Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Business travel agencies boost tech investment and automation, say Amadeus research

Demand for business travel continues to increase, with the Global Business Travel Association’s (GBTA) latest report forecasting spend on corporate travel will surpass 2019 levels ($1.4 trillion) during 2024 and rise to $1.8 Trillion by 2027.

It’s in this broader context that new Travel Technology Investment Trends research from Amadeus finds business travel agencies (BTAs) expect to increase their investment in technology by an average of 13 percent over the coming 12 months.

According to the survey with 150 senior technology leaders from BTAs, the primary drivers of investment are a focus on ‘enhancing the customer experience’ (49 percent) and ‘improving productivity’ (41 percent).

In total, some 69 percent of business travel agencies plan to invest ‘more’ in technology than in the previous twelve months and a further 28 percent will invest ‘about the same’.

Only three percent plan to reduce investment in technology over the coming year, suggesting a strong appetite for innovation.

Business travel payments transformation accelerates

Senior leaders from business travel agencies anticipate that digital payments will be one of the most influential technologies in the sector this year and will remain so over a five-year horizon.

The adoption of ‘virtual cards’, typically single-use payment card numbers that are used on a one-to-one basis to pay for each booking or travel service, like a hotel, is viewed as the single most important way to unlock productivity gains for BTAs, with 67 percent of respondents rolling out the technology.

This approach removes the need to reconcile payments to individual booking, drastically reducing manual workloads across the sector. More than half of BTA leaders (51 percent) also confirmed their agency views the use of virtual cards as a way to drive additional revenue through rebates obtained from card issuers.

BTAs embrace automation and self-service

The study also revealed growing appetite for automation among BTAs as the sector seeks to reduce manual workloads, with a third of agencies planning to implement Robotic Process Automation (RPA) this year.

RPA uses software robots to automatically move data from one place to another and to undertake routine tasks.

Roughly a third of agency leaders said they already use RPA and estimate they have automated around a quarter of their agencies’ manual processes, with plans to automate a further 27 per cent of the manual workload in the coming years.

With 50 percent of the leaders surveyed confirming their agencies don’t yet offer full self-service options for changing an airline ticket, it’s clear there is significant potential to extend self-service in corporate travel.

Respondents estimated that roughly 12 percent of their agencies’ bookings involve a voluntary or involuntary ticket change, which consume approximately 11 percent of their customer service resources.

Perhaps that’s why a third of BTAs are planning to introduce self-serve ticket change options over the coming twelve months.

Elena Avila, executive vice president, travel distribution, Amadeus, said: “With corporate travelers back on the road, the environment for business travel is different to before.

“BTAs are working hard to deliver on new hybrid working needs, however, this study suggests there are also aggressive plans to modernize the industry.

“From robotics to virtual cards, BTAs are investing to deliver better processes that reduce costs and enhance the corporate travel experience.”

Business travel agencies were also asked to choose the most important broad technologies for their businesses in the short- and medium-term from a shortlist of options, with machine learning, Generative AI, data analytics and digital payments topping the list of priorities in the coming year.

In the longer-term, the Extended Reality and API driven innovation join the top five technologies anticipated to have the biggest potential impact.

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