executives, but they need to be prompted or notified about it as soon as their flight is open for check-in. Not many enjoy having to sit in a middle seat, especially in a long flight, because they forgot to check-in early.
- Gate Changes: Knowing about gate and terminal changes as and when they occur can be very important. It is not fun finding out about a gate change at the last moment, particularly when one is in one of the larger international airport terminals.
- Weather: Alerts and notifications on weather conditions can help travellers, especially new visitors to a place, prepare themselves better.
- Destination Information: Most business travelers wish to explore the destinations they are visiting for work. Travellers are also increasingly taking a lonely spouse/partner/child along on business trips. Information about their destinations and places worth visiting nearby would be valuable to such travellers.
Other than just consumption, many a times, timely information can also result in better handling of disruptions. They also open the possibility for travellers to avail services that could save money, time or fulfill some specific need. Consider the following examples.
- Changes & Cancellations: Letting a traveller know about any changes to the planned travel, assessing its downstream impacts and providing options to handle the situation will be appreciated. If this is done proactively, without the traveller having to frantically reach for help, it can be a valuable service.
- Seat Upgrades: When there is a seat upgrade available, many travellers would appreciate knowing about it. If airlines are able to proactively communicate directly to travellers, it would be mutually beneficial.
- Price Alerts: Flight and hotel availability and prices change dynamically. Travellers would love to get alerts for room availability at one’s preferred hotel or an aisle seat that was not available at the time of check-in.
- Early Check-In: Syncing travel time with hotel check-in time can be tricky. However, waiting at the hotel lobby for long hours to check-in after an early morning flight is dreaded by everyone. Sharing of information between travellers and hotels to efficiently manage room allotments can be a boon to both parties.
- Recommendations: Recommendations that can help travellers find places of interest to visit near to their destination or places to eat that match with their preferences is increasingly becoming relevant to travellers.
- Receipts: Business travelers can have trouble keeping receipts for submission on return. The ability to scan and store receipts coupled with notifications to remind about expense claim on return can be extremely useful.
- Duty of Care: Whenever there are risks involved in the journey that can be potentially life-threatening, the traveler should be alerted by the management. Vice versa, when the traveller is in need of help, the company too needs to be alerted. This is part of traveler risk management and is the duty of a company. Providing a channel to enable this will be invaluable.
How can a traveller receive the above described proactive support? To start with, there are many apps that cater to perceptive notifications about potential trip disruptions and other services mentioned earlier. The problem is in their multiplicity. A recent research showed that as many as 50 apps need to be downloaded by a business traveler to cover all the needs of a trip. And most of these apps will not talk to each other to give a seamless experience.
IATA’s Global Passenger Survey mentions that 54% travelers prefer real-time, accurate notifications that help them move forward in a journey without major disruptions. They need on-the-move support that is 24/7 and is proactive in nature. They are more comfortable when there is a human touch to the support. In short, there is an increasing need for a human-centered, service transformation in business travel.
An online travel management platform that integrates with airline systems and other service providers to identify potential disruptions in a journey, coupled with a support service that automatically sends out notifications as well as takes farsighted actions such as booking alternate flights, re-booking hotel and ground transportation based on the revised itinerary post a disruption will be the future. Such a platform will take travel management beyond booking and fulfillment, to the point where it can guarantee travel, thus taking a huge load off the traveller’s already burdened shoulders.