According to the latest Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Recovery Poll released in October 2022, domestic business travel is back to 63 per cent of pre-pandemic volumes, while international corporate travel has rebounded to 50 per cent of 2019 levels. Even with economic concerns, the GBTA claims, most corporate travel buyers say their company has no immediate plans to limit business travel, and most expect the number of business trips to be higher in 2023.
Travel suppliers seem to agree, with corporate client bookings predicted to jump in in 2023, and 80 per cent expecting corporate travel spend to mirror that.
The GBTA research also shows business travellers are open to mobile tech innovations, such as integrated access to risk intelligence information. Most want employers to provide tools and apps that will keep them safe, with features like destination-specific alerts and access to available support during emergencies. Many business travellers want their company to contact them within two hours of an emergency abroad – although most say they would not take the initiative in contacting their employer if they needed help.
Established demand for apps
Travel assistance apps may provide a neat solution, say travel risk management and assistance providers, and there is wide agreement from the sector that innovation is attractive.
“Business travellers are interested in educating themselves to some extent, especially if they’re going to a new or high-risk destination, or if they’re an inexperienced traveller,” said Rhonda Sloan, Global Head of Sales and Marketing at AIG Travel.
“We see very high usage numbers on both the AIG Travel Assist app and the accompanying website,” she added. Through its app, AIG Travel provides detailed country reports and real-time security alerts, travel health information – such as the necessary vaccinations and Covid-19 requirements – and other general travel information, including visa requirements and currency exchange rates. Via a partnership with GeoSure, the app also provides travellers with what Sloan claims are the most detailed safety ratings in the world, down to the neighbourhood level.
“This hyper-local functionality gives safety scores for each location – including more than 65,000 cities and neighbourhoods – across the categories of physical harm, women’s safety, theft, LGBTQ+ safety, political freedoms, health and medical, and then a statistical average score for overall safety,” she explained.
High levels of travel risk intelligence necessary
So, what are travel and health insurers looking for from their app development partners and what does the future look like?
“Travel and health insurers aid us in developing the latest technology,” said Richard Willis, Head of Business Development at Solace Global – a travel risk management consultancy and assistance provider, expecting to roll out further enhancements to its app over the next few months.
“We are seeing a need from insurers and their partners for further innovation to provide a tangible USP in the tech field, to differentiate their value proposition when choosing their policy over competitors,” he added.
“They also need to know that their organisations are being supported with the highest standards of travel security alerting and reporting. They want to help clients stay safe while travelling, without impeding their trip, or adding an app that enables fast notification of nearby incidents. A call button direct to the assistance team is a great way to do this,” he said.
“Solace Secure’s app allows a client to maintain full control of their travel itinerary, while receiving the very highest level of intelligence alerting from our 24/7 operations centre,” Willis explained.
Users can configure the app to ensure it works in the most relevant way for them, drawing down country reports as they travel. The device’s GPS can be used to check in with a user’s last known position, and travellers use the app to raise an SOS or call directly to Solace’s security centre or the client’s.
“The user can select tracking if they wish to have that additional layer of security. In fact, the Solace app provides every level of support that even the most seasoned traveller may require. It capitalises on the opportunity that mobile technology presents in keeping travellers safe and informed, making an employer’s duty of care more comprehensive and manageable.”
Need to know information for travellers
For some business travellers, data security is a concern, making them reluctant to keep their app live at all times – which rather defeats the objective. Providers, though, say this is a top priority.
“We treat our clients’ data security with the utmost importance and only gather what’s critical for the service delivery. We protect our users’ data using the highest industry-standard encryption on both device and in the cloud,” confirmed Willis.
“Clients are reassured that this is not ‘Big Brother’, and we can only see their precise location when they want us to. One area we look to reassure users is with the app tracking. Solace provides the user with ultimate control, while all app-tracking aspects are elective,” he said.
Elective tracking allows the client to determine the level of security support they receive. It can be turned on when the situation/location demands, requiring only an ‘Allow Once’ or ‘Allow While App In-Use’ permission, so tracking only occurs when the user has requested it.
Sloan believes clients are sanguine about data security. “The AIG Travel Assist App provides travellers with real-time information and alerts at their request. With the exception of their AIG policy number, their email address and the name of their company, the app does not require any additional data. In all cases, the traveller controls content and alert subscriptions, and they don’t need to provide their itinerary, location or other personal data. Because the app requires a minimal amount of data, users aren’t turning it off because of data security concerns,” she said.
Rodger Cook, General Manager of Global Security Services at World Travel Protection, concurred: “We don’t see travellers worried about data security issues. More often, their concerns are over privacy and being tracked, which is why we created the ‘ghosting’ function and the ability within the app to stop tracking,” he said.
World Travel Protection’s Travel Assist app’s tracking capability uses the local mobile phone network or can incorporate satellite tracking. “This functionality has a built-in privacy feature, controlled by the traveller, which shows the person using the app anywhere within a 5km radius of their actual destination. Known in the app as ‘ghosting’, this can be switched off in an emergency,” Cook said.
Keeping it simple for users
Making apps easy to operate is key, providers say, as by definition they are going to be used under stress or in inhospitable environments. Clear graphics, icons and large screen buttons are helpful features.
“It is vital to encourage user engagement with cross-platform consistent design and expected behaviour, irrespective of whether the user is on iOS and Android,” said Willis. “The more automation we can build into our apps, the more the user will gain. We are constantly working with clients to gather feedback to help understand ways that our system can be enhanced further for a better UX,” he added.
Sloan agreed that making such apps truly user-friendly is vital. “From there, we’re looking at qualities like speed, the ability to make changes rapidly, and customising the app based on the client, such as adding logo or branding.”
Apps such as Travel Assist provide travellers with tailored alerts from intelligence providers and standing country intelligence that can be used to research a destination.
“Our app users also have access to news articles, alerts, or updates on areas they are interested in or that may impact their travel or work. The app also stores important data, like the itinerary and emergency contacts,” said Cook.
A concern with building an app aimed at supporting travellers is to make sure that it can function in areas of poor data service
The app allows the traveller to call in using a pre-programmed number or press a panic button, both of which take them straight to World Travel Protection’s command centre. Travellers from the same company can also communicate among themselves, and in a potential emergency, WTP can communicate directly to the traveller.
“A concern with building an app aimed at supporting travellers is to make sure that it can function in areas of poor data service, or when connectivity is reduced from an attack or natural disaster,” Cook said. “When an incident occurs, there is often stress on the network with security forces involved, so an app needs to operate within these constraints.
“Another consideration is the pressure on the phone’s battery, so any app that is used for tracking or that runs in the background must assess this. An app that can integrate with various wearables – particularly those that manage health and wellbeing, as well as emergency contacts – is also key.”
“One of the more common issues when using apps is connectivity,” agreed Sloan. “If travellers don’t have Wi-Fi or a good mobile connection, that could pose a real problem, especially from a security perspective. Improvements to current technology that ensure uninterrupted connectivity should be a priority,” she said.
The value of a travel assistance app should be obvious
Ultimately, though, widespread adoption of travel assistance apps will rest on convincing business travellers and employers of their practical value, according to Cook.
“Uptake is dependent on how committed an organisation’s leadership is to making sure their people are supported when they travel – and how much value the travellers see in the app. Using a single app to replace a variety of different tools that help educate, locate and communicate will save companies money in the long run, making travel more seamless,” he said.
The recipe is a simple one for Sloan: “At the end of the day, we’re focused on whatever will make a traveller’s life easier being all in one place, so they’re not bouncing from app to app. The more useful features that can be added within a travel assistance app, the more likely the traveller will use it.”