High Touch High Tech

delivering a personalised service, both offline and online
Artificial Intelligence

An exceptional personal service is something that Travel Management Companies have strived for since their inception. Building positive relationships with travellers to gain insight into their individual preferences and provide a bespoke service (while still following the requirements of their corporate travel programme) has been a fundamental part of many TMCs’ traditional service offerings for decades.

With the emergence of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, within this article we explore how a high-touch service can be achieved in an evermore digital world.

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In the early 90’s the world began to move online and – over time – business travel moved with it. Technology opened the door for TMCs to work faster and smarter, with a plethora of tools developed to support travel professionals in securing the best available rates and make delivering an outstanding service to their clients that much easier.

As a generation of tech-first workers began to spread through the corporate world, customer-facing online booking tools became a must-have of the TMC toolkit. Technology continued to become an ever more integrated part of our daily lives and, as it did, the need for these corporate tools to keep pace with their consumer-based counterparts grew stronger. Business travellers now expected slick, intuitive, easy to use corporate travel booking tools. They wanted to use familiar interfaces that they were comfortable with from the technology and apps they used in their personal lives, and they wanted the whole process to be seamless, simple and – importantly – without the need to interact with anyone. At all.

This shift represented a huge change for many in the TMC world, with the previous focus on high touch, relationship-led personal service entirely at odds to the much more distant, click-and-done desire of the modern business travellers. How could a TMC deliver a truly personal service without the personal interaction? Enter AI.

Artificial Intelligence provides the potential solution for combining that click-and-done approach with the level of personalisation previously only achievable through a TMC’s travel consultant truly getting to know an individual traveller. Machine Learning allows AI to build out rich, multi-faceted traveller profiles covering a range of datapoints; from their preferred fare type and seat position on planes and trains, to the type of accommodation option that they would usually book, ground transport preferences (and requirements) and more.

In addition to recognising these preferences, a comprehensive and integrated AI solution also has the potential to enable intelligent monitoring of the entire trip, way beyond the initial booking. In turn, this provides an understanding of the elements which may still need to be booked and the automation to present the most relevant, personalised options to the traveller at the best possible time to make those additional bookings. Not only does this provide the benefit of a more seamless, tailored customer journey for the individual, it makes remaining in-policy so much more likely, benefitting the corporate with enhanced visibility of the entire trip, controlling costs, improving duty of care and reducing traveller risk.

female traveller at airport using her smartphone
female traveller at airport using her smartphone

For TMCs it demonstrates commitment to a personal service and care for their clients. The profiles that Artificial Intelligence builds can also help TMCs create tailored communications for a range of additional purposes such as travel alerts, new product launches, bespoke offers, in-trip recommendations and more. These communications aren’t simply “personalised” with the recipient’s company or a first name field-merge; they’re specifically targeted to ensure travellers receive salient information pertinent to them.

At Gray Dawes Travel, we recognised the potential of AI some years ago and in 2019 began working with Artificial Intelligence specialists, Grapevine. Since then, we’ve helped refine the technology and are now thrilled to have incorporated their cutting-edge solution into our YourTrip booking tool. As with any new technology, there’s a required period of development and testing and this remains true of AI. In fact, the Machine Learning working behind the scenes needs a little time to understand traveller behaviours and gather the data needed for a truly insightful personal response. But even with a global pandemic that slowed bookings for many corporates thrown into the mix, our clients are now starting to receive tailored, targeted communications that help them book all elements of their entire trip in a very retail-focussed way, benefitting their business travel experience greatly.

As with any emerging technology, AI still has a way to go. And it will not replace the personal human touch of an experienced travel consultant valued by so many corporate travellers. But by working together, TMCs and technology developers can continue to uncover the pain points that AI can help eradicate, find ways to pioneer the possibilities, redefine the technology and enhance the traveller experience. Because, ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. Whether by talking directly with a traveller on the phone or providing intuitive online booking tools, traveller experience should always be at the heart of what we do as a TMC. It’s the personal approach that turns TMCs from a service provider into the provider of an experience. Receiving the right information and offers at the right time to support traveller needs, improve policy adherence, (increase sales!) and reduce corporate risk is a great place to start. And with AI continuing to develop and grow in our personal lives (hello Google, Alexa, Cortana, Siri) we can expect our business lives to continue to be enriched by the possibilities AI represents.

To help you navigate the changes of business travel, we’ve created the brand-new Traveller Toolkit. This invaluable online resource is packed full of easy-to-use guides and checklists for every stage of every journey. We detail exactly what you need to know and do before, during and after your trip.

You’ll also find innovative and interactive virtual trips, which walk you through each step of  being at the airport, on the train and in the hotel. You can even check the travel restrictions and health status of your destination with our comprehensive COVID-19 Country Tracker, updated five times daily to ensure you have the very latest information to help keep you and your travellers safe.

Travel is changing. With common sense and a good TMC behind you, travellers can have the confidence to once again take to the skies. It’ll soon be back business as (un)usual.

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