AI redefines MENA corporate travel business


AI redefines MENA corporate travel business
Stan Klyuy, Chief Commercial Officer at Tumodo

An article by Stan Klyuy, a Chief Commercial Officer at Tumodo, an online business travel platform.

In 2024, the digital transformation of business travel has become our reality, with artificial intelligence (AI) leading the charge in travel management programs, making it more straightforward and efficient. This surge in AI adoption is part of a global trend, with the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) market for AI in travel expected to reach $423.7 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 35% between 2022 and 2027.

Beyond efficiency, AI is making travel more personalised with its ability to tailor flights, hotels, and transportation according to travellers’ preferences, driving significant revenue for the industry. In fact, AI is improving travel and expense compliance, with research suggesting that compliance could be improved by as much as 70%.

Here, we'll explore key industry trends, offer some insights into how corporate travel has changed in the last year, and highlight the fascinating potential of artificial intelligence to transform business travel in the future.

The Evolution of Business Travel Management through AI

Let’s face it – AI has transformed how we approach corporate travel, from planning and booking to managing the entire trip. In particular, cutting-edge tools empower companies to optimise operational costs, streamline procurement processes, and enhance employee travel experiences. 

These advancements foster collaboration across departments – finance, human resources, and travel management teams – all working towards shared goals, such as developing effective travel policies and aligning travel initiatives with the corporation's strategic vision. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

AI has become essential for companies to grasp employee travel preferences and deliver highly personalised experiences. It also provides up-to-date information on flights, hotel check-ins, and other crucial aspects of business travel. For instance, AI facilitates data-driven decision-making by offering insights into travel patterns, spending habits, and potential cost-saving opportunities. This aligns perfectly with the evolving landscape of travel management companies, which increasingly prioritise digital-first approaches, sustainability initiatives, and flexible business options.

Specifically, the MENA region demonstrates rapid AI adoption in business travel. Dubai is piloting AI for baggage handling, air traffic management, and immigration processes, while in Abu Dhabi, Etihad partnered with Microsoft to launch an AI Academy to fast-track employee-driven business ideas. At the same time, Chatlyn, a leading travel and hospitality guest experience software developer, showcased its advanced AI chatbot at the Arabian Travel Market 2024 that ensures accurate, real-time responses, enhancing communication for hotels with a diverse clientele and significantly improving response times.

Furthermore, AI-powered tools enhance travel safety and security. Real-time detection of suspicious activities allows for safer travel experiences. Dubai's reputation as a safe and welcoming tourist destination with strict safety regulations further exemplifies the potential of AI to elevate travel safety within the MENA region. For example, AI is revolutionising airport security through automated threat analysis and identification to enhance security measures and improve processing speed and accuracy. 

AI also contributes to sustainability in business travel by optimising travel routes and reducing unnecessary trips. It offers deep insights into a company's carbon footprint, leading to swift cost-cutting opportunities. For instance, by analysing travel data, TumodoGreen's AI analytics calculate carbon footprints and suggest the most eco-friendly routes. According to BCG, applying AI to all emissions could achieve 5% to 10% reductions, equivalent to 2.6 to 5.3 gigatons of CO2. 

Personalisation and Customer Experience in Corporate Travel

Personalisation has emerged as a critical differentiator in today's corporate travel landscape, driven by services that consider cultural nuances, navigate complex regulations, and tailor logistics to a company's specific business objectives. This shift reflects a growing reality – over 74% of business travellers prioritise the overall experience over mere cost savings.

Take, for example, Tumodo, which leverages AI to analyse vast travel data within the MENA region. By uncovering hidden patterns and trends, like the growing popularity of "bleisure" trips, Tumodo's AI algorithms identify optimisation opportunities, translating to significant cost savings (up to 35%) and an enhanced overall customer experience.

AI's power goes beyond cost savings. It analyses a wealth of data – travel history, behaviour patterns, and even social media interactions – to personalise the travel experience for each individual. This not only saves travellers time and effort but also streamlines the entire planning process. However, AI personalisation is not limited to the destination. For example, AI tools can recommend activities tailored to individual preferences, suggesting dining options, sightseeing attractions, and more. This ensures every traveller has a fulfilling experience that aligns with their interests.

The impact of AI extends further, enhancing customer experience at every touchpoint of corporate travel. AI is present throughout the journey, from pre-trip planning and booking to in-destination activities and post-trip support, including preferred airlines and hotels, to dietary restrictions and leisure activities.

The Future of AI in Corporate Travel

The future of AI in corporate travel is brimming with exciting possibilities. Research by Skift indicates that hospitality leaders overwhelmingly believe in the benefits of Gen AI tools: 81% see them as advantageous, with 52% prioritising their development. Additionally, 95% are confident these advancements will significantly enhance guest experiences. This aligns with a McKinsey report suggesting AI's potential to unlock substantial value – as much as $150 billion – in the Middle East's GCC countries, representing a significant portion (9% or more) of their combined GDP.

The message is clear: AI in corporate travel is poised for continuous evolution. One key development to anticipate is the rise of AI-powered travel companions. These virtual assistants will be available 24/7 to answer questions, provide location-specific recommendations based on your preferences, and seamlessly translate information across languages, overcoming traditional language barriers.

Beyond this, the future holds the promise of VR-powered travel experiences. VR technology has already begun making some strides in the industry. For example, National Geographic Explore VR utilises Oculus Quest 2, a cutting-edge all-in-one VR system by Meta, to transport users to far-flung destinations. When combined with AI, these technologies have the potential to offer strategically planned, immersive travel experiences.

This convergence represents the future's leading trend: hyper-personalised travel curation. Imagine an utterly bespoke travel experience tailored entirely to your unique desires. Thanks to recent advancements in AI and machine learning, travel companies may finally be able to deliver this level of personalization, which is already proving its worth in the business world. In fact, personalised recommendations based on user data can boost conversion rates in the travel sector by a significant 23%.

The future of corporate travel in the MENA region and globally is undeniably AI-powered. As AI continues to evolve and integrate seamlessly into travel experiences, we can expect even greater efficiency, personalization, safety, and sustainability for business travellers. This will benefit companies and travellers alike and contribute to the overall growth and dynamism of the business travel industry in the MENA region.

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