Travel - what once was exotic and exciting has now become a feature of many business people's nightmares. An example is my latest trip - two weeks in Las Vegas covering two different events.
Company number 1 said I should book my own travel. So, on to Virgin Atlantic's website and book the tickets. Easy enough, particularly as I have used the site many times in the past. Next, hotels; I have to book for the first event through the company's agent. However, I have to book for the second event through company number 2. So, I have to wait until I have enough information from both companies to see if I need to change hotels on the Saturday or the Sunday. Still not too much of a problem.
Next, getting to the airport. It's Gatwick, so I need to book a train. Yet another site, but everything is beginning to take shape. Taxis from the airport to the hotel, between hotels and back to the airport? I'll risk it and do that as and when.
Various steps that many of us have to do on a pretty regular basis - and then forget to print out all the bits of paper required for the many different parts of the trip. Plus, standing in line to pick up tickets, to show tickets, to check in, to check out - well, it's all a bit of a bore, really.
In this case, company number 1 was Concur, an on-line provider of expense management software. Its aim is to move towards what it calls "The Perfect Trip" - and it is taking steps that are really helping.
The first step has been in its acquisition of TripIt some time back. TripIt uses what Concur calls "automagical" capabilities to deal with travel - or what I prefer to call "magic elves". As soon as you have an email of any details to do with a trip - flights, hotel or restaurant bookings, whatever - you just forward them on to TripIt's email account and within less than a minute, those details are added to a trip record. It is impressive seeing this happening - for me, I had the train journey, flights and the two hotel reservations all in one record in the cloud so that I had all details to hand throughout the trip.
But, Concur does not want to stop there. In the US, it already has several partnerships that also help in making travel easier. For example, it has an investment in a company called TaxiMagic. If you need a taxi, click on a button on your smartphone, and it will automatically find the nearest taxis to you - and which ones are on your organisation's preferred list. You can then choose which to use - and when you leave the taxi, click on another button to automatically pay for the taxi ride along with a tip and then have it put directly onto your expense claim.
Concur also wants to work with travel management companies (TMCs) such as American Express Travel and Carlson in capturing what it calls "open bookings". These are bookings that are made directly by the traveller, missing out the corporate preferred TMC, which can lead to issues when trying to analyse and optimise travel spend. By capturing open bookings, such analysis can still be made. The TMCs can also take on the role of dealing with a duty of care. For example, through another acquisition, Concur captured ConTgo, which enables messages to be sent to travellers based on events that may impact them specifically. For example, let's say that an airline has an unexpected strike. Concur's records know all the corporate travellers who were hoping to be using that airline, and ConTgo can send specific messages to each person with alternative flights or overnight accommodation. With natural or man-made disasters, ConTgo enables fast and effective communication to each traveller giving them the sort of information they will need to deal with the situation.
What else? Concur wants to take as much of the available information around a trip and use it to smooth out processes. It would like to hold all travel tickets as eTickets within its system, so that paperwork becomes less of an issue.
Not only this, but Concur wants to push the use of the smartphone as the centre of the traveller's life. By using wireless (WiFi or near field communication (NFC)), Concur wants to be able to side-step as much of the standing in queues as possible - for example, walk into a hotel and you are already booked in. Get to your room and the phone acts as the room key. Walk into the room and lights, TV, radio and so on are already set to your preferences. Check out by clicking a single button when you are ready. And see everything set out as a formal expense claim that at a click of a button is automatically submitted for you.
Lose the phone? No problem - as all the data is in the cloud, get a new phone and everything is back to where it should be again.
The real key for Concur is that it does not aim to "own" the traveller. It wants to have access to as much data as possible - and then make this data available to others so that they can add further value through additional services, such as is happens with TaxiMagic. By data aggregation from the original sources of travel information and open APIs, Concur is providing a good platform for dealing with the many issues a traveller has to contend with.
Backed with Concur's travel and expense management engine, the future for travellers could be far more smooth. Will it ever be back to being exotic and exciting? After two weeks in Las Vegas, I'm the wrong person to ask.