Robots to Regulation and Ride Sharing: Business Travel Show 2018

From 20 – 21 of February, West London welcomed Europe’s largest specialised event for business travel professionals – The Business Travel Show. As well as spending time walking the floors and listening to the interesting panel debates and keynotes, we were on the ground in support of American Express Global Business Travel, who introduced new solutions for managed travel, as well as addressing major topics for the industry.

American Express GBT was in good company with a bustling crowd of top buyers, suppliers, start-ups and industry leaders including Addison Lee, Uber, Amadeus, CWT and Booking.com, amongst many others. From gender parity to oil prices and carry-on suitcase innovations to ride sharing and machine learning, the show well and truly covered the gamut.

Our team roamed the floors during the two packed days, observing an abundance of new technology and fresh ideas, as well as getting a real feel for the questions and challenges that face the industry for the year ahead. Kwittken was fortunate to be a fly on the wall and brings you a snapshot of the standout topics from our perspective: General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), pricing transparency for travel management, New Distribution Capability (NDC) and AI for corporate travel.

Naturally, GDPR (European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation), which will be implemented in May 2018, was addressed. The change that will ensue was examined, as well as the benefits of implementation and the consequences of non-compliance with the new changes. There is no question of its benefits, yet understanding your business role as either a controller (those directly responsible for data) or a processor (those who process data only on the explicit instruction of a controller) warranted the educational session. The consequences for not complying are steep, but avoidable!

The BT Show did not shy from controversy, hosting another talk which focused on whether travel management companies (TMCs) are paid too little or too much. Travel buyers have asked for more “transparency” into costs and the pricing models used by TMC’s. The talk concluded with the notion that trust is essential in retaining customers, therefore transparency is necessary.

Experts from British Airways, Clarity, Amadeus, TravelFusion and Red Bull also came together at this year’s Show to discuss the trials and tribulations of the ‘hot potato’ issue facing the business travel world – NDC. While the audience was divided on the future of NDC, the experts were almost unanimously in favour. Despite obvious uncertainty, some of the panellists praised the healthy competition that NDC will foster. However, all did urge industry-wide collaboration for the successful execution of NDC.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning also took central stage, as panellists debated the future of AI in the industry and its readiness at present, as well as the hold ups in fully recognising its potential value. While panellists agree that understanding the traveller better will be the real prize as AI advances, they concurred that automation at this point can only compliment the human touch in travel booking – not replace it. Only once advancement in automation is achieved to 100 percent can AI take over– which will perhaps bring us all a sigh of relief, for now.

It was not all talks and panels though. Many exhibitors used the BT Show as a platform to launch new products, such as Staybridge Suites, which unveiled a new design. However, the breakout star of the show was certainly Addison Lee, whose drivers stormed through Olympia, whistles blazing, to protest on recent pay cuts.

The growing schedule of exhibitors, expanding panel and presentation topics and the excitement rising from individual booths indicated a clear (but unofficial) theme, collaboration. Collaboration industry-wide in many areas and red-lacing topics, with traditional and emerging stakeholders, is essential to take the business travel profession to new heights.

Another year and another great show where controversy, intellect, curiosity and innovation reigns. Until next year, Olympia London.

More on Business Travel Show can be found here.