As South African corporates gradually return to the boardroom, road warriors are longing to take back to the skies and resume business negotiations, build relationships, and discuss new business opportunities.
Although business travel is permitted in South Africa, the pandemic has kept everyone on their toes with regulations changing frequently. As consulting firm McKinsey put it: ‘One lesson of the crisis is the need for speed: the pandemic obeys no speed limits, so businesses have had to adapt through quick fixes and workarounds. How can they keep these successful innovations going over the long term?’
Bonnie Smith, general manager at FCM Travel Solutions, believes data and technology is the answer. ‘We want to not only help our clients emerge from this crisis, but through our suite of data-driven tech tools we hope to pave the way forward and unlock business travel in a more meaningful way,’ says Smith. ‘If you want to empower business travellers, bookers, and manager to make quick and informed decisions, you need to equip them with data and technology that is reliable, robust and relevant.’
Relevant facts in an era of information overload
With the COVID-19 pandemic came a deluge of information from every channel − from newspapers and microsites to the sometimes sensationalist social media sphere. Instead of informing travellers, information overload can be paralysing.
The TMI (too much information) effect has led to the danger of information overload − a phenomenon studied by Professor David Bawden and Dr Lyn Robinson of City University of London’s Department of Library and Information Science.
‘Overload occurs when too much relevant information is arriving, particularly when it comes through the “homogenising” lens of the web browser, which makes it difficult to distinguish which information is reliable and helpful. It leads people to feel overwhelmed and powerless and causes anxiety, fatigue and paralysis of action; bad enough at any time, dangerous in a pandemic.’
Innovative technology combined with the expertise of a travel specialist can help travellers and companies make sense of the information overload and drill down to relevant facts.
‘Well before the disruption caused by COVID-19 we recognised the need for business travellers to access pertinent, accurate information quickly and easily,’ says Smith. ‘This led to the development of a dedicated online travel resource hub which gives travellers all the information needed to make informed decisions about their upcoming trips and travel with peace of mind.’
An ace in the delivery of real-time insights and useful information, FCM’s intuitive chatbot, Sam, has proven a game-changer for road warriors the world over. Sam (or Smart Assistant for Mobile) is a pocket travel assistant which handles everything from booking flights, hotels and ground transport to updating travellers on the weather at their destination. It also advises on the exact departure gate, flight time changes, or where to collect bags and suggests restaurants to visit, gives alerts about traffic delays, and connects the user to a live text or phone chat with a consultant if needed or wanted.
Sam may be powered by artificial intelligence, but travellers can feel reassured that should the need arise, there is integrated support from live travel consultants available 24/7. ‘Especially now, with anxiety around travel quite high, and perhaps even because of months of social distancing, people are craving human connection. Balancing your technology with a personal touch is key in the new COVID-19 business travel landscape.’
FCM believes that the right technology will be critical in allowing travellers to navigate the crisis by making business travel management simpler, faster and more efficient.
Keeping travellers safe with the right technology
The world is an increasingly unpredictable place, so the health and safety of business travellers is, more than ever before, at the top of the corporate agenda.
Most travel management companies offer customers a range of tools to help them successfully navigate a crisis. However, in times of stability, understanding behind the function and accessibility of these tools tends to be low.
‘In our experience, we saw a sharp spike in requests for access to FCM’s Secure risk management tool at the start of the pandemic, despite the tool being available for some time,’ shares Smith.
‘Before the need actually strikes, we advise companies to practise checking security updates and traveller whereabouts via their risk management tool. As we have seen in this pandemic, the importance of preparation and integrated responses backed by data cannot be underestimated.’
It is important that companies automate their crisis response process and that the tools used are powered by a reputable crisis management provider like WorldAware. Having immediate access to updated crisis information and the tools to easily assess which travellers are affected can drastically cut down your response time in getting travellers to safety.
‘Data and technology isn’t a magic bullet. Crises and obstacles will still arise. But when they do, having innovative data and tech solutions in your corner, allows you to home in on priorities, keep travellers safe and accounted for, and pave the way for sustainable recovery of business travel,’ concludes Smith.