The growing importance of mobility, data and virtual payments is changing the way travel managers see themselves and their future.
Most travel managers expect to take on a more strategic role in assessing and managing travel technology over the next three to five years, according to a recent study from the Global Business Travel Association Foundation.
The study, Travel Manager 2020: Foundational Shifts in the Role of the Travel Manager, emphasized similar trends seen in a 2014 survey. For this study, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) surveyed 237 travel managers across North America in March. The study was sponsored by Sabre.
A majority of travel managers, 86%, already have responsibilities related to selecting or implementing some sort of travel-related technology, most often online booking tools, mobile solutions or virtual payment systems.
Nearly as many, 84%, said technology is the driving force behind their expectations of taking a more strategic role over the next few years, the study said.
Tech: transforming the travel manager role
“Technology is becoming more and more important to travel managers as they expand their role in the company and continue to demonstrate the value they bring,” said Joe Bates, vice president of research, for the GBTA.
“Technology is expected to fully transform the role of travel managers by 2019.”
The survey results suggest that travel managers are finding a practical balance between the competing demands of procurement and finance.
Procurement tends to see travel as a commodity purchase that can, and should, be driven to the lowest-cost supplier.
It’s a useful perspective, particularly in terms of specific travel products such as airline seats or hotel space.
A cost center
But focusing exclusively on lowest cost can gloss over industry-specific nuances—including shifts in the travel value chain—and can lose effectiveness.
Finance tends to see travel as a cost center that can, and should, be controlled, largely by focusing on travel policy and policy compliance.
But focusing on policy compliance can limit traveler’s choice and flexibility, which can result in lost business opportunities. Balancing these two perspectives, often using technology, can produce a more effective travel program that better supports overall revenue and profit goals.
A majority of travel managers, 61%, reported that evaluating and applying technology solutions to business travel is very important now.
A larger majority, 75%, said technology will be very important to their role in the near future.
Leveraging contract negotiations
Travel managers also value complete, accurate and holistic travel data that allows them to demonstrate the value their program brings to the company.
Travel data is most often used to leverage contract negotiations with suppliers, monitor compliance and demonstrate hard dollar savings. These three areas are also among the most time consuming.
More accurate, more timely and more complete travel data could dramatically improve travel management. The most important areas for improvement include mobile booking apps and mobile payment systems.
Improved mobile technology also supports duty of care by improving traveler tracking and communication.
The new ‘road warrior’
The expectation that mobile technology will play a larger role in the near future is no surprise, Bates said. The business traveler population is growing younger by the year as more and more millennials move into the work force and begin to dominate the road warrior class.
“We still see a very strong generational divide in technology use,” he said. “Everybody has a smart phone, but younger travelers use them more deeply and more frequently.”
But better technology and better data don’t come easily.
A third of travel managers said they have trouble keeping up with new tech. And only 39% said business and technology are aligned within their organizations.
“Suppliers need to ensure they align their technology offerings with the real business need of companies and corporate travelers,” Bates said. “Travel managers can be a conduit for information flow in both directions.”