The Future of Business Travel

How technology will disrupt the business of getting from A to B

The transport industry is changing rapidly. From autonomous vehicles to ride hailing apps, technology is transforming the way we travel. In 2015, the UK National Travel Survey found that Londoners spend 107 hours commuting to work each year. That sounds bad enough, and it’s only one city. Imagine how much time (and money) is spent on global business travel by both employers and employees. It’s not difficult to see why transportation – and business travel in particular – is crying out for innovation.

SpaceX is one company tackling this problem. In late 2016, CEO Elon Musk revealed Hyperloop, a super-fast, super-efficient train. But what other new developments are set to change transportation in the future, and how will they affect business travel as a whole?

Technology and travel
Uber and other car hailing services have already disrupted the transport industry, encouraging ride-sharing and accelerating the end of car ownership. However, catching a taxi is still notoriously expensive, and there’s always the possibility that you’ll still get caught in traffic. SpaceX’s Hyperloop could provide a solution to both of these issues, as each journey is expected to cost $20 and take half as much time as an aeroplane. We can be pretty safe to assume that the train will run on electricity, which ties in with Musk’s ultimate vision of a sustainable, electric-powered future. Unfortunately, commuters could have to wait for for 10 years to benefit from this ambitious project.

In the meantime, other options are under development. 2021 is the targeted year for mass autonomous transport, although some semi-autonomous vehicles are already in use. Delphi, for instance, has a fleet of driverless taxis in Singapore. Combine on-demand apps, autonomy and electricity, and suddenly you’ve got efficient, sustainable transport at the click of a button.

Of course, workers won’t always need transportation – in many instances, they may not need to travel at all. The latest advancement on the video conference call is Virtual Reality, which allows participants to exist in a virtual working environment with whiteboards and other comprehensive tools. The Bank of Ireland has already trialled virtual conferencing, and views it as the future of collaboration. For businesses that can’t afford VR tech, there’s always standard video calls. However, these services are now enhanced with AI, enabling conversations with associates who not only live on the other side of the world, but who speak another language. This means that executives can wave goodbye to pricey plane tickets, as well as human translators. Another growing trend is the virtual business app. Slack, for example, is an instant messaging platform for business teams that even has its own chatbot.

How will innovation disrupt business travel?
For commuters, the changes brought about by super-fast, on-demand transportation could be life changing. Innovative new services will be much quicker and eventually far cheaper than traditional travel, especially considering the cost-efficiency of electric power. Public transport will become less congested, which on the one hand will make the lives of operators and drivers easier, but will take away revenue from transport providers. Less demand means less need for services, which in turn will disrupt employment patterns. The mass adoption of autonomous transportation will accelerate this trend. Without the crowds of commuters who make up so much of the travelling population, the entire infrastructure of travel will change. Yes, it might be easier to find a seat on the 8.00am train to London, but this won’t be so positive for the hotels and kiosks that lap up the custom of hungry, tired, caffeine-deprived workers. Even the oil and gas industry will suffer from the removal a large proportion of the customers that they serve, as less demand for travel services equals less need for fuel. Disruption in business travel will also change the nature of business as a whole. Location will become far less important when applying for and offering jobs, and fewer people will actually interact with their colleagues.

The main problems with business travel are cost and time expenditure – take away the need for physical presence at work, and you eliminate those issues. It’s true that not all companies can function via apps and VR headsets, but the business world is clearly moving into the digital sphere. Efficient, autonomous and electric services will still benefit those who need to physically turn up at their workplace on a regular basis. Perhaps the most exciting development in the works is Hyperloop. Like many of Musk’s endeavours, it sounds far-fetched but looking at his track record, the project shouldn’t be dismissed as just a pipe dream. As fantastic as cheaper, faster, cleaner travel will be for commuters, it will affect the very infrastructure of transportation. As businesses continue to digitalise, traditional commutes may well become a distant memory.

Does your business use virtual working environments? How will digital management change the nature of business? Share your thoughts and experiences.