Blurred Lines: Leisure Travel Trends Affect Business Travel

Business travelers are continuing to use new tools and apps inspired by the leisure travel and retail industries. Association meetings need to adopt them in order to remain relevant to attendees.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Your conference attendees have the same expectations of your association’s meetings as they do of any corporate conference they would attend. And now a new report sheds more light on how leisure travel technology is changing business traveler expectations.

As the pace of technological change is accelerating, so is market readiness for new ways of buying, managing, and experiencing travel.

The report by Carson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), based on a study of more than 127 travel managers and 1,080 business travelers, revealed the five key trends transforming business travel: customization, mobile technology, the sharing economy, new booking methods, and new payment solutions.

Here’s a closer look at the three that I think could have the most impact on association meetings.

Customization. “One of the most exciting developments in managed travel is the potential for truly tailored insights and services through new technology,” the report states.

Two familiar examples from the retail world are Amazon’s “Recommended for You” product selection based on a user’s search history and Netflix’s viewing recommendations. However, the CWT report also points to examples in the consumer travel industry. There’s Hipmunk, which allows users to integrate their Google calendars into flight searches, and TripAdvisor, which posts recommendations based on search history.

CWT also thinks big data can be used to even better customize business travel booking. Imagine, for example, if you knew that your conference attendee flew 50 times on one airline in the past two years, booked extra legroom on those flights, and stayed at one particular hotel chain. If so, when she registered for your association’s annual meeting, you could automatically offer her a room at that hotel chain for the meeting and a flight on her preferred airline—complete with extra legroom.

Sharing economy. According to the CWT report, the sharing economy “refers to individuals renting things they need from other individuals through technology-based networks that facilitate transactions.” Two of the most well-known: Airbnb and Uber. “Whether they like it or not, companies should be mindful that corporate travelers are probably already using these services,” said the report.

A July 2014 Fortune magazine article shows the growth of these two services: One expense management company reported that the number of transactions captured by its expense-reporting tool multiplied by five for Uber taxi services and by 27 for Airbnb rentals over a year. Also worth noting: Millennial travelers are twice as likely to use these services, meaning that associations will have to consider their impact in the near term.

For example, if conference attendees decide to book outside a meeting’s official hotel room block using Airbnb, the financial consequences to the association could be significant.

New payment solutions. According to the report, mobile payment technology is making significant strides, and it points to these statistics as proof: In 2013, banks handled $410 trillion in noncash transactions, and that number is expected to reach $780 trillion by 2023.

Wearable technology, more growth in smartphone usage, and the expansion of merchant payment infrastructure will slowly shift transactions to mobile. However, “the shift to mobile payments in managed travel will be largely dependent on consumer behavior, the adoption of corporate credit cards, and an increase in the merchant network and terminals that support the technology.” Despite some potential barriers, the CWT study shows that 69 percent of travel managers expect these virtual payment solutions to make an impact on their programs in the next five years.

For associations, there may come a time when meeting attendees want to purchase  add-ons onsite (such as pre- and postconference tours or fundraising event tickets) using a virtual payment method like Apple Pay or Google Wallet. Is your association preparing for that reality?

Other pieces from the study worth noting: 35 percent of travel managers are planning to incorporate these five technologies and trends into their travel programs, and another 38 percent are actively considering them. For those looking to incorporate these trends, 56 percent are planning to do so within the next year.

“As the pace of technological change is accelerating, so is market readiness for new ways of buying, managing, and experiencing travel,” said David Moran, CWT’s executive vice president of global enterprise strategy, in a press release.

How have you already seen these trends affect your meetings, and what future trends do you see having an impact? Share in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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