How technology is transforming the business travel landscape
In many respects, travel is back. The TSA is now screening 2 million+ travelers just about every day, while the sudden increase in demand across the U.S. has created the rental car apocalypse. Even cruising has restarted from American ports.
However, not all segments of the industry are coming back at the same rate. Business travel is one area that’s still struggling to rebound — with some executives using 2024 as a target. There’s some cautious optimism that corporate road warriors will become more comfortable taking to the skies in the second half of this year, but we’re still a long way away from a full recovery.
That said, despite the slow return of business travel, hotels, airlines and other travel providers have continued to develop and deploy technology to improve the overall experience of hitting the road. From biometrics at security checkpoints to keyless entry and touchless payments, these advances are making it easier and more comfortable for business travelers — whether they’re already back to the grind or are continuing to work remotely for the time being.
Read on to learn more about how technology is transforming the business-travel landscape.
New realities for distributed workforce
Video-conferencing technology isn’t new, but the impact it has on how (and where) workers complete their job responsibilities has taken on newfound importance during the pandemic. While Zoom fatigue is real — and many companies have started reopening offices — there has nevertheless been a notable mindset shift regarding working remotely.
And we’re only beginning to see the implications of this trend on business travel.
Rather than having a large majority of employees based in on-site locations, companies may face a distributed workforce across the country, bringing teams together for in-person meetings only when vital to a project or initiative. A pre-pandemic “off-site” gathering — where office-based employees travel as a group to a non-office location — could be replaced with an “on-site” retreat, with workers across the country converging on the company’s headquarters.
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian echoed this sentiment on our Return of Travel webinar back in April.
“There’s also going to be new forms [of business travel],” he said. “There will be people living in different parts of the country, maybe working remotely but still having to travel back to their main source of business” — and even recognized that this presents a significant opportunity for Delta and other travel companies.
And then there’s the increasing blend of business and leisure trips — or “bleisure” travel, to some. With less emphasis on physical proximity to a company’s office, some employees aren’t just working from home but doing so from a destination. Hyatt was the first major hotel company to offer incentives for this exact type of remote model, though chains like Hilton and Marriott have quickly followed suit — though unfortunately, the tech infrastructure at properties doesn’t always support such an approach.
Related: We tried Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott’s work-from-hotel programs — these are the pros and cons
Of course, those jobs that are heavily sales-driven will likely return to their pre-pandemic, in-person forms — “these video technologies are just not adequate to replace the in-person connection,” added Bastian during our webinar — but there’s no arguing that technology geared toward facilitating remote work may have profound and long-lasting effects on business travel.
Tech-enhanced travel experience
We’ve come a long way from the days of paper airline tickets mailed to your house, but providers are continuing to innovate to transform the actual travel experience. And one trend that’s gained newfound traction during the coronavirus pandemic is technology that enables touchless experience. Thanks to the proliferation of easy-to-use airline apps and mobile boarding passes, you can now go from your ride to your gate without touching anything other than your own belongings. This not only ensures a speedy start to long travel days — it also cuts down on shared surfaces and interactions that could pose a potential health risk.
This is especially notable at security checkpoints. For starters, programs like CLEAR or TSA PreCheck ensure you won’t have to wait — sometimes hours — at those checkpoints. Though not available at all airports, CLEAR uses biometrics to identify travelers when they go through security. And the TSA continues to roll out automated ID scanners at airports across the country, allowing travelers to clear security without even handing over a boarding pass.
Apple is even getting in on the action, with its newest operating system — iOS 15 — slated to add a digital ID to use at security checkpoints later in 2021.
Related: How the pandemic has forever changed the airport experience
And once you’ve made it to your destination, many car rental companies allow members of their respective loyalty programs to head straight to their clean, sanitized cars and get on the road immediately. TPG’s Nick Ewen even used a QR code on his phone to exit the Avis lot at Denver International Airport (DEN) last month.
We’re also seeing a proliferation of this approach from lodging companies like Mint House, specifically designed for business travelers and leading the way in travel convenience by way of touchless entry. Mint House guests could utilize tech-enabled arrival to avoid check-in counters, lines and keycards even before COVID-19.
Now other big brands like Marriott allow you to have your room key at many locations through your phone on their app — and express check-out options mean that business travelers can be on their way (with a receipt in their inboxes) quicker than ever before.
From the beginning to the end of a road warrior’s travel day, advances in technology are making every step easier and more efficient.
Budget management for small businesses
The traditional way that employees expense business travel is also becoming a thing of the past. (Some TPG staffers even remember faxing — yes, faxing — in receipts for reimbursement.) Thankfully, technology companies like Divvy combine the power of credit cards with budget management to allow small businesses to eliminate the need for out-of-pocket spending, manual expense reports and delayed reimbursement for their employees. This is done by distributing pre-set spending limits across those traveling for work and then utilizing a single, integrated platform for managing these expenses — including real-time reporting and budgeting.
The great thing about a system like Divvy is that it’s not restricted to just travel but to all business-related expenses. So whether it’s a working lunch, an out-of-town business meeting or those last-minute supplies for the office, you can use the company’s credit card and software technology in tandem to take the hassle out of expensing and reimbursing virtually every business purchase.
Leisure travelers are back in pre-pandemic numbers, and many travel providers are racing to keep up. And even though this surging demand hasn’t translated to a full-throated return of business travel, technology continues to transform the landscape — with solutions like ID scanners and biometric screening along with companies like Mint House and Divvy (to name a few).
If you’re a road warrior who’s been grounded for months, you may face a new experience the next time a work (or hybrid) trip comes around — with technology that makes travel easier than ever before.