Just one year ago, we successfully predicted that business travel would reach recovery status in 2023. But as that milestone approached, it was another development that stole the headlines: the rush of enthusiasm around generative AI.
Today, the hyper-acceleration of its development means this technology will play a defining — and transformative — role in the coming year. Of course, in the complex world of travel and expense, generative AI won’t be the only big story. The fast-moving changes that are coming for airlines, fintechs, and others will also change the way companies approach travel and expense.
With that in mind, here’s what Navan’s executives predict for the T&E industry over the coming year.
The entire concept of human-computer interaction (HCI) will be reinvented. In 2024, web and mobile applications will be completely rethought and we’ll start to see a new trend emerge in the way we interact with these apps — a combination of chat with UI elements that show up and disappear. For example, adding a loyalty club to your profile will not require navigating through complex menus to finally get to what you want to do. You only see what you need to see when you need it.
Generative AI models will continue to become smaller, more portable, and with faster inference. This will lead to hyper-accelerated development and implementation into ever-more specific applications. Imagine a mini-ChatGPT powering your phone; third-party apps could integrate into that and enable a magical user experience.
Proactive AI will be the ultimate user experience. These changes (HCI and smaller LLMs) will enable solutions to anticipate users’ needs based on known traveler patterns and proactively complete tasks. This will remake the traditional user interface (UI), which will soon have an entry point of voice or text chat.
— Ilan Twig, CTO and co-founder
Generative AI will bring unparalleled personalization to travelers. Ever since travel booking moved online, traveler personalization has been a goal that was much discussed but never achieved. But now, the brass ring is firmly within reach, thanks to generative AI, and frequent business travelers will be big winners. After all, some of them must still visit 20-plus sites just to find something they already know they want.
The generative AI experience gap will widen — and travelers will feel it. In 2024, users will feel the gap in experience widen between companies that are just using ChatGPT programs in wrappers and organizations that have integrated generative AI tools into their systems. The result will enable travelers to skip the traditional “search” process and arrive at their intended outcome faster.
The travel labor shortage will continue, stoking AI innovations. In 2024, the continued shortage of experienced travel agents who have a deep knowledge of the industry will make it critical for travel companies to focus on automating the complex landscape. Getting there will require an increased reliance on generative AI, which will give travelers the personalized, 24/7 support they need and provide agents with the bandwidth to focus on issues that require human expertise.
— Nina Herold, COO
Card-based fintechs can no longer solely rely on interchange models and will diversify revenue streams in 2024. Over the past few years, many fintechs have risked collapse due to a narrow product focus or unsustainable customer incentives — particularly in the corporate card market, which is reliant on interchange fees.
In 2024, card-based fintechs will need to make tough decisions about customer incentives or expand their product portfolios to mitigate risks. Successful fintechs will demonstrate that driving volume depends on providing customers with an unequivocally superior experience compared to legacy alternatives.
Collaborations are the latest innovation transforming fintech. Major banks are shifting toward becoming “one-stop shops” for their customers rather than just another service or partner they need to manage.
This shift presents a golden opportunity for fintechs, sparking a renaissance in the financial ecosystem. 2024 will see an increase in partnerships between traditional banks and fintechs — giving rise to novel business models and redefining industry standards.
— Michael Sindicich, EVP and GM, Navan Expense
The incentive models of the airline industry will continue to evolve. In 2024, airlines that have adopted New Distribution Capability (NDC) will transform their programs with corporations and agencies, including the existing structure around contracts. The resulting structures will reflect what NDC has to offer and provide a pathway for increased utilization of this technology, with the goal of incentivizing travelers to book through preferred channels.
To showcase the benefits of NDC, airlines will leverage technology to offer further tailored content and differentiated incentives to travelers, corporate programs, and agencies. Results will include dramatic increases in operational consistency, loyalty, ancillary incentives, and bundle incentives.
The NDC-style distribution wave is coming for hotels. Expect distribution changes from hotel groups in 2024. In order to work more directly with agencies and customers, hotel leaders will start looking for different ways to distribute their content. Those that do will clearly distinguish themselves from other brands.
The NDC gap between TMCs will widen. The airlines’ aggressive changes in distribution strategies will have a profound effect on TMCs. Some will resist the adoption of NDC, resulting in increased GDS surcharges and continued content exclusion that will hit travel buyers especially hard. Expect a widening gap between TMCs that are embracing NDC and those that are lagging behind.
— Dane Molter, VP, Product
As leisure demand remains strong, bleisure travel will increase in importance. In 2024, travel demand will begin to normalize. Employees will continue to look to blended travel (up 72% YoY) as an opportunity to see and experience new places while saving on travel.
Seasonality will continue to shift and become more fluid. The days of traditional travel seasons may be over, as seasonality becomes more fluid in 2024.
The continued flexibility of work environments has opened the floodgates for travelers to visit desired destinations any month of the year — not just around existing holidays or on the weekends — to make the most of PTO. While there will still be spikes during traditional busy seasons like the summer months and the holidays, we’ll see travel bookings in 2024 be more evenly distributed throughout the year.
Gen Zs and millennials will become conference connoisseurs. Conferences are emerging as epicenters for younger generations eager to combine work with experiences and travel.
As the macroeconomic environment tightens and organizations cut down on nonessential travel, conferences have become a one-stop-shop for younger generations still craving travel and in-person experiences — offering a single meeting place for colleagues, teams, prospects, and customers, as well as getting together with friends for outings and to enjoy their destination city’s nightlife.
—Kelly Soderlund, Traveler Insights Expert
Expect continued disruption to flights in Europe through much of 2024. The demand travel in Europe is returning faster than the supply, as airlines are still ramping up from the slowdown. Ensuing disruptions will require increased levels of support and push travelers toward self-serve travel platforms.
To assist customers quickly and efficiently, there will be an increasing expectation for on generative AI integrations will need to widen in scope.
New regulations will require even more focus on sustainability. To meet the new guidelines implemented by the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), businesses in 2024 will be closely assessing all sustainability-related business decisions, from greenhouse gas reduction targets to sustainability governance and incentive schemes.
Companies will need to work more closely suppliers that offer sustainable choices and invest in employee education. This shift will create an increased need for access to real-time data, such as the carbon impact of an organization’s travel program.
— Michael Riegel, CEO of Navan, Europe
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