Do corporate travel managers need artificial intelligence?

by Business Travel iQ | 23 August 2018

What is Travelport and Yapta’s joining the rush to grab the corporate “what if” market telling us?

If one corporate travel supplier does something, it’s an innovation. When several do, it’s a trend.

Last week we highlighted Egencia’s data visualisation tool. Travelport and Yapta’s launches both focus on the AI element rather than visualisation but all the tools are tipping the changing expectations of travel managers – and their suppliers.

Yapta’s announcement was frankly dull. “Yapta TravelAI aggregates anonymous pricing data...creating a benchmark data set of millions of records that can be mined with machine learning capabilities to discover new ways to reduce travel costs. Customers can use Yapta TravelAI to spot patterns...that unnecessarily increase travel costs. It can also be used to benchmark travel spend against thousands of similar itineraries to uncover additional potential cost savings.”

Travelport’s press release was also predictably corporate and anodyne. It said that Travelport and its partner IBM had introduced “IBM Travel Manager, an industry-first AI platform designed to help businesses manage corporate travel spend”.

Sometimes it’s worth reading on before yawning and hitting delete.

Like the Egencia Analytics Studio, Yapta and Travelport’s product names give nothing away. But just like Egencia’s data visualisation tool, neither is just one more comprehensive data reporting tool.

Travelport’s IBM Travel Manager uses artificial intelligence to “provide cognitive computing, predictive data analytics using ‘what-if’ scenarios”.

Or, as James Filsinger, President and CEO of Yapta, says of his tool: “This is highly actionable pricing intelligence that can help companies move towards dynamic pricing technology, rather than negotiating every supplier contract through an RFP.”

Egencia, Travelport and Yapta are all telling corporate travel managers that the comprehensive glut of data from different sources is necessary but no longer enough.

The new generation of travel management and technology tools reflect what travel managers are looking for from their partners and what some suppliers are doing to deliver what travel managers need today and tomorrow rather than needed yesterday. They might also hope to take some market share in the process.

Each of these tools is emphasising its capacity to undertake ‘what-if’ scenarios. Filsinger using the phrase ‘dynamic pricing’ is no accident.

Travel managers have historically had only achieved data, information about past spend. The objective was to get as much of it as possible because this would be the best predictor of future behaviour and provide the leverage in corporate negotiations.

Corporate negotiated rates, however, are less important in a world in which suppliers use revenue management to change prices regularly.

This new wave of tools, in Travelport’s words, “provide cognitive computing”. They not only cut and slice past data but apply algorithms to multi-source information to suggest what specific changes in a travel programme might mean in terms of spend, compliance, etc.

As the sources and uses of knowledge expand, so will the travel manager’s role.

And that is why these tools are about the future. Travel managers are increasingly likely to be shaping strategies with other internal stakeholders so will be expected to have the same data analytic skills.

Tomorrow’s travel managers will want much more than a slick data collecting and reporting tool.

Within one week of each other Travelport, Yapta and Egencia have all thrown down the gauntlet to their travel management and technology colleagues.

The next announcement of a tool or service which can address ‘what if’ scenarios will appear shortly.

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