tnoozLIVE@TTE: Travelport’s Simon Ferguson on voice, traveller engagement and human contact

This is the first of a series of articles spun out of tnoozLIVE@TTE, recorded live at the TTE event Olympia, London. More clips to come! To learn more about how to bring tnoozLIVE@ to your event, please email Ella Sopp.

Travelport presented its Digital Traveler research into the behaviour of Millennial travellers when they’re on the road for business at Travel Technology Europe. We chatted with Simon Ferguson, Travelport’s vice president and managing director for Northern Europe, on highlights of the study, the potential for voice and nudge psychology.

Interview transcript:

Linda: Hi I’m Linda Fox, I’m here with Simon Ferguson who heads up Europe for Travelport. We’re at tnoozLIVE@TTE. Simon, give us the highlights of the Digital Traveler research. 

Simon: What we’ve done is focused on the habits of Millennial business travellers. It’s a worldwide survey, but what we’re releasing today really focuses on the UK. We’re finding that not surprisingly, Millennial business travellers tab on a lot more leisure travel to their business trips than their Baby Boomer counterparts. Almost two-thirds of Millennial travellers regularly attach leisure to their business trips. That’s less than a fifth for their Baby Boomer counterparts.

We’re also finding that Millennial business travellers access data through mobile much more frequently. We’ve always thought that was the case but now we see some hard stats to back that up. They overwhelmingly book more of their business travel in the mobile environment. They favour corporate booking tools and self-booking over traditional methods of booking. And the data and information that they use, they’re very reliant on social media, over 80% of Millennial business travellers are accessing social as a source of information. Again, that’s disproportionately much higher than the older generations.

One of the very interesting things we picked out was that over 50% of Millennial business travellers are using voice search technology. Again if you look at Baby Boomers that’s less than a fifth. So they are really adopting new mediums and new forms of technology both to book and manage their travel than some of the older generations.

Linda: When we were talking earlier on, you highlighted an example with voice in the leisure online space. Would you just share that again with us for our readers?

Simon: So a very large online travel brand is experimenting with Amazon Alexa. They’ve linked on Amazon Alexa to a digital travel profile that you or I might have. So imagine that you are with your partner and you are discussing New York. Wouldn’t it be great if we could go to New York? Alexa listens to this, Alexa is then linked into your digital travel profile which has your health data, because it collects your Fitbit information, it can tell you’re quite stressed at the moment so a trip to New York might be beneficial. It’s also linked to your payment data through Apple Pay, so it knows when would be a good time financially for you to go. It’s linked in to your calendar, so it knows when physically would be a good time for you to travel. It’s also linked into your Airmiles, so it knows you have got some frequent flyer miles with British Airways for example. And it knows that you tend to like chain hotels whereas  your partner likes, Airbnb for example. So, the next day Alexa suggests to you, you could to New York in October this is how much it will cost, here’s a choice of accommodation. And just an indication there of how a new form of the medium can be used. There is no mobile phone anywhere in that example.

It’s really using voice search as a way of linking together all of the data that a digital traveller might have. And putting that together in a different way. Now you could easily see how a business travel as well this could be utilized. For example, you could take someone’s historic business trips and start to use voice search to start to analyze when is the best time of the year for them to go on a business trip. And again they might want to add some leisure to that. But we’re really, we think, moving to an era the mobile device is still going to be very important, but there are new forms of search emerging which might make the omni channel environment we’re working in even more interesting and complex.

Linda: So what do you think now are the challenges of getting mobile more into the business travel environment and also then voice as well.

Simon: Well, I think as far as the business travel environment, people have focused maybe a little bit too much on mobile as a booking/transaction medium. It’s about how you manage the whole business trip. Business travellers travel much more frequently than leisure travellers. In the US for example, 75% of all business trips are undertaken by just 16% of the population. So they are very frequent travellers. They want convenience, speed, ease of use, mobile delivers that.

What we’re seeing are those travel managers who increasingly have been focused on cost and compliance, understandably to the travel policy, having to focus on the traveller experience. They know if they don’t give the end business traveler that consumer grade experience those travellers are more likely to go outside of policy or be unhappy. And mobile is a great way of delivering that. It’s a great way of engaging with the business traveller while they’re on trip.

Travelport has recently launched a product call Trip Assist, which allows TMC’s and travel managers to engage with business travellers while they are on a trip, reminding them for example that wifi is included in the hotel stay. They get 10% off for a particular restaurant. So, helping the traveler to stay in policy but giving them the flexibility they want in the mobile environment. So by seeing mobile as an engagement medium rather than just a transactional tool, that’s the way the all parts of the chain  -the end business traveller, the TMC and the travel manager can start to enjoy the benefits of mobile and still deliver what they all need in a business travel cycle.

Linda: Do you think the corporate travel world in general, is getting that it does need to be much more traveller centric and about the engagement of the traveller?

Simon: Yes. Absolutely. I think, if you look at the global surveys that the likes of Carlson Wagonlit and HRG produce, what’s on the minds of travel managers? It used to be just policy and duty of care which of course is very important, and cost,  but travel experience is coming right up. Traveller centricity is really on the minds of travel managers. Have they worked out how to deliver that traveller centricity in the confines of policy? No, I don’t think that they have all the answers but they’re certainly a lot more concerned about it. And back to our research, the proportion of Millennial travellers who are now business travellers, we’ve always in the past thought of Millennials as this strange group who are up here on the shelf – 75% of the world’s workforce will be Millennial travellers within the next five years according to Gartner. So these guys are here, they are the business travellers of today. They expect a much more personal experience, they expect it to be indistinguishable from the consumer or the leisure experience they have. So absolutely business travel suppliers, business travel managers need to reflect that.

Linda: And just finally, was there anything that actually surprised you about the research?

Simon: Yes. I think it surprised us how much, for example, Millennial business travellers still rely on human contact. We tend to think of them as the silent generation of traveller. The first generation who can go through a whole business trip or a leisure trip for that matter, the planning, the booking, the trip itself without ever speaking to a human being. They’re interacting but in a different way. They’re using messaging, they’re using voice search for example. What we found out was that they are as unhappy when they can’t speak to someone if something is going wrong. So I think what this shows us is there’s still very much a role for people in the travel process. The other thing that surprised us was how much they are unhappy if their personal data is not used to personalize their trips. The Millennial generation believes in sharing data but as a quid pro quo. They expect travel brands to take that data and use it to provide a more personal experience and they get really unhappy if that doesn’t happen. So I think those were two things which really stood out for us. So we would say, don’t pigeon hole the Millennial generation. Don’t think that they are in some way are a group over on their own, they need the same type of omni channel experience we all want. But they’re is much more personal and intensive travel consumer arguably than some of the generations that came before them.

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About the Writer :: Linda Fox

Linda worked at tnooz from September 2011 to June 2018 in roles including senior reporter, deputy editor and managing editor.



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