Small Businesses Can Bridge the Budget Gap with Travel Analytics

“The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

William Gibson, Science Fiction Author

Multinational companies outsource their travel procurement to specialized travel management companies. So how can small businesses and fledgling travel programs operate as efficiently as these global companies with hefty travel budgets and specialized affiliates?

The answer is to embrace new technology and implement a smart strategy based on accurate travel analytics.

In general, larger companies hold many advantages over smaller ones. Large companies possess more leverage to negotiate advantageous deals with hotels and airlines. In addition, larger companies tend to find it easier to automate tasks like expense reporting than smaller ones. However, new technologies driven by machine learning and A.I. now allow smaller companies to even the playing field. SMBs can compete with multinationals by harnessing the power of data. There are three important phases: (i) collecting data from multiple sources, (ii) analyzing the data to reveal patterns, and (iii) implementing that analysis into travel policies and buying decisions. Today’s technology is opening up travel management to efficiency and cost-saving opportunities, including predictive analytics.

How Do Predictive Analytics Work?

By using internal trends in past spending as well as external factors like weather, travel managers can predict future outcomes and adjust their booking decisions accordingly. For example, travel managers can narrow in on an optimal travel budget to set for a particular trip based on aggregate spending data from all past trips across all employees. In addition, travel managers can know exactly when to book hotels based on running a predictive model that forecasts when a particular vendor’s prices will be lowest over the course of the year, or how events like the Super Bowl will affect pricing for trips during that month. Travel managers can arm their business travelers with knowledge that impacts them both in the air and on the ground.

The Importance of Data Collection

Just as important as the substance of business meetings, the aggregated data of a company’s business travel is extremely valuable to a company, especially when every dollar counts. First, it’s important to harness technology to receive business travel data in its totality.

Just like the multinationals, smaller companies now share the same access to technology that embeds AI into their corporate travel programs to collect big data and make for smarter, more efficient travel and improved compliance. And while the larger companies may take a more lackadaisical approach and allow some meaty insights to slip through the cracks, that leaves opportunities for scrappy SMBs to make use of their ingenuity and creativity to operate a tighter ship, relatively. Using intelligence from combined data sources–from reservations to receipts–will help companies build up a more comprehensive picture of their travellers and booking.

How to Avoid the Unseen Iceberg: Audits

Small crew on zodiac motor boat circling small iceberg

One disastrous obstacle that travel managers might not anticipate until it happens is a company audit. Corporate travel expense is one of the most difficult areas to clear an audit because it’s difficult to verify the expenses from varied locations. The best way to avoid the issue is to plan ahead and equip your travel program with today’s all-encompassing data collection tools.

For example, Traxo offers a suite of data collection and analysis tools to create full visibility for booking data, regardless if it’s done in-channel or independently. Traxo transforms booking info from flights, hotels and car rentals into actionable data that is consolidated all in one place.

To simplify expense reporting, Folio, created by Chrome River, analyzes emails, credit card data, etc. and automatically morphs it into structured expense reports. Chrome River’s dynamic readout can be configured to analyze by expense type, the charge code or billable client requirements. Not only does Folio cut down on accounting busywork, it helps control travel policy compliance.

Claire is a big data enabled artificial intelligence assistant that is available 24/7 to assist business travelers with booking policy-compliant flights seamlessly via their mobile device. Business travelers send a text message to Claire, who then responds with trip options based on individual preferences and past booking history. Claire applies travel policy automatically and tracks and reports travel expense data in real-time through a travel manager dashboard

Recycle Travel Expense Data to Improve Future Trips

Pile of Faded Paper Maps

If you run a corporate travel program for a small or mid-sized company, you’re expected to make use of Travel Expense Data in order to increase R.O.I. Analyzing data is one of the most time-consuming tasks performed by a travel manager. Peter Levine of Silicon Valley firm Andreessen Horowitz notes that “More than 90 per cent of the data in the world today was created in the last two years alone.” With the exponential rise of big data, technology analysts predict that most multinational companies will employ a chief data officer by the end of 2019. As an SMB, the way to compete with this trend is personalization.

You can add personalized value to analytics by asking specific questions pre and post booking. With this personalized approach, you can pinpoint common issues and understand why they happen. For example:

  • Why did a business traveler disregard policy?
  • Why was a booking placed at the last minute?
  • Why was an expensive itinerary change made?
  • Why did a traveler look up a flight but choose not to book it?

Post-trip reports deliver transparency of trip expenses and bookings, and any deviation from travel policy will enable you to further manage policy compliance or put in place stricter measures as required.

We’ve already provided a Travel Policy Template, and this valuable traveler data will help you amend your travel policy to mitigate instances of noncompliance.

Validating Vendor Loyalty

Are you loyal to your hotel vendor just for loyalty’s sake, or do you have hard data to reaffirm your decision?

Applications that make use of machine-learning and artificial intelligence are transforming the manipulation of data so travel managers can truly analyze the value of vendor relationships.

New technology allows travel managers to build a total cost of trip view by traveler across multiple data sources to manage multiple travelers simultaneously like a massively multiplayer online real-time strategy gamer.

For example, once considered a discouraged off-platform booking, Airbnb has now established AirBnB for Work, a real-time booking program specifically designed for corporate travel managers that automatically routes AirBnb reservations into the company’s travel management system. Travel managers can log into the AirBnB for Work dashboard to minimize travel costs by evaluating average daily rate, total spend and full booking details for all trips across all employees.

Holding on to the Human Element in Travel Planning

Close Up of Hands Shaping a Bowl on a Pottery Wheel in Black and White

Even though companies like Troovo are popping up that provide end-to-end automation of bookings and transactions, travel managers should not accept automation haphazardly.

Corporate travel management is largely a data-intensive practice, but it should not become exclusively about the numbers. One fear is that increased focus on automation will leave the business traveler experience out of the equation. There is still a need for human emotional intelligence within the decisionmaking chain to look out for the best interest of the business traveler.

As a corporate travel manager, your goal is to optimize travel expenses and increase savings. On the one hand, you serve the company by making economical decisions. But on the other hand, you represent the best interest for your employees out there on the road in terms of comfort, safety and well-being.

How to Accurately Report on Employee Satisfaction

Collecting receipts and monitoring per diem is one thing, but how can travel managers accurately collect data on their employee satisfaction? You can tally the number of times an employee uses the company credit card or orders an Uber, but how do you put a numerical value on employee satisfaction? The old-school way would be to pass out post-trip questionnaires to employees when they return to the office and rely on those answers. But is there a better way to pool data from a variety of sources to come to a more accurate conclusion? Stay tuned as we delve into which metrics matter in determining business traveler satisfaction.

Future Predictive Analytics Exploration

Big data and predictive analytics are a travel manager’s secret weapons. Beyond simple cost-cutting, there is real potential in the ability to use big data to maximize efficiency within a corporate travel program by extracting insights from rich data sets. In the coming weeks, 30STF will be taking on an in-depth exploration of travel analytics and sharing ways that big data can be used more innovatively and strategically.