As a new decade begins, many of the trends that impacted the world of corporate travel in the late 2010s will continue to cause a ripple effect in the industry. A technology boom is still reshaping the landscape of business travel with new tools and solutions, while the traveler experience has never been more of an organizational priority, particularly as it relates to satisfaction, safety, and health – and the impact those can have on employee retention.
But as 2020 begins, all eyes are on what's coming next. Factors like technology and experience will still be at the forefront, as will evergreen considerations such as cost control, compliance, duty of care and risk management.
As the new year unfolds, these are the 2020 corporate travel trends you can expect to hear more about.
The expectations of Millennial/Gen Z travelers driving modernization
By the numbers, Millennials have become the largest cohort in the workforce in both the US, Canada and across the globe. Now, the next generation after them, Gen Z, is entering in the professional world. What this means for employers and leaders is that the workforce is becoming decisively younger with a different work mindset.
Being digital natives, these employees will rely on – and expect – advanced tools to do their jobs, which includes their business travel. It may not be enough to have a basic travel management program; companies need modern technology that offers flexible booking options and prioritizes the user experience in order to gain the buy-in and adoption of these business travelers. Younger employees appreciate the level of involvement and convenience such tools afford them.
While balancing the needs of your organization and the expectations of your travelers isn’t new, this generation is pushing the modernization and evolution of travel management programs to new heights.
Artificial intelligence for business use becoming more sophisticated and widely adopted
Artificial intelligence is often framed as a futuristic technology — and movie-inspired misconceptions can distort reality. However, AI is already in wide use among businesses, which have leveraged AI-supported systems to automate processes, gather and mine data, and generate other efficiencies.
The key to realizing the advantages of AI (and related technologies like machine learning) is using them to drive added value. For example, employees who are freed from menial or manual work can use that time to focus on bigger-picture tasks that ultimately increase ROI and improve the bottom line. Live human support will remain necessary for troubleshooting and other types of resolution, but can ultimately be enhanced by AI.
In travel, AI is being utilized in a number of areas already, such as pricing, fraud detection, and managing disruption. This is continuing to evolve and becoming more sophisticated, offering travel managers enhanced and predictive options to improve duty of care, cost effectiveness, program compliance, and analytics. For travelers, they can expect more personalization throughout the entirety of their trips.
Travel policies are becoming more flexible and robust
Most organizations are refining their travel programs in light of modern labor and social expectations. Retaining top talent and driving program compliance through traveler satisfaction are core objectives. In correlation, this has led to businesses granting greater flexibility in booking and other travel aspects.
"Bleisure" is one of these areas of flexibility that will continue to impact corporate travel in 2020. A combination of business and leisure, bleisure is the practice of allowing employees to extend the length of their business trip to see the sights or take a breather. It helps foster a high-quality employee experience and an increase in productivity.
Another area continuing to evolve within travel policies is the sharing economy – most notably ride-sharing and home-sharing. Services like Uber and Lyft have changed ground transportation significantly, while Airbnb has made it easy to find a place to stay in just about every major city or its surrounding area.
Additionally, an ever-growing focus on traveler health means more policies will provide guidelines and processes related to traveler well-being.
The one international headline that has consistently caused business leaders and corporate travel program managers to speculate is Brexit. After years of political deadlock and deadline extensions, Brexit finally seems to be coming to a head. And once it does, companies that send employees overseas, or have EU and UK locations, will finally face what they've been trying to prepare for.
A principal feature of the EU is freedom of movement. Citizens of EU countries can benefit from passportless travel between member states. Once the United Kingdom leaves the EU, it will have to decide how it will enforce border controls, potentially disrupting business travel and increasing costs.
Of course, there is much to be decided. While a preliminary deal has been reported to be in place, many elements still remain up in the air. The aftershocks of Brexit, once it's implemented, may present further challenges and unknowns. For example, Scotland is part of the U.K. but wants to remain in the EU. If further geopolitical affairs roil the issue, businesses will need to be highly cautious in planning.
Other key trends
In addition to these major trends, travel stakeholders can also expect to hear more about:
• Sustainability, particularly as suppliers investigate new measures for being green
• The continued rise of biometrics and facial recognition in airports
• NDC and how its launch will impact air product retailing
How a TMC can help in 2020
The new year promises to be one full of developments for corporate travel. Technology will play a big part, as it has, but companies will also have to respond to demands for flexibility in policy and booking preferences. They'll need to balance all this with risk management and cost control, which can prove to be a challenge.
That's where a travel management company (TMC) can help. The assistance of an experienced TMC can help businesses drive performance objectives, select the right technology in a saturated and seemingly overwhelming market, and develop a highly satisfying traveler experience to improve travel-related ROI.
To help you stay ahead of the trends we’ve compiled a travel program health checklist to help you successfully kick off 2020. Download our Travel Program Health Checklist today.