The Future of Business Travel

What changes can we expect in the business travel industry in the coming years?


For most of us, business trips connote delayed flights, cancelled trains, and subpar hotels. Not only can the travel itself be stressful, but the trip planning and resulting expense reports are a headache for busy employees. “Everybody hates receipts. Nobody wants to think about them,” said Jim Thomas, CEO at Itemize, during the recent Inforum conference in Washington, D.C. “What I hear [from customers] is ‘we don’t want to deal with this. We want you to deal with it. We want a comprehensive solution. We want to give you this pile of stuff and we want you to give us back the verified, confirmed accurate data.’”

Companies like Itemize, Infor, and Deem are seeking ways to simplify travel and expense (T&E) through the collection of more data, the use of artificial intelligence (AI), and improved user experience (UX) designs.

“We sometimes think of our technology as receipt fracking,” explained Thomas. “We’re using new technologies to unlock information that’s been trapped in these pieces of paper.”

John Rizzo, CEO at Deem explained that, in the future, travel management software will be easier to use for the traveler, less expensive for the company and the emphasis will be on “best in breed travel plus best in breed expense” instead of the marginalization of both through one single vendor who does not have expertise in building a great UX.

“The future of travel is around the notion of giving the traveler a greater degree of productivity while they're on the road, allowing their companies to have optimized cost of travel and the ability to have exhaustive control and audit over the expenses so that you know if a certain person is travelling and they're always stay in five star hotels and they're always taking the most expensive flights, maybe that’s a source of cost savings that you can identify through analytics.”

“If we can make the experience using the travel software and the expense software combined, like a consumer experience so travelers don’t feel the need to go to consumer tools – you’ve got more control, you’ve got more visibility and now you really have the ability to help your traveler to be productive and, at the same time, affect your bottom line, your compliance and audit simultaneously.”

Thomas agreed. “I’d like to see business applications, business supply chain, business travel catch up with the consumer space. Steve Jobs has poisoned us all in terms of our expectations for UX.”

Infor’s GM and VP Mark Corsetti said that future expense management apps will be able to capture a lot more data and will use AI to make them more predictive. “Right now if you were going to assemble a trip on your calendar, there’s no reason why the technology just can’t recommend an itinerary for you based on your corporate travel policy, your loyalty points, your preference for saving time or saving money, your position in the company,” said Rizzo.

“It’s interesting to see the direction in the market towards artificial intelligence,” said Rose Alsup, Sr. Product Manager at Infor. “The drilling of the data, the insights of the data that we can capture within the product to make our lives easier.”

Alsup described a business use case for AI and the potential for privacy concerns. “You, the traveler, show up to the hotel and the agent behind the desk is checking you into your hotel room says ‘welcome Mr. Black, we understand that last time you were here you had an issue where you're room wasn’t read, so we’ve ensured that your room is ready. And also, by the way, there’s a great sushi restaurant around the corner because we understand that you enjoy sushi.’ How is that feasible? How was the agent able to know that information about Mr. Black? Well, that was because they mined and they kept that data from the last reservation. They knew that he had inquired as to why his room wasn’t ready, and they knew that he has visited their sushi restaurant. All of that is private data that can be used to better serve the traveler. But at what point does it become personal data that I don’t necessarily want shared? I may not necessarily want everybody to know that I like sushi.”