It is often said that information is power, but that is not necessarily quite right. You can have all the information in the world but ultimately it is what you do with that knowledge that is important. Right now it is essential to have a clear understanding of the ever changing travel restrictions, airline and hotel hygiene requirements and government guidance.
One country may allow travel to another, but that country may still have restrictions such as enforced quarantines and even outright bans. It is a confusing landscape and as we have seen in the past couple of weeks in countries including Australia, China, Spain and the United Kingdom, that freedom can be quickly halted with the return of city- or state-wide closures.
To support the needs of travel managers and travellers themselves American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) has launched Travel Vital, a new travel briefing platform that aims to provide a single source for all the information they may need before, during and after a business trip.
Data is aggregated from hundreds of sources, allowing users to search travel guidelines by destination, airline, airport, hotel chain, train operator and ground transportation provider. The know-before-you-go tool shows travel restrictions for specific locations, while also identifying Covid-19 infection rate spikes and hot spots.
The journey assistant is free and available to all travel managers, travel management companies (TMCs) and travellers. For GBT clients and travellers, Travel Vitals powers itinerary-specific information in digital channels, including the Amex GBT mobile app, chat and online booking tools (OBTs). Travel counsellors answering calls and messages around the world have full access and are contributing in real time to the refinement of local information.
“Trip information is going to be central to building trust and confidence. We have to quickly aggregate relevant data in a world in which guidance changes daily. It’s dynamic, and we’re updating it daily. Given the fluidity of the situation, we can only be as up to date as the information available,” explains Mark McSpadden, vice president of product strategy and experience at Amex GBT.
“For the foreseeable future we have to manage every trip as if we were planning an event. Door-to-door travel management has long been an aspiration for our industry, but that isn’t enough in these circumstances. The role of the TMC now begins as soon as the need to travel is first identified and ends long after the traveller has returned home,” he adds.
For travel managers, Travel Vitals is integrated into the trip audit process and can trigger alerts when journeys are booked to high-risk destinations. Reporting capabilities monitor future bookings, helping drive policy compliance when hotel stays or ground options are not booked alongside air travel. Conversely, reports track historical bookings, critical if an individual’s movements need to be retrospectively traced because of an infection rate spike in a specific location.
While Travel Vitals is available to all online, GBT is consciously pursuing a mobile-first strategy to instil maximum confidence in clients and travellers. “We want this content to be easy for travellers to access while they’re on the move. To chat with a travel counsellor on the mobile app, use messaging like Apple Business Chat, or receive notifications from the travel manager while on a trip, all helps travellers feel confident and connected,” notes Mr McSpadden.
Amex GBT continues to invest in processes to support businesses and travellers alike. Earlier this month it launched its Neo1 service in the UK to help owner-managed businesses control cashflow by integrating purchasing from Amazon Business and GBT’s online travel booking tool. As such, it gives finance managers better visibility over what employees are spending money on.
A Feb-2020 survey by OnePoll of UK business owners or senior managers who work in companies with 50-249 employees found that nearly three quarters of business owners said controlling spend was more important for making strategic business decisions than had been five years previously. One in five admitted they did not have visibility of their business expenses from the previous 30 days.
“We understand how important cash flow and liquidity are to companies in the current environment. It’s crucial they have the tools to manage their businesses as efficiently as possible,” explains Jason Geall, vice president and general manager for Northern Europe at Amex GBT.
“We also realise how important SMEs are in driving a country’s economy, so we actually expedited development of Neo1 to make it available to business owners as soon as we could,” he adds.
Neo1 allows finance teams to manage all spend categories, such as office supplies, utilities and travel bookings, in one place. The tool gives users real-time visibility of money spent, money committed, and future spend requests. It is particularly helpful in managing large volumes of smaller line items, which can collectively amount to a significant percentage of overall business expense.