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You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and in 2018 the pursuit of translating that measurement into meaningful insights to help shape corporate travel will be a key area of focus for organisations.

The corporate travel space has evolved in the way in which it collects, aggregates and reports the data at its disposal from different platforms and sources. That data, once simply collected to create reports to tell a corporate ‘about’ their travel programme, is now being used to transform it.

The term big data has been talked about for some time. The difference in 2018 is that we expect big data and its impact to be more meaningful as it emerges as smart data.

This is one of the main trends we can expect for business travel in 2018, says Euan McNeil, FCM Travel Solutions South Africa GM, who lifts the veil on some of the key trends we can expect for travel into Africa this year.

1. A renewed focus on traveller friction

The wear and tear frequent travellers experience on the road will get more focus among corporates in 2018 as companies begin to understand the merits of balancing their cost-saving initiatives with a traveller-centric programme that boosts employee wellbeing and job satisfaction.

“Companies are increasingly understanding that business travel and business performance are intrinsically linked,” says McNeil. “The more companies can reduce the traveller friction experienced by their business traveller before, during and after the trip, the more productive these travellers will be, and the better return on investment for the company.

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“While in the short term, you may be saving the company by booking the red-eye flight so you don’t incur the expense of a night’s accommodation, in the long run, the fact that the traveller is less productive because they’re tired, could see them failing to conclude an important deal.”

Big data can be used to identify those road warriors most at risk of traveller friction and burn out, based on nights away from home. “The key is to take the data that you’re collecting and work with your TMC to identify the staff members whose productivity could be negatively affected because of traveller friction,” says McNeil.

“Our focus as a TMC in 2018 will be to improve travellers’ experiences by using data in a more meaningful manner and delivering traveller-facing technology like Sam:], our 24-hour travel assistant, which simplifies life for corporate travellers by blending artificial intelligence with the expertise of a real FCM travel consultant.”

2. Data will be managed more efficiently

Long gone are the days of basic reporting. In 2018, corporates will have a better understanding of the travel information they have at their disposal, where they can source additional data, and how this data can be interpreted to add value to the business and its strategic goals.

“Corporate travel has evolved from collecting data and generating a standard range of reports about the customer’s travel scenario, to analysing that data more strategically so that behaviour can be predicted and travel policy shaped to support the company’s overall business goals,” explains McNeil.

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T&E spend is one area of data collection and analysis that companies could be leveraging better, says McNeil. While cost-saving remains a key driver in travel policy, gaining an holistic overview of a corporate’s T&E spend will remain one of the most important areas of reporting. Since that data comes from so many sources, it makes sense to use one tool like FCM Connect which aggregates the data from several sources and delivers meaningful insights.

3. Travellers will see personalised services they didn’t know existed

The International Air Transport Association’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) makes a big entrance in 2018, allowing airlines to sell ancillary services and products, such as extra baggage, lounge access, seat reservations, etc.

“NDC will provide travellers with personalised offers and services from airlines, providing a more transparent, comparative shopping experience between airlines. Through NDC, the traveller would be able to compare the seat size, price and food offering of multiple airlines for example. “They would be able to select the most appealing travel option, based on product quality, service level, schedule and price, or whatever it is that they value,” explains McNeil.

The introduction of NDC also sees airlines exploring the opportunity to distribute airline ancillary services and products through their own technology instead of through a GDS, making it more expensive to book through a GDS platform.

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In the past two years, airlines like Lufthansa and British Airways have begun to levy a surcharge for any air tickets that are sold through the traditional GDS and GDS-powered platforms like online booking tools.

That means, corporates booking a British Airways flight through a travel agent or their online booking tool would incur an additional cost of £8 (R150) on each segment, e.g. Johannesburg to London, or London to New York.

Flight Centre Travel Group recently announced that its customers would be exempt from the British Airways and Iberia surcharge following the signing of a multi-year agreement – that’s a saving of R600 on a British Airways flight between Johannesburg and London, for example, and a R1200 saving on a British Airways flight between Cape Town and New York.

The corporate travel environment is always challenging, and in 2018 this will not change. However, the tools that are being introduced to manage travel can mitigate the challenges for corporate procurement managers and end corporate travellers.

Travel Management Companies are pioneering technology that anticipates the needs of business travellers and the corporate customer. These professionals are no longer transactional and responsive. “Today, TMCs anticipate travel requirements by fully understanding the company and travellers’ corporate travel needs. In 2018, the mantra will be for corporates to focus on their business success and TMCs to focus on travel to support that business through technology, data and the comfort of the end traveller.”