Travel Managers Reveal Honest Opinions About Travel Tech and Mobile Technology, From Our GBTA Survey
I’ve spent the majority of my career solving complex problems for travel platforms. Which means I’ve also spent a lot of time talking to customers and partners, digging into trends and analyzing data. That’s why I was excited to dissect our recent study from Global Business Travel Association. The report looks at travel manager views on travel innovation and mobile functionality, and how their programs have changed since the pandemic.
I found the results of the GBTA survey to be insightful, fascinating and a bit frustrating. Some of the areas that popped out immediately to me were how low the bar is on mobile functionality, how travel managers really feel about technology, and what they need and want from it to better support their programs.
In this article, I’ll break down some of the key survey findings and add my perspectives on each. And for those who know me, you won’t be surprised that I have strong opinions on some of these results.
Travel tech pain point: innovation
SURVEY DATA: Travel managers widely view innovation as a pain point. Almost half of travel managers (47.8%) say innovation is one of the three greatest pain points with their primary online booking tool (OBT). (See Figure 1, below.)
Heck, yeah! I’ve been known to say over the last decade that travel tech is stuck in the ice ages. I think the respondents were being polite at only 47.8%.
Traditional OBTs are focused on the pre-travel booking elements of a trip, but that's only a small portion of the overall activities of an entire business trip. What about transportation from the airport, or dinner with clients? There are also numerous purchases and activities that can occur during a trip, like purchasing premium seats, getting airport lounge access, or food delivery when the traveler arrives at the hotel after room service or local restaurants are closed.
There are many other important elements of a trip. At Deem, we think of our platform, Etta, not as an online booking tool, but as a complete travel platform that is accessible to our travelers whether they are sitting at their desk or standing in line at a coffee shop.
A good consumer comparison is Amazon. As an end-to-end solution, Amazon allows customers to buy nearly any product from one platform, even if the items come from different vendors — this is the e-commerce version of travel’s omni-channel model. Amazon allows a user to buy whatever they need at the moment they realize they need it.
The same should be true in business travel. (Deem was omni-channel before omni-channel was a thing). A complete travel platform needs to aggregate content and provide contextual recommendations.
Our vision for Etta is to make it Easier To Travel Anywhere. This requires a single application that is always available for a traveler to access, that helps them with every aspect of their trip, then keeps a virtual eye out for any problems that may arise and proactively provides solutions.
Modern technologies can make this a reality. It's a monumental undertaking that Deem is focused on and we continue to expand our platform to that vision. In the end, improving your travel tech drives more value — and happiness — for your travel program.
Mobile technology for business travel
SURVEY DATA: Many travel programs offer mobile booking, but as seen in Figure 2, below, one in five do not offer mobile corporate booking solutions for flights (19.8%) or hotels (16.7%). One-quarter (26.6%) do not offer mobile booking of rental cars.
How can this be?! Today everyone has a smartphone and they expect to use it in every aspect of their life. In a time when U.S. adults average between 3.5-4.5 hours per day on their mobile phones, it's inconceivable that some platforms aren’t offering the functionality travelers need. While they're waiting at a coffee shop, they should be able to book their next trip before the barista makes their triple shot caramel macchiato with a twist.
Based on travel managers’ answers here, it’s clear there are still some mobile apps not supporting table stakes functionality, not to mention the other missing features travelers need for a productive business trip. This causes frustration with the travel program and, ultimately, pushes the traveler off platform to find what they need. And there is so much more to a complete mobile app than just the ability to search and book air, hotel and car. A great mobile app must be designed with humans in mind, and we’ve done that with Etta.
Not only does the Etta mobile app give travelers the complete functionality they need to book and manage their trip, it’s also designed with accessibility in mind. Travelers with vision or hearing impairments, for instance, can adapt Etta for their needs, such as increasing the screen contrast for readability or using the built-in text-to-voice feature.
In fact, Etta for iOS meets the AA level for accessibility as defined by the World Wide Web Consortium. (Etta for Android is coming later this summer and will include this same standard for accessibility.)
Accessibility features aren’t reserved for travelers who may have additional needs — they work for everyone. Raise your hand if you’ve bumped up the text size on your phone because it’s just easier to see. In many other apps, increasing the font size can break the formatting so the app is almost unusable. Etta works with the accessibility features in the device itself, so every aspect of the screen is resized, looks beautiful and is fully functioning.
What about when you’re walking down the airport terminal with your caramel macchiato in hand, and you need to know your gate number or your boarding time? Etta allows you to do that with voice commands, so you don’t have to slow down for a second.
Mobile isn’t the way of the future — it’s the way of right now. But building a complete travel platform is not for the faint of heart. It's a complex collection of content, booking capabilities and profile information. It requires years of development, partnerships, and an extreme understanding of traveler and travel manager needs.
Many providers don’t have the ability to see the vision through. It takes a dedicated software company with technical, financial, and domain knowledge to build a complete travel platform. The level of investment and domain knowledge required to build a CTP is immense. So, other booking tools offer only partial functionality, such as providing an itinerary on mobile but not the ability to book or make changes. For some companies, providing full functionality is an insurmountable challenge.
Travel mobile app satisfaction
SURVEY DATA: Even when travel programs offer mobile booking, satisfaction is mixed. Figure 3, below, shows that while almost two-thirds of travel managers (64.4%) are satisfied with their mobile booking solution when it comes to the traveler experience, only about half (54.4%) are satisfied when it comes to consistency with other formats, i.e., their mobile app offers similar content and experience as their desktop platform or speaking with a travel agent.
Are travelers who are using these apps with partial functionality actually happy? No way! The problem is the bar for mobile corporate travel experiences is too low. That can make it seem like many of the current corporate travel mobile apps are good enough.
Think about this: When was the last time you called Amazon so they could fix something for you? Consumer apps that we use every day are the bar for product depth and user control. If there’s an issue with an Amazon order, I know I can usually fix it in a few clicks. At Deem, that is the bar we set for travel. The platform should be intuitive and complete enough that it’s the rare exception when a traveler needs human intervention to solve a problem.
Traveling for business can be tiresome, especially when disruptions occur. Our goal is to remove as much friction as possible so that our travelers can focus on the reason they are traveling, not how to get a hold of someone to change a cancelled flight. That’s our bar and we are making great strides in elevating it with Etta.
Travel managers on user experience
SURVEY DATA: Of the most important factors when selecting an online booking tool, shown below in Figure 4, three out of five travel managers say user experience is one of the top three factors they consider.
Travel managers are split on user experience. While almost half (of those surveyed) think it’s in the top three strengths of their primary online booking tool, nearly as many say user experience is a top pain point. That still leaves plenty of room for travel tech to improve.
Of course, we want to make it easier to travel anywhere for everyone — it’s right there in our name: Etta. A great user experience lowers friction and improves productivity. And it just makes people happier. We’ve all been travelers. You’ve felt the sense of relief when the airline automatically books you on the next flight after a cancellation or the peace of mind that comes from knowing the address of your hotel is only a tap away. But here’s why travel managers and companies really need a great user experience: travel program compliance.
It’s obvious that when travelers love the technology their company asks them to use, they’re more likely to actually use it. When its functionality is complete and it’s available when they need it (i.e., mobile and reliable,) they won’t be able to imagine being without it. That benefits the travel program and ultimately the company.
Providing travelers with a single travel platform improves preferred supplier use, enables better cost control, and makes it easier to communicate with travelers, especially in times of an emergency.
Travel tech strengths — and weaknesses
SURVEY DATA: Configuration is a strength of online booking tools (OBTs). Figure 5, below, shows that seven in 10 (68.8%) travel managers rank configuration — that is, being able to apply travel policies and promote preferred vendors — as one of the three greatest strengths.
A travel manager needs a travel platform with a high degree of configurability. Today’s travel programs typically include very precise, conditional yet nuanced policy parameters, supplier preferences, geographies, dynamically rendered messaging, and so much more. The ability to support myriad traveler needs is paramount to a platform that will scale for its customers.
From our inception, Deem set out to allow a high degree of configurability without forcing our customers to compromise their program requirements. We designed our software to support multiple configurations and address a multitude of user types. We even have customers that have updated their own internal policies to take advantage of Etta’s advanced and modern configuration capabilities.
Deem can support diverse policies regardless of corporation size or complexity. There are configurations for small and medium businesses all the way through to multinational Fortune 500 companies. These configurations can also be connected to a corporation’s choice of travel management company, expense management solution, and numerous sources of content.
We also think of configurability from the traveler point of view. The essence of this is human-centered design, meaning, it’s built for how travelers need to search, book, and interact with their travel app. The app must be configurable and flexible enough to allow a traveler the ability to book anything related to their trip in whatever order they need.
Some online booking tools require a traveler to book air, hotel, and car in that exact order. But take Apple as an example: They don’t force you to buy Airpods before you buy Jay Z’s latest track (or stream the whole album.) You can buy them individually, in any order, or you can buy them all together — whatever works for you.
Business travel should be the same.
Get the complete GBTA report, How Do Travel Managers View Corporate Booking Technology.