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The evolution of business travel technology

Transport yourself to ‘90s tech, a time of dial-up internet, flip phones, DVDs, and compact disc players, and a world where the travel industry was far from the tech-driven experience we know today. Back then, travel was characterised by manual processes that sometimes seemed more like an artform than a science.

In this blog, you’ll be taken on a journey through the last 30 years to explore how technology has transformed the landscape of business travel, as CTM celebrates 30 years in travel.

A world without modern business travel technology

In the early 90s, what we now consider basic technology was groundbreaking in the travel industry. The internet was a novelty, and booking a trip meant making phone calls or visiting a bricks-and-mortar office.

CTM’s Founder and Managing Director, Jamie Pherous, started the company in 1994 wearing multiple ‘hats’ – from sales and account management to travel consulting. His previous experience as a business traveller identified gaps in the business travel experience which he believed required a perfect blend of service and technology to deliver a better ROI for businesses and a better experience for the business traveller.

CTM was an early adopter of technology to deliver better outcomes for both customers and employees. Initially adopting off-the-shelf technology solutions, Pherous quickly learnt the diversity of business needs that effective travel technology could, and should, deliver. A one-size-fits-all approach would not suffice in a fast-changing technology landscape. By creating proprietary technology solutions via a dedicated in-house product development team, CTM was able to offer customers the best of both worlds – a fully agnostic approach to technology that delivered maximum choice, speed and relevance to businesses of all shapes and sizes in a fast-changing world.

CTM established Tech Hubs across all four operating regions by 2017. Underpinned by a global technology strategy and framework, CTM’s regional tech teams develop locally relevant proprietary travel products alongside, and integrated with, a range of 3rd party solutions to deliver award-winning product experiences to every travel stakeholder; travel programme managers, risk management and HR, data analysts, travel bookers, and the business traveller.

Fast forward to the modern era, and the transformation is astounding.

Technology milestones transforming the travel management experience

The evolution of business travel technology has been extraordinary over the past 30 years and there are no signs of slowing, with each new capability having a profound and positive impact on travel management and the way we travel.

Welcoming the internet

The internet was a game changer when it burst onto the scene in the mid-90s. The ability for agents and travellers to access supplier products was so easy that it eliminated the need for hours spent phoning travel suppliers or looking up directories to source the information needed. The internet empowered travellers and travel bookers to seek information at the click of a button. Where geographical borders once existed, the internet facilitated better communication between travel management providers, travel suppliers and their customers; ultimately enhancing service delivery and streamlining how people travelled.

Farewell travel wallets, hello e-ticket

The introduction of e-tickets in the early 2000s was a pivotal technological masterpiece to streamlining the travel experience, with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) setting 2007 as the initial deadline for airlines to embrace 100% electronic ticketing. The introduction of e-tickets significantly reduced the operational time for Travel Consultants. No longer did they have to spend time filling out airfare construction lines or using metal airline plates to validate the paper ticket; it was all now done in a matter of seconds and a few keystrokes.

The traveller experience also underwent a revolutionary transformation. Gone were the days of remembering to carry a physical ticket. Now, all it took was a quick check-in process using ID and a booking reference, fast-tracking the landside to airside airport experience and eliminating the risk of lost tickets.

Online booking tools (OBT) – your one-stop shop 

Imagine a time where booking a trip involved making lengthy phone calls, a far cry from today’s reality. The introduction of OBTs was like receiving an encyclopaedia of travel content to your fingertips. You quickly appreciate and realise how sophisticated, complex and pivotal these tools are in today’s business travel technology ecosystem. The aggregated content provided travel bookers greater power to self-serve by comparing products and prices in a single platform, and to make informed choices in line with their travel policy.

Thanks to CTM’s OBT, Lightning, travel bookers and travellers can now effortlessly secure their entire travel itinerary in under 90 seconds — a convenience unimaginable in the past. In this era, travel bookers not only access the best corporate deals alongside extensive inventory pulled from a wide range of sources, but can also make choices based on sustainability features, airline performance insights, and enjoy fare forecasting tools (CTM’s Fare Forecaster) to quickly compare prices in a single search.

Going mobile

Mobile travel apps have become our own personal travel assistant in our pockets. Today, you can book your travel on the go and from anywhere, all within corporate travel policy; a mere dream in 1994. The ability to self-manage travel bookings, stay connected while on the road and receive potential risk alerts provides greater empowerment and peace of mind to the business traveller. The arrival of CTM Mobile put the Lightning OBT in travellers’ pockets, granting them the ability to effortlessly manage their itineraries while on the move.

Risk management tools

In the 90s, risk management was not a focal point of travel programmes, as many companies did not even have a formal travel programme. In recent years, traveller safety, health and wellbeing have become of significant importance in corporate travel.

Traveller tracking tools like CTM Risk Hub were developed to support businesses to quickly identify, understand, and communicate emerging travel risks and disruptions across the globe in all regions where their travellers were located. Having the ability to integrate risk technology solutions with OBTs provided customers with the ability to see where their travelling employees were, identify and assess potential risks events, and enable swift communications with impacted travellers.

Virtual payment – providing greater control over travel budgets

The concept of virtual payments for travel expenses started gaining attention in the early 2010s. Businesses began exploring ways to streamline and digitise their corporate travel processes, seeking solutions that could improve efficiency, enhance security, and provide greater control over expenses. Virtual payment solutions started integrating with travel management systems, allowing businesses to seamlessly incorporate virtual payments into their overall travel management processes. This integration provided a more comprehensive and streamlined approach to managing corporate travel expenses.

Explore our travel tech ecosystem

Setting the pace with agile technology

CTM’s commitment to innovation and delivering value to customers has been the driving force behind its 30-year technology journey. Guided by continuous feedback loops, CTM’s global and regional tech teams have consistently embraced an entrepreneurial spirit, setting several first-to-market milestones in response to customers’ needs and a dynamic travel landscape.

“Our company has a history and reputation for innovation and agility, and what sets us apart is our ongoing investment in building proprietary technologies that address the fast-changing needs of our customers. This capability has allowed our customers and employees to quickly adapt to new challenges and opportunities with ease and confidence, and experience the benefits of new tools and innovations first,” remarks Pherous.

One notable advancement is the introduction of New Distribution Capability (NDC) which has further elevated the travel experience, allowing travel suppliers to tailor personalised offers based on individual traveller trends.

“The new generation of business travellers is eager to be self-sufficient and have maximum control and choice in their business travel experience,” explains Al Laird, Vendor Integration Manager.

This shift towards self-sufficiency not only aligns with the preferences of the new generation, but also enhances efficiency and satisfaction in the corporate travel landscape. As technology continues to evolve, the modern business traveller can expect even more tailored and user-friendly features to enhance their travel journey.

Apurva Goswami, Chief Technology Officer – AU/NZ adds “By prioritising user-friendly interfaces and leveraging cutting-edge cloud technology, we’ve not just met but exceeded customer expectations, making the process of travel management not just a necessity but an enjoyable and seamless experience. As we continue this trajectory, I’m excited about the prospect of further innovations through the adoption of AI and ML, and the positive transformations it will bring to our customers and the broader travel industry.

“If I had to predict what the evolution of business travel technology will look like in the next 30 years, we will witness advanced AI, data insight, content aggregation, augmentation, and seamless tech integrations. It won’t just be about booking a trip; it will be about curating a sustainable experience that is personalised for each traveller and is available at their fingertips.”

Award-winning business travel technology

At the heart of CTM’s approach lies a deep commitment to understanding and meeting the diverse needs and expectations of customers. It’s not just a commitment; it’s a philosophy that drives the entire development roadmap. Recognising the evolving landscape of business travel demands solutions that align seamlessly with the preferences and expectations of customers.

To achieve this alignment, CTM established robust feedback loops that serve as conduits for valuable insights from customers. These insights, in turn, become the catalyst for continuous innovation within CTM’s travel tools. CTM listens to our technology users, understanding their pain points, preferences, and aspirations. This ongoing dialogue fuels the passion to push the boundaries and build solutions that not only meet current needs but also anticipate future requirements.

“CTM’s proprietary technology strategy provides us with unparalleled agility. We’re not bound by one-size-fits-all solutions; instead, we can adapt and tailor our offering to meet our customers’ needs. By owning our technology, a culture of innovation is woven into our DNA. We’re not waiting for the future; we’re creating it. Our tech team becomes the architects of seamless experiences, pushing boundaries and elevating customer satisfaction,” shares Goswami.

This strategic focus has garnered recognition and acclaim from industry peers and across global travel industry awards programmes.

Laura Ruffles, Executive Director, and CEO – AU/NZ, Asia, Europe, emphasises the significance of these achievements. “The travel industry’s recognition is a testament to CTM’s consistent delivery of exceptional solutions precisely when our customers need them the most. I am proud of the remarkable dedication, adaptability, and agility exhibited by CTM employees. The awards not only celebrate the company’s technological achievements but also underscore its ongoing dedication to providing meaningful and effective solutions for its diverse customer base.”

Modern era: The tech revolution in travel

Today, technology has completely revolutionised the way travel products and services are delivered and experienced. The appetite for online booking tools has evolved so much that they are now a standard expectation of the business travel offering.

Laird explains, “Customers want speed, content and control with OBTs. In some global regions it is not uncommon for online adoption rates to sit over 90% online. This allows customers to control their travel policy configuration, lower their transaction fees and enjoy access to more content all in one place.”

CTM continues to recognise the need for constant technology evolution and continues to invest in delivering the most relevant and meaningful corporate travel technologies, ensuring our tools provide future-proof travel solutions for businesses.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is now a driving force in delivering highly personalised, efficient and accessible service solutions tailored to individual user needs. CTM’s AI-enabled chatbot, Scout, provides 24/7 automated support for a range of travel requests that previously required human intervention. This technological leap enhances operational efficiency by handling routine queries and providing instant responses, allowing our expert Travel Consultants to focus on providing more complex travel assistance. For CTM’s customers, it means an elevated standard of service delivery that results in speed, convenience, personalisation, and empowerment.

“The introduction of self-serve tools empowered by AI marks a paradigm shift for our customers”, says Rony Cheriyan, Global Head of Scout AI. “They now have 24/7 access to real-time information, booking modifications, and much more. It’s like having a virtual travel concierge at their fingertips, providing a seamless and empowered experience.” AI’s learning capabilities further contribute to a more personalised and proactive approach, tailoring responses based on individual preferences and behaviours.

Looking to the future

The incredible transformation from manual procedures to automated, tech-driven solutions in corporate travel management underscores CTM’s dedication to innovation and exceeding customer expectations. As CTM marks three decades in business travel our mission remains steadfast: To be travel management leaders in all regions in which we operate, using innovative technology to improve the customer experience and bring positive change to the market.

The technology journey continues, and the future is brighter than ever.

Want future focused business travel technology?

Book your travel tech demo today with CTM.