Travel and big data

How information can cut costs and boost traveller satisfaction

July 18, 2017
by Michael Power

From the June 2017 print edition

With the rise of technology, there’s more data available than ever, and organizations are taking advantage of this. A recent report on travel trends from Carlson Wagonlit Travel, for example, notes that travel managers now are seeking more data on traveller behavior and program performance, with 58 percent noting they expect having more data to consolidate their program.

But the challenge many companies face is deciding what to do with the information once they have it. Data reporting and analytics is now crucial to business. This is as true in the travel management field as in other areas, where information about travellers’ habits, how much they spend and where, can affect everything from safety to stopping rogue spend to the bottom line.

Effective data analytics can impact an organization’s travel costs and employee satisfaction, says Dan Ruch, founder and CEO of Rocketrip. Organizations are looking to discover what factors affect those costs and traveller behaviour, he says. They’ve also become more strategic about program goals and creative regarding where they source data. “The traditional emphasis on data use in travel management has been for rate negotiation,” he says. “That’s still important, but increasingly companies are looking to analyze more than just what vendors employees are using. Better systems for data capture are producing a more complete overall picture of employees’ spending.”

Rocketrip helps to motivate employees to make cost-effective, policy compliant travel spending decisions. Since employees must book through an approved channel to earn rewards, Rocketrip promotes the use of the travel management company and booking tool. The company also provides visibility through receipt forwarding.

Identifying patterns within that data makes travel spend more predictable, he says. This predictability can improve a company’s capital allocation. Data can also be used to personalize the travellers’ experience. The information reflects employees’ travel habits and preferences, Ruch says. If employees don’t think the company’s travel program serves their needs, they’ll opt out and make their own arrangements. Meanwhile, intelligent data analysis lets organizations get ahead of the problem. Employees might be overspending and going out-of-policy in some destinations more than others, says Ruch. This shows the company’s policy requirements don’t align with what travellers require in this case. “Reworking spending guidelines or expanding permitted options would give travellers more choice, and bring them back into the cost-effective, managed travel program,” he says.

Having data capture through a system like Rocketrip or Concur TripLink means organizations can leverage travel volume during vendor negotiations; employees can utilize affordable options and travel managers can focus on specific areas with leaked spend, Ruch says.

Weeding through all the data to get to what matters starts with knowing what kind of insights each data source can deliver, Ruch notes. Data from travel management companies is very detailed but may not reflect spend outside of official channels, while expense reports rarely have the detail needed to analyze spend in a meaningful way, he says.

Data from cards
Big data has always had a role with cards, says Steve Pedersen, VP and head of North American corporate card program, BMO Financial Group. Procurement departments and travel managers are always looking to optimize their supplier base, he notes, so getting the data lets them focus on where money is being spent. The information can help them negotiate better terms with a supplier. “In travel, it’s helping them think through how to work through with employees,” he says.

Travel managers are in a good position to leverage data, Pedersen says. When it comes to corporate travel, people tend to gravitate towards their own bias—for example, with hotels and airlines. A travel manager can use that data to determine if they’re getting the best deal.

The data inherent in cards can also be used to track down an employee if they’re not easy to reach for some reason, for example if they’ve been sent to an unstable region and suddenly can’t be contacted by conventional means.

Overall, big data and its analysis have the potential to offer insights that can help support a travel program. Travel managers and buyers would do well to take advantage of these possibilities.