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2017 Advantage Travel Conference Round-Up

AdvantageConference2017

 

Advantage Travel Conference Round-Up

Last month Jodie and Jenny attended the 2017 Advantage Travel Conference graciously hosted by Club Med in their stunning Opio Resort in the south of France (we know, it's a tough job).

Here's a quick round-up of some of the key trends, news and learnings they took away from this busy event.

Man and Machine

The conference's main theme was Man and Machine, with a keynote session was delivered by Jason Bradbury, technology pundit and former presenter of Channel 5's Gadget Show.

Jason’s talk  took a holistic view of the many challenges and opportunities presented by fast-developing technology in the travel industry, and the need to apply these with a discerning, human touch.

Accompanied as he was by his pet robot Pepper, Jason was a lively and highly engaging speaker throughout. He even made a dramatic entrance on a hoverboard. Among the challenges were cyber security, contingency management, evolving business models and changing consumer preferences, while in the opportunities column lay such matters as disruptive technology, Artificial Intelligence and in-destination assistance.

Another topical issue which loomed large was the recent ruling on laptops and carry-on baggage. Questions were raised over whether the ban will discourage travellers from flying if they can no longer work on the flight or at airports, compounded by the fact that many companies have travel policies which disallow laptops being checked in. This could mean laptops being grounded, and the obvious impact this could have on productivity for the average frequent flyer business traveller.

Technology and Travel

CyberSecurityAdvantage

Picking up on similar themes was Alistair Pritchard from Deloitte. Unsurprisingly, cyber security was a key issue in the spotlight, in the wake of the recent assault of the WannaCry virus which resulted in affected organisations being extorted for £34million. Alistair revealed that one in three clients would close an account if there was a breach.

Alistair gave a very comprehensive overview of the gamut of new technology available and how the travel industry could embrace these, covering everything from AI and robotics, to facial recognition and biometrics, to the role of beacons and traveller tracking, through to mobile phone device virtual personal assistants like Siri, wearable technology and even holographics. Cloud based storage and access was also tipped as a key area for business travel solutions to target.

The main thrust of his argument was that companies need to empower their workforces by joining up solid, human-driven customer service with clever tech and intelligent automation. That means exploring things like real time learning, fostering genuinely digital workplaces with a culture of engagement, as well as booking platforms that have the agility to talk to your customers’ apps of choice and even collect loyalty points for them.

The Travel Management Company Outlook

Alongside a raft of leisure travel sessions, there were five very interesting business travel segments, covering everything from the latest corporate travel trends to the next generation of travellers.

Of special interest to us were the sessions giving an honest assessment of the current situation for TMCs such as ourselves.

The next generation of business traveller is already influencing our travel services. Characterised as ‘the modern savvy traveller’ (rather than treating leisure and business travellers as different beasts) they typically have high expectations, set by the advanced nature of consumer technology that surrounds us all, which means that corporate travel tech can sometimes disappoint by comparison.

Technology was a key theme, particularly given the ever-blurring of lines between leisure and business travel. The scope for improving the customer experience with technology, making the booking process intuitive as possible for all generations of travellers, not just tech-savvy Millennials, and using contextual personalisation techniques to remove barriers was highlighted.

Speakers reported on a perception gap between travel managers, who think their booking tools are entirely suitable and fit for purpose and the real travellers who don’t necessarily agree, which in turn often pushes them to seek out alternative tools and systems.

Some revealing statistics were also shared. It seemed surprising to note that only 50% of travel managers appreciate having a GDS, while it’s projected that 70% of all travel bookings will originate from mobile devices by 2018, which means that the importance of all business travel services being responsive and mobile-ready will only increase.

Some of the emerging technology discussed included chatbots and other forms of AI.  Some agents are already seeing the benefits of chatbots, which can be automatically populated with relevant information such as FAQs to deal with non-transactional requests from customers and streamline processes for busy travel bookers.

Underpinning much of this innovation is good old fashioned data, which dynamically informs vital decisions such as the optimum time to book travel and which currency to use.

Pedal Power

SirChrisHoyAdvantage

Rounding off the man and machine theme was a special appearance by Sir Chris Hoy MBE. Chris told us how, now that he has retired from pro-cycling, he has channelled his passion for bikes into a new business venture called Hoy Bikes. He told us that the synergy between his own high performance and the enhancements behind some of the supporting technology he uses is what makes the biggest difference to achieving the ultimate goal, which seemed like a fitting conclusion to the event.

Here’s to another insightful conference and let’s hope the travel business powers on with much the same momentum! See you in Miami next year.

AdvantageMiami2018

All pictures courtesy of Nick Robb.

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