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Less travel is the future of travel management

The future of business travel is all about helping travellers and bookers think and choose better.

Looking to the future of business travel, there is inevitably much focus on cutting-edge technology – innovations such as AI, machine learning and Blockchain that have the potential to revolutionise the industry.

For all the excitement about opportunities enabled by digital however, it is easy to overlook that new technology is of limited value, at best, if it doesn’t help meet travellers’ real, human, needs.

In 2019, as business travel continues to focus more and more on helping travellers think and choose better, this will open up a range of vital questions for the industry. Chief among them the somewhat heretical but crucial thought: should travel management companies be actively encouraging less travel?

Travel is costly – to organisations and travellers themselves. While we always strive to deliver the best possible trip; sometimes the best trip to not travel at all.

It's a shift in thinking, but one that is taking hold.

It makes sense to those holding the purse strings in procurement who recognise there are limited opportunities to drive cost-savings by tightening and enforcing travel policies. Using psychological insights to encourage the ‘right’ behaviours – such as cutting down on unnecessary travel – is the key to unlocking significant new savings.

It makes sense to travellers who are tired of spending excessive time on trains and planes for meetings that could be accomplished more effectively and efficiently by phone or video conferencing. (A trend that is being accelerated by generational changes in the workplace, not least as people increasingly question and reject presenteeism cultures and the ‘travel for the sake of it’ that goes with it). While hosts are often completely oblivious of the impact on wellbeing that meetings being called at a particular time / location can have, in terms of travel times, childcare arrangements, etc – and making that impact visible can have a very positive cascade effect.

It makes sense to colleagues across organisations, not least those with HR responsibilities. Thinking directly about how travellers think, feel and behave puts traveller safety and wellbeing centre stage, and makes explicit the crucial links between travel and employee motivation, productivity and an organisation’s culture. Travel is emerging from the artificial organisational silo that it has been restricted to.

As more people think holistically about travel and its impact, technology will really deliver – if it is used in tandem with behavioural science and data insights. For example, in creating a new online booking tool, travellers shouldn’t have to think ‘is this the right thing for me to do?’. The right behaviour needs to be implicit and made easy – ‘the answer’ should be built into the booking process.

Behavioural science is mainstream these days and attempts to influence behaviour (nudges) are everywhere – which is why it lies at the heart of my predictions:

  1. Travel management companies will really start to act on the wealth of data they have access to, so they’re not just talking about behaviours, but using the behavioural insights they’ve drawn from that data. We’ll see a move from using data to inform buying and to negotiate, to using it to change things – from reactive reporting to proactive, psychologically-grounded campaigns.
  2. Looking at behaviour in the round will open up a range of new opportunities – understanding the cause of why and how people travel – not just in the planning and booking stages, but holistically, enabling organisations and travellers themselves to think more logically about the impact travel has on safety and wellbeing.
  3. The travel management companies that will be best placed to take advantage will be those that can combine behavioural science, data and analysis, and technology. Companies that not only obsess about how travellers think, feel and behave, but who also have the data for actionable insights, and the technology for excellent customer experience with the capabilities to nudge and influence informed decisions (with personalised messaging, for example).
Photo of Jonti Dalal-Small

Jonti Dalal-Small

Head of Behavioural Science, Capita Travel and Events

Jonti is a behavioural designer – an award-winning digital transformation consultant who draws on a rare combination of expertise as both a business psychologist and human-centred designer. In his current role he helps business travellers think and choose better. He designs and implements behaviour change initiatives to successfully achieve and sustain digital transformations and extract business value from behavioural insight, eg, nudge theory. He has worked with clients across local government, and in the utilities, travel and insurance sectors.

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