Five years ago today, Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II officially opened Heathrow Terminal 5, praising the new building as a "bright, airy space [with a] clean, efficient layout". For regular business travellers in particular, the intelligently designed, eco-friendly new terminal complete with state-of-the-art technology represented an important step forward in the quality, speed and comfort of air travel. Five years on, to what extent has flying on business changed? And more importantly, is its future bright?
The stratospheric growth of smartphones has had a huge and generally positive impact on the business travel experience. According to analyst house Gartner in 2008 global smartphone shipments were just shy of 140 million units. In contrast, Gartner expects this figure to be close to one billion by the end of 2013. A recent Concur study of more than 1,000 UK business travellers revealed that for 58% of those surveyed, the smartphone was their most important tool while travelling. Equally, 61% confirmed they used smartphone apps to improve the business travel experience. These applications include maps like Google and Bing (used by 90% of travellers), hotel apps (35%), airport apps (32%) and airline apps (40%).
Digitization of travel
Linked to the above, the ‘digitization’ of traditionally paper-based parts of the air travel process has had a significant impact on the travel experience too. For example back in 2008, the majority of travellers were still reliant on printing out their travel documentation before turning up at the airport. However, today there are a growing number of travellers – particularly seasoned ‘road warriors’ – turning to itinerary management applications like TripIt. These services collate all of a traveller’s digital material – email confirmations, seating preferences, frequent flyer data – in one place, keeping them up to date on changes to their trip via email, and offering a one-stop view of all information required during a trip from seat number to a map from the airport back to a hotel.
The power of prediction
Five years ago, Big Data didn’t mean much to anyone. Today, it’s become common parlance in the technology, and increasingly the wider business world. Travel companies are starting to understand the different ways data can be packaged up and used to help and support travellers on the road, and it has already started to change how we fly on business. Today, using a tool like TripIt for example, rather than searching around for a hotel in an unknown town, a business traveller is served personalised hotel recommendations – in accordance with company policy - based on his or her past trips. No need to call a friend in the local town or ask the office PA to ring around for recommendations, it’s all there on a plate. Powerful stuff, especially when you consider we have just scratched the surface of what Big Data can do in our industry.
So where are we going next? In one word; perfection. I’m not for a minute suggesting the business trip will be without incident, worry or stress in five years’ time. What I am predicting though, is that technology will have brought what we at Concur call, ‘The Perfect Trip’ closer to reality than ever before. The bringing together of a range of existing – and ‘yet-to-be-created’ – apps that serve a wide range of business travel needs will have redefined what it means to fly on business.
Take our partners GateGuru, an app that updates you on restaurants, shops and services near your gate or Ridecharge’s Taxi Magic which offers real time booking and tracking of taxi travel. Imagine all of this functionality at your fingertips, tied together in a constantly-accessible ‘T&E Cloud’. That’s our vision for the next five years of the industry. So much so, that at the turn of 2013 we announced the launch of ‘The Perfect Trip Fund’, $150million in capital allocated specifically to invest in creating a vibrant community of companies in the travel & expense sector, and accelerating their growth through strategic investment and partnership.
Five years ago today, Heathrow Terminal 5 reinvigorated excitement about the future of our industry. I’m just as excited about the next five!