Sustainability and the decarbonization of corporate travel programs were prevalent themes at June’s Business Travel (BT) Show Europe. There were numerous sessions on the topic, from how to reduce travel-related emissions to the effectiveness of sustainability reporting tools and the decarbonization of air travel.

We ourselves had a big announcement on the subject that we shared at the BT Show – an invitation for corporates to join a landmark sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) pilot program we’ve launched with Shell Aviation.

SAF is an alternative jet fuel produced from waste from plant or animal material that has the potential to reduce lifecycle emissions by up to 80% compared to conventional jet fuel. It’s become the most promising solution for the aviation industry to accelerate its transition to a low-carbon future.

For this to become a reality, however, production and usage of SAF need to ramp up exponentially. That’s where our pilot program comes in.

Thus far, demand for SAF has been low due to its premium cost. With Shell, we have developed a model in which airlines and companies with travel programs can co-fund the cost of SAF, together creating higher demand and helping to drive down the price.

Businesses that sign up for the pilot program will have access to Avelia, one of the world’s first blockchain-powered digital SAF book-and-claim solutions for business travel. Developed by Shell and Accenture, Avelia enables companies pursuing science-based and net-zero targets to invest in SAF in pursuit of their sustainability goals.

Aon is the first Amex GBT pilot client to join the program. Discussions are in advanced stages with several other global and multinational clients and airlines.

Also on the BT Show’s agenda were discussions on sustainability reporting and tracking emissions data, which is vital for the decarbonization of a travel program. Companies with science-based targets need granular emissions data to make informed choices about ways to cut carbon.

To address this need, our Global Business Consulting (GBC) team recently launched Green Compass to help companies understand how changes to the travel program can help them reach their decarbonization targets.

At the BT Show, GBC consultants demonstrated the prototype visualization engine, which uses an intuitive graphic interface to show travel managers how carbon reduction decisions can impact carbon, traveler experience, and cost. Without this insight into cost, travel managers cannot make informed decisions on how to reduce emissions.

GBC consultants also unveiled an expanded portfolio of green consulting solutions that will propel clients on their sustainability journey, from their first steps of completing an inventory and setting goals to embedding sustainability with actions for travelers and suppliers through change management and category-specific actions.

Certainly, there was talk at the conference about the state of business travel with all going on in today’s world. With staff shortages and soaring travel demand putting a strain on the industry, we’ve seen increased flight disruptions globally and high call volumes into customer service lines.

At the BT Show, we introduced a new virtual assistant capability on our Amex GBT Mobile app to help reduce long call waiting times travelers may be experiencing these days.

The assistant, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), can start a conversation with a traveler in under one second and immediately fulfill simple requests, such as answering general questions about COVID-19 regulations, invoicing, and itineraries.

If a traveler counselor is required for a more complex query, the virtual assistant uses the wait time to gather information before putting the traveler through. Busy travelers can also choose to pause a conversation (say, when they are boarding a plane) and restart it at their convenience. Because the technology features natural language and free text input for requests, users are not limited to specific speech patterns or keywords.

“Chat is becoming the standard service channel across many industries. It has the highest customer satisfaction rating of all our servicing channels,” said Riccardo Vittoria, director of our chat platform and AI strategy. “Volumes have been increasing by 50% month over month. Customers love the convenience of starting a conversation without being on hold.”

Egencia, now part of the Amex GBT corporate family, also unveiled new chat capabilities at the BT Show. Its chat help service has been integrated with Slack, enabling travelers and travel managers to communicate with Egencia’s consultants via the messaging platform. Users who activate Egencia Chat in Slack can book trips and change travel dates, while travel managers can approve trips or request more information.

Recently, Egencia conducted a pilot program with select customers to test features and gather actionable feedback so the experience could be enhanced prior to the global launch.

“If colleagues are using Slack to discuss where to stay on a business trip, we can just search for the best hotel within Slack and book it there and then. And if plans change, you don’t have to pick up a phone, go on hold, play phone tag, or wait for a support email,” said Kristin Neibert, one of the pilot customers. “Our teams love the convenience and ability to self-serve while they’re on the road, and our managers are confident any issues will be resolved by the AI-powered virtual agent or an Egencia travel consultant, all within a tool we’re already using.”

Learn more about these chat enhancements.

Download the Amex GBT Mobile app or request a demo of Egencia’s Slack integration functionality.