U.S. Business Travelers Embrace Technology but Also Fear Its Impact

Travelers wait in a security line at O’Hare International Airport Friday, Jan. 22, 2016 in Chicago. U.S. business travelers are optimistic about technology making their trips easier. Teresa Crawford / Associated PressSkift Take: U.S. business travelers want the technology tools to make their trips easier. The rest of the world, however, doesn’t necessarily see technology as the solution to service problems. — Andrew SheivachmanBusiness travelers want better technology to help them manage their trips. But not all are sold on the transformative capabilities of the new advancements that will likely shape the travel industry going forward.
U.S. business travelers are among the most optimistic about artificial intelligence and big data making their trips better, according to the latest data from Egencia’s Business Travel and Technology Survey.
In the U.S., 55 percent of those surveyed believe artificial intelligence will improve their travel experience. But — in an unusual question for a travel management company to ask travelers — about a third of respondents said they foresee an apocalypse caused by artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Most U.S. travelers (76 percent) also wanted more cross-device integration at a greater rate than any other country polled.
Travelers outside of the U.S., in general, indicated serious skepticism of the ability of technology to make their trips better.
“It’s true: business travelers in [Europe, the Middle East, and Africa] and [the Asia-Pacific region] are overall less optimistic about emerging technologies such as AI and VR in business travel when compared to those in the U.S., but they still want increased accessibility across mobile devices,” said Michael Gulmann, chief product officer for Egencia, the business travel arm of the Expedia group. “While they may be a bit more pessimistic in the use of emerging technologies, it’s clear that business travelers outside the U.S. also crave a seamless experience. We can see that in the data when people say they want to more efficiently manage their travel using multiple devices.”
Gulmann said the difference in opinion might have something to do with the way U.S. companies are investing.
“In the U.S., we already have tech giants like Facebook, Amazon, and Google investing billions in AI. According to McKinsey’s State of Machine Learning and AI study, 66 percent of all AI investments in 2016 were from U.S.-based companies,” he said. “Chances are that Americans have been exposed to these new technologies earlier and more often in their everyday lives.”
Travelers from Norway and Sweden were least likely to think AI would improve their travel experience, followed by UK and German travelers. Overall, Egencia’s research indicates that people want reliable service no matter which channel they prefer to use. It just so happens that European travelers perhaps want more of a human element to their travel service experience.
“At the end of the day, business travelers simply want things to work… and inflight Wi-Fi,” said Gulmann. Tools such as priority boarding, airport lounge access, and expedited screening at airports to improve productivity and satisfaction were also important to 20 percent of those who responded.
“If they can get things done with technology, great, but if not, then they take comfort in hitting [zero on their phone] enough times to reach a real-life person who can talk them through their issue,” Gulmann said.
Still, the option of talking to a human was not universally embraced, he said: “Results from our study indicate that 50 percent of global respondents would avoid human interaction on the road unless they are having a problem.”