Corporate Travel — A Reality Check

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Corporate travel technology addresses the complex needs of businesses which require their personnel to leave the relative safety of a corporate compound — or these days often their home office — to engage with customers, partners and co-workers located in different parts of town, state or outside of the country.

According to the Global Business Travel Association worldwide business travel spend has doubled over the past 15 years and has reached a staggering $1.2 Trillion in 2016. For many companies, travel and entertainment (T&E) costs represent the second highest controllable annual expense, exceeded only by salary and benefits. T&E costs are not limited to airline, rail, hotel, car rental but are likely to include all costs incurred during travel such as staff and client meals, Uber & taxi fares, gratuities, phone, and data services. T&E expenses include event management, traveler safety and security, and in a wider sense the reconciliation of expenses associated to an employee’s corporate travel. The later can take the form of mobile software or several hours of lost productivity and/or accounting expenses.

Pattern recognition is a branch of machine learning that focuses on the recognition of regularities in data. While technologists closely relate it to machine learning it is also a function deeply imprinted into human DNA by several hundred thousand years of evolution which often defined survival of the fittest as recognizing the outline of a predator in the grasslands of the African Savanna and later Yellow Cabs in New York City.

Taking a trip

Any trip can be broken down into at least four necessary steps:

· Travel Planning and Shopping

· Travel Booking

· The trip itself

· Post-trip necessities (such as expense reconciliation)

Depending on the size of an organization each of these four steps could be performed by the same person or each step could have had an individual assigned to it who performed just that function.

Additional complexity can be introduced by an outside entity involving itself in two or more of the steps — a function most often referred to as ‘managed travel’.

As of today, corporate travel search technology in a narrow sense is mostly the domain of expense management solutions (i.e. Concur Travel) which provide a customized experience for the traveler working for a larger corporation or enterprise. In a wider sense corporate travel search technology includes search engines, meta-search engines and online travel agencies (OTA) — either one can take the form of a website or smartphone application. The commonalities here are the intent of the user while the lines between the different applications are becoming blurred.

Travel Product Search for the Enterprise

The technology needs of enterprises and large corporations are vastly different from that of a sole proprietor or small business. Laws, regulations and reporting requirements have a way of influencing technology including those used for corporate travel. While small companies might often get away with the book-it-yourself approach, larger companies — specifically publicly traded ones — require policies and technologies keeping track of the adherence of the same. Therefore, employees of these companies will find that their travel shopping choices are often determined by the employer limiting searches for travel products via a corporate expense management tool integrated into the accounting system of the company. The fulfillment of the travel products is most often managed by a travel agency with contractual relations to one of the three remaining Global Distributions System companies which might further limit the product search although it could be argued that the enterprise technology indeed creates more options (via corporate contracts and consortia membership) and potentially direct access to vendor inventory.

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