Buyers urged not to ignore new technology – Rob Gill

Travel buyers should consider how new developments such as self-driving cars and other technology will affect their travel programmes.

Delegates were told that new fast-moving technology could transform many business travel processes, during a session at the Business Travel Show’s Hosted Buyer Conference in London on February 21, 2017.

Johnny Thorsen, senior director of SAP Mobile Services, said: “It’s hard to keep up with new technology. It’s important for buyers to think about – it doesn’t work just to say ‘let’s look at it in two years’ time’ because you will miss out on so many opportunities.

“If you don’t allocate time, you will miss the opportunity to improve value to your programme and for your travellers.”

Thorsen said one of the most “dramatic changes” would be the development of self-driving cars and predicted that ride-sharing operators such as Uber and Lyft would be among the first to take advantage of this technology.

“Uber and Lyft drivers will be among the first to lose their jobs as they are the most expensive component – why pay somebody to do it when you don’t have to?” he said.

“The technology is very advanced and expensive but the price is coming down fast – there will be big fleets of self-driving cars within a few years. We are behind the curve in Europe – we are always thinking of why not to do something.

“It will be cheaper to have self-driving cars – will you choose whether to do this? These questions are coming up faster.”

Thorsen also predicted that “microservices” would also be “arriving soon” in the business travel industry, such as Lufthansa opening up its API links to all developers.

Several areas of travel may also be influenced by the advance of blockchain technology, which is the ‘distributed database’ technology that underpins and records all Bitcoin transactions.

“Each transaction creates a new block on top of the previous one, and that block cannot be changed,” added Thorsen. “There is incredibly detailed information about the transaction.”

Thorsen suggested that this technology could be used for loyalty programmes, passenger identification and improving the billing process within travel through instant digital payments.

“With loyalty, you could have a single loyalty switch that converts all the points from various cards into Bitcoins – you could build a Bitcoin-based loyalty programme,” he said.

“For passenger ID, you could have a universal ID valid only for each booking, which would be secure with no passing on of personal data.

“There’s more documentation in the blockchain world than the traditional world. The audit trail is so good because there’s an instant transparent audit trail.”

FCM Travel Solution’s global general manager Marcus Eklund also demonstrated the TMC’s new SAM (Smart Assistant for Mobile) application, which uses a mixture of artificial intelligence backed up by a human consultant if needed by the traveller.

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