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- January 30, 2017
What will business travel look like in 2017? We’re not going to see people riding around in personal drones—yet--but it’s starting to look more like The Jetsons all the time. Technology is having a big impact both on the way employees travel and how managers help them move around the world with ease. Sunny Manivannan and Ethan Laub of our travel and expense team, and Jack Miles, a long-time procurement executive and business advisor share their thoughts on what the year may bring.
1. Travel and expense management goes mainstream
For firms with good governance and a cost management mindset, travel and credit card spend has always been a focus. Due to rising costs, and a new generation of technology for automating in this area, we will see laggards start to pay attention and begin to focus here as well. –Jack Miles
2. Loosening of T&E policies
Companies with modern automated tools will relax their travel and expense policies, paradoxically because they now have so much granular T&E data. This might come as a surprise, but we see the T&E spend culture at customer organizations undergoing a once-in-a-generation shift. Given the rise of knowledge workers, the competition for talent and the focus on employee happiness in today's leading organizations, companies are trying to find ways to give their employees more flexibility. With the data now available to administrators, companies can relax their policies in certain areas and give their employees more flexibility while still protecting the organization from fraud. -–Sunny Mannivanan
3. Savvier negotiations as hotel costs rise
Travel costs--typically one of the top four expense categories in most firms--will rise as consolidation in the hotel industry continues. Given Marriot’s acquisition of Starwood and other hotelier consolidations, expect to see an increase in average room night cost. Companies with a focus on sourcing for this category will use their data to look beyond room night cost and add in ancillary costs such as food and beverage, parking, and conference and event spend if they have it to give them more leverage in negotiations. –Jack Miles
4. Airbnb makes inroads with corporates
Airbnb will continue to grow share in business travel as its integrations with corporate travel agencies and booking tools starts to pay-off. Three major travel management companies (TMCs) signed partnerships with the homesharing platform last year, driven at least in part by corporates expressing interest. According to Lex Bayer Airbnb head of global payments and business travel, Airbnb’s average business trip booking is six days. Again, it’s about giving employees options, and a home may better suit travelers in town for a longer-term project than a hotel room. –Ethan Laub
5. Ground travel prices fall
Ground travel (Uber, taxis, limos) is one area where prices will decrease. Black car services will continue to lose share to Uber and Lyft, as the car sharing titans roll out more corporate-friendly controls and reporting. Gaining corporate clients has been harder for pink-mustachioed Lyft, according to sharing economy expert Arun Sundarajan, but it scored a major win when Apple announced them as a preferred partner last spring.
Besides increased competition, lower costs are also driving prices down. Newer, more fuel-efficient cars make up a bigger share of fleets, and fuel rates are currently low. There’s one thing that could cause rates to plummet, rather than just tick down: driverless cars. Fuel isn’t the biggest cost. Neither is the car--cars these days are made so well they can easily last for ten years or more. The biggest cost is the driver. Without drivers, rates for rides could fall by as much as 90 percent over the next two or three years, some analysts say. –Sunny Manivannan and Ethan Laub
6. Expensing of a driverless ride
Speaking of driverless cars, here’s a bold prediction: 2017 will mark the first time we see an expense line filed for an autonomous car ride. While Uber had to halt its test of autonomous vehicles in San Francisco last December, there are more than a dozen companies either publicly or secretly working on autonomous vehicles. It’s only a matter of time before this technology makes it to the business market. Our question is, what will this expense line look like? What will the amount be? Who will be the vendor of record?
Perhaps there'll be a time in the not-too-distant future where transportation isn't something employees even expense. It will simply be a public utility like electricity, where every company simply pays per employee-mile at the end of each month. –Sunny Manivannan
7. Virtual assistants everywhere
Since we’re getting all futuristic here, we’re going to go out on a limb and predict that in 2017, every employee will have an assistant, not just executives. These assistants will be virtual, not physical. With Apple's Siri, the Google Assistant, and the Amazon Echo, consumers have been exposed to the grand idea of a digital around-the-house helper a la Rosie the Robot. And, many business travelers have already experienced a degree of this with mobile apps that do things such as automatically fill out your expense lines based on geolocation data.
This concept will really take off in 2017, with employees having access to really intelligent, self-learning assistants, no matter where they are. And, we will be able to call on these assistants with the touch of a button, a few taps on our keyboards, or simply our voices.
Sunny Manivannan is senior director of special projects at Coupa. Ethan Laub is director of product management. Jack Miles is principal consultant at Mainspring Advisors, a business strategy consulting firm.