Getting Down to Business: High- and Low-Touch Travelers


Illustration: Lalalimola

Road warriors today are more self-sufficient and resourceful than ever: They book their own travel, do their own expenses and make room for extracurricular activities around work trips. In the multipart series,Getting Down to Business,” we look at the shiny tools inside the modern business traveler’s kit. This segment highlights the different preferences of road warriors – some prefer the warm greetings that come with human interaction while others prefer the non-nonsense communication of text messages.

Some business travelers crave the personal touch when booking flights and accommodations; others prefer conversing with chatbots. The trick is for airlines to leverage the insights that global distribution system (GDS) providers can detect, to anticipate which type of customer they’re dealing with.

High-touch business travelers, for example, value human interaction and like to be guided through the purchasing process. “They’ll use technology in conjunction with personal service and are happy to be contacted throughout their journey,” says Patricia Simillon, head of Strategic Marketing, Airlines, Amadeus IT Group, a GDS that processed more than 630 million bookings in 2017. On the other hand, low-touch travelers require little or no interaction when making a purchase.

“They use technology so they can self-serve, and prefer not to be contacted during or after their time of travel,” Simillon says, adding that, ultimately, business travelers want to feel their needs and preferences are understood by the travel provider. Artificial intelligence (AI) plays a crucial role in defining each business traveler profile, and subtle strategies for identifying low-touch or high-touch preferences are key to offering a more upscale business experience.

And as voice-control technology gains popularity, the self-service booking trend coincides with a shift away from keyboards, says Vanessa Bailey, director of Client Partnership at Business Travel Direct, a long-established corporate travel management company that is currently working with SAP Concur on an “ask Alexa” booking tool. “Traditional business travelers only want to call or e-mail us and are averse to digital booking tools; they want to be able to speak to a knowledgeable consultant,” she says. “But clients with a younger workforce, especially in the digital world, don’t even want to get their laptop out – they only want mobile booking channels and they certainly don’t want to talk to a human.”

Illustration: Lalalimola

Your Loyal Highness
With load factors at all-time highs (thanks to AI), allowing business travelers to redeem their miles for flights is becoming harder. “The challenge is for airlines to open up additional seats for loyal customers in a profitable way while still focusing on those customers who have the highest value,” says Dominic Matthews, global head, Amadeus Loyalty, Amadeus IT Group.

Loyalty has to be earned and can be easily lost if things go wrong. Most frequent flyers accept that air travel won’t always be smooth; however, an airline’s reaction when something does arise can make a difference, especially with its highest-value customers. “A smooth recovery of a delay caused by weather, for example, may even increase customer loyalty,” Matthews says. He explains that this issue is being supported by Amadeus with solutions such as allowing travelers to pay part cash and part miles for tickets, offering broader travel options with airline alliance partners to streamline the recovery process in case of flight disruptions, and tracking high-value customers who may require some special follow-up treatment.

“Getting Down to Business” was originally published in the 9.3 June/July issue of APEX Experience magazine.