By Marisa Cannon, Globetrender Forecaster

Please note that the information below is Globetrender’s own and American Express Global Business Travel makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, with respect to any information contained here.

Over the past year, hoteliers, airlines, and travel brands quickly realized that a return to market would require changes to the way they operate, much in the same way that air travel and security transformed in the wake of 9/11. Digitization has, and will continue to be, one of the key vehicles for this change as customers look for ways to do business, travel, and make transactions without coming into contact with unnecessary touchpoints.

Recognizing the acceleration of “smartphone centricity” (a trend that Hilton and Marriott hotels helped kickstart a few years ago with keyless entry, for example), Virgin Hotels upgraded its mobile app Lucy with new contactless features in July 2020, enabling guests to check in and unlock room doors with their mobiles as well as control lighting and activate “do not disturb” signs. Citizen M rolled out a similar feature for its properties in the summer, while five-star Peninsula Hotels launched a “PenChat” e-concierge service for 24-hour instant messaging (no more picking up the bedside phone) in the spring.

In the world of long-stay accommodation, serviced apartment providers The Ascott Limited intends to review the design and layout of residences, ensuring they are “future-ready for continued growth,” with plans to include thermal scanning sensors to track footfall and crowds. Ascott Limited is launching a mobile app later this year, offering guests contactless apartment entry, payments, and check-in/checkout.

Swiss-based airport tech company SITA is working on a tool that will enable passengers to use their smartphones to check in, verify their identity, and pass through passport control at multiple airports worldwide, while Manchester Airport in England is offering travelers the opportunity to prebook 15-minute security slots, helping to ensure crowd control and social distancing are maintained.

Expense management is another area where contact is being reduced. American Express Global Business Travel’s (GBT) Neo™ travel and expense platform has optical character recognition capability, which automatically takes in travelers’ expense details when receipts are scanned, circumventing the need to handle, store, and submit paper versions.

Travel managers across the board are enhancing their contactless services, with many now offering push notifications direct to client mobiles that include government advisories, destination updates, and reminders to pack face masks or prebook safety-approved airport transfers.

The argument for analog travel services is growing weaker still, with many clients, especially of millennial and younger generations, preferring digital interaction over human.

“Successful travel providers will continue refining the blend of human resources with artificial intelligence to drive better and more efficient customer service,” says Raksa Ouk, senior director of digital traveler experience and product marketing at GBT.

She says: “Many of today’s business travelers are happiest self-booking on a platform that serves them the best choices with clarity and simplicity, and when they want the human touch for support or expertise, they may well prefer live webchat to making a phone call.”

For more trends, data, interviews, and analysis, download Globetrender’s free report on the Future of Business Travel, sponsored by American Express Global Business Travel.