Travel management embarking on wide-ranging digital journey
Technology and big data dominated proceedings as more than 7,000 suppliers and buyers thronged London's Olympia for the Business Travel Show, Europe's biggest event of its kind. And with the global business travel spend tipped to hit €1.5 trillion by 2020, travel management companies - particularly the tech-savvy - are desperate to take a slice of the pie.
The message is that all travel management companies which handle trip planning for companies and individual executives need to adapt - and fast.
Millennials, who'll be the key market in the coming years, are the world's first digital-first generation. They will expect corporate trip planning that's as easy as DIY leisure trip planning on an online booking engine.
Scott Chapman, UK and Ireland managing director for Egencia, the corporate travel sister of Expedia, told the Sunday Independent: "It's the consumerisation of business travel. So what you or I would do in our leisure time in terms of booking vacations, we're transferring that experience into the corporate world.
"Not all travellers are going for the traditional couple of nights away in a hotel midweek - they're looking to extend. We call that 'bleisure' - the blur between leisure and business traveller. They may not want a hotel, they may want an apartment." He adds that the rising generation of travellers is looking to work at a company not just for salary but for the lifestyle and benefits, "and I think travel is one of those things."
It's obvious that the industry is having to embrace the outsider brands millennials enjoy. Airbnb made a prominent play at the London show, while Uber is now integrated with the systems of many big suppliers Egencia included.
Wade Jones, acting president of travel tech giant Sabre, told the conference that the Internet of Things will transform travel, but offered a warning from Dan Ariely, a Professor at Duke University, that "big data is like teenage sex. Everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it".
■ Fiercely-competitive Middle Eastern airlines have been busy in the run-up to next week's ITB travel show in Berlin. Qatar Airways, which begins services from Dublin to Doha this summer, is boasting it will unveil "the future of business class" at the German show.
In laymans' terms, expect comfier seats. Not to be outdone, Emirates is to overhaul its offering on its 777s (used on the Dublin-Dubai route) and its A380s, which are touted as options in Dublin in the future. Emirates is being inspired by the look of luxury yachts, and has already revealed that it's giving its bar area a makeover, with seating and tables for eight passengers and enough room for another 18 standing.
Etihad, which returns to double daily from Dublin to Abu Dhabi from April 1, isn't being left in the shade either. It's announced a business (and economy) sales blitz. Business return ex Dublin to its UAE base starts from €2,208, with Mumbai from €2,035 and Melbourne at €3,204. If your budget's tight, Abu Dhabi starts from €420 in economy.
■ Despite the fanfare over Norwegian's new Irish routes to the US, it remains to be seen whether the new kid on the block will drive down fares across the board. It's estimated that the new service will add just 7pc more seats to the US this summer, with Aer Lingus still enjoying almost half of the market. The national carrier's 25,000-plus weekly seats puts it way ahead of nearest rival, United Airlines, with just 7,784 seats. American Airlines and Delta are next up (7.658 and 6,531 seats respectively), with Norwegian just ahead of Ethiopian Airlines (Dublin to LA) with just over 3,500 seats.
■ It's baffling to think that complimentary meals in the economy cabin are a rarity on long-haul flights in the US. Fly from Ireland to Newark, for instance, and it's a shade over 5,100km each way. Connect on to, say, Las Vegas, and it's almost another 3,600km. The difference is you'll be fed across the Atlantic, and starve across the plains.
Delta is trumpeting its new innovation - a return to complimentary meals on selected routes. Free meals began last Wednesday from JFK to LA and San Francisco - six hours-plus onboard from gate to gate. By April 24, the service will be rolled out to JFK-Seattle (another lengthy trip); JFK-San Diego/Phoenix; and Boston/Washington to LA, among others.
But if you're travelling from the east coast to Vegas, you're out of luck even before you hit the casinos. After a never-ending flight between the Big Apple and Sin City in the past, I'd still connect via London (with full service) than take the butt-breaking US connection.
Sunday Indo Business