Travel buyers shouldn't be afraid to take risks when implementing new technologies as failure can often be a learning experience © Getty Images
Travel buyers shouldn't be afraid to take risks when implementing new technologies as failure can often be a learning experience © Getty Images

Five tips for innovation in travel buying

22 February 2019

From AI to blockchain and bots, technology provides an opportunity to revolutionise the way travel buyers work.

During a panel at this year’s Business Travel Show, speakers shared their tips on how travel buyers can get on board with technology and start reaping the benefits of innovation in their business.

1. Take risks

When it comes to implementing technology, Keesup Choe, CEO of PredictX, which specialises in analytics and machine learning, believes businesses of all sizes must be willing to take risks to in order to foster innovation.

He said: “Kodak and Blockbuster didn't take the risks that they should have taken. Everyone has to take the risk. With technology, it’s a matter of when rather than if, so it's really a question of, 'Do you want to get in front of it?'”

Ben Park, director of procurement and travel at Parexel, agreed, noting that often people pay attention to what large companies are doing but smaller and midsize companies are often able to move and implement technology faster.

“Don't wait for the large companies to make the first step, because they may be too big. A lot of travel managers are looking at what the large companies are doing. In my view, that is the wrong approach for innovation," he said. 

2. Be prepared to fail

What happens if you take a risk on new technology and you fail? Failure in implementing technology is crucial for learning, said Park.

He said: “We can take the risk of going with a supplier to a pilot phase. Things may go wrong, but we both learn from it, and then the risk is overseeable. We don’t wait for the solution to be ready, we go live with the beta version, and test the market. It might mean failing 100 times, but otherwise you can't move forward.”

3. Look further than travel

According to Johnny Thorsen, VP of travel strategy and partnerships at Mezi.com, often the innovation taking place outside of the travel industry demonstrates how travel buyers could be using technology to make more informed decisions.

He said: “Around 30% of all events listed on Google are fake, duplicates, or expired, because nobody cleans the data up, but there are new companies arriving and creating pure, clean data on top of Google data. As a buyer, what would information like that be worth to you, when you're looking at next year's events programme? There are big opportunities with players way outside the travel industry. The knowledge is there.”

Helge Legernes, CEO of Zummy, said that the way chatbots are used in the gaming industry could also extend to travel management in future.

He said: “We know everything about these customers .We can predict how they're going to bet in the future. It could be the same in the travel management industry by getting all the data together.”

4. Never underestimate the power of data

Whether travel buyers want to implement a chatbot to handle employee queries or a blockchain solution for the hospitality industry, Choe believes that travel buyers should start factoring data availability and quality into their decision making.

He said: “With most of the technology we're talking about, to make it effective presupposes that you have complete, accurate, timely data. Travel data can be pretty finicky. There’s sometimes fragmentation issues.”

Even if suppliers are not giving you the quality of data you need, don’t be afraid to work with them to ensure that you are getting the level of granularity you need, said Daniel Sanz, head of data science at Love Holidays.com.

He said when working with a provider who is not giving you the data you need, collaborate with them. By meeting regularly to improve their product, both parties will be better served.

5. Bring everyone to the table

According to Martin Biermann, chief product officer at HRS, a problem faced by many travel buyers is suppliers not taking an end-to-end perspective. Instead, Biermann suggests bringing suppliers together to collaborate on solutions.

He said: “Most companies will have a set up of at least 10 different suppliers, maybe more. It is then a travel buyer’s obligation to assemble these suppliers and technologies together into one thing that works for the traveller globally. It's so hard to have one solution that actually works for your travellers.”

He continued: “We need to have more collaboration, particularly for large customers, to push their suppliers to the same table, have this discussion and make an interplay that actually works.”

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