The business travel eco-system has always been resistant to change. This is partially due to incumbent legacy systems and business practices. On the flip side, corporations and their travel buyers biggest worries were "controlling travel costs, duty of care and rising prices".
It is hardly an environment that inspires digital innovation, is it?
Prior to COVID-19, the biggest disruptor of this status-quo was the 21st century business traveller. Inspired by their online leisure travel experiences, their booking behaviour was driving most of the disruption, but their employer's approach to managing travel costs and compliance was slowing down the pace of change.
Meanwhile the business travel industry was relatively healthy and stable; enjoying a period of massive growth. Investment in digital technology was more about "nice to haves" and responding to external challenges.
All of this made it a challenging sector for the innovator...
COVID-19 has now magnified duty of care with worries about: health, safety, cleanliness, infection, social distancing (and others we aren't even sure about yet).
The demand for business travel has now been eclipsed by fear.
Like a solar eclipse, Covid-19 has engulfed planet Earth in a shadow. An eclipse is a natural phenomenon. The only thing dangerous about it is not wearing eye protection when staring at it. There is myth though, that says you shouldn't sleep through one and, according to Business Today - you shouldn't travel during one!
But, what happens afterwards?
A number of things, but one that really resonates is the appearance of Corona rainbows. Whether your superstitious or not, that is eerily ironic.
So, staying with this sentiment for another minute - the rainbow became symbolic and adopted by a number of countries during the pandemic, as a sign of hope and light during dark times.
So, what is the corona rainbow for business travel?
A lot of change is coming to our industry. The fourth industrial revolution has now become a reality and has resulted in job losses as transactions disappeared and automation has now become more relevant. Both medium-and high-skill roles will be at risk of automation just as much as low-skill, low-wage work.
For business travel though, there might be a silver lining. Writing for Business Insider, Loup Ventures’ Doug Clinton put forward an interesting view in that "Humans have three core capabilities with which robots cannot compete: creativity, community, and empathy. We are now in an era where the fear of robots replacing human work is likely to come true, those three skills will enable the future of human productivity. The last of the three, empathy, should well be considered the most important".
The arrival of the "Empathy Economy"
Because empathy is a uniquely human skill, it will likely become all the more valuable in an increasingly automated world. This, Clinton argues, will create new opportunities for monetisation, resulting in the creation of an “empathy economy” where services that augment and build human empathy can be bought and sold.
Business travel employees need to be informed, engaged and ready, as the business travel eco-system is now perfectly aligned to rapidly innovate and adopt the latest technologies. The new era of travel management will embrace AR, CC, IoT, AI, MR and all the exciting technology already available (see: Next Gen Digital Skills)
Travel Management 4.0
Business travel companies that adapt to this new economy will take the lead. Technology will play a critical role in humanising the way travel companies interact with their customers. Those companies that adapt will not only survive, but they will lead in creating customer lifetime value. Combining the best capabilities of humans and machines will deepen their trust and relationships with their customers.
According to Alice Pinto, Business Travel Consultant at Blue Cube Travel:
"Travilearn's course - Next Gen Digital Skills - was a reality check of what we are up against if we don't have the willingness to evolve... "