17 experts advise on what’s to come this year. Spoiler: Data factors big.
The Innovate Conference for the Advancement of Business Travel offered business travel executives the opportunity to articulate priorities and recommendations.
Avis chief innovation officer Arthur Orduna talks:
Avis Car Rental plans to double its fleet connectivity in
the coming months. About 50,000 of the company's vehicles are "fully
connected," which allows customers to access and control such functions as
locking doors or flashing headlights through the app and enables monitoring of
cars' performance and maintenance. By early 2018, Avis projects that number to reach
100,000. Avis Budget Group chief innovation officer Arthur Orduna spoke with
BTN transportation editor Michael B. Baker about how Avis is using that
connectivity to serve its corporate customers and what innovations could spring
BTN: What is
meant by a "connected" fleet?
of the connectivity of the car, our folks will get information as to when the
vehicle has actually entered or exited the facility so that the rental
agreement itself is opened and closed in real time. That has that degree of
machined accuracy, as opposed to guesswork. The second thing is that we want to
make sure that that business traveler is getting a car that's in the absolute
best shape and is absolutely on top of its game with regards to service and
maintenance. One of the things that we do get in real time now from the
connected fleet is operations of that car itself. How is the oil? How is the
tire pressure? Those are two especially important things, as well as any other
kind of alerts coming from the regular diagnostic trouble codes. We know
beforehand what car should go on the ready line and what cars need to go on the
service line in much, much more accurate fashion.
BTN: Can you alert
drivers if something is going wrong during the rental?
Orduna: As a
caveat, we do not track location. We do not track how our drivers are driving.
But what we can get now is a real-time alert from a vehicle—not necessarily its
location, but we can get an alert from a vehicle—tied to a rental that says,
"Hey, I just dropped on my tire pressure. I just dropped one or two PSIs
below what the actual level should be." Our hope at this point with this
kind of connectivity on the fleet is: We're going to catch all of those things
when they enter what we would call the maintenance zone. That's really the
BTN: What else
can you monitor in a connected fleet?
really key issue is to be able to now have accurate mileage start and stop for
each rental, which right now is a visual check. The ability to measure [the
fuel level] to the tenth of a gallon or the tenth of a liter, depending on which
country you're traveling in, is going to solve a lot of customers' headaches
around billing issues or billing questions. There's an opportunity there for us
to work with corporate travel managers and with those business travelers to
come up with even more new services and products that fit their needs because
we have that kind of now really accurate information. Wouldn't it be neat if
our corporate travelers and their managers would say, "I'd like to maybe
purchase or pre-purchase or post-purchase, from a gas perspective, to keep this
BTN: Is this
fleet primarily in the U.S.?
Orduna: More than
three-quarters, maybe closer even to 80 percent, of that number is in the U.S.
And we are going to continue to bulk up the international numbers, primarily in
Western Europe. The additional 50,000 that we're going to add, however—that
distribution—will probably still be the same. We're going to see the bulk of
those going into the U.S., and then we'll see probably another 10 to 20 percent
of that going into our international spaces. One of the places that we're
really excited about, that we see a lot of growth, is in Asia/Pacific, especially
in Australia and New Zealand. I wouldn't be surprised if we started to see some
connectivity into 2018 moving into the Asia/Pac side.
Our long-term goal is that [the app] and connectivity should be everywhere. Anywhere that a business traveler goes, we want to be there with that kind of support."
BTN: At how many
locations is controlling your rental via Avis'
app now available?
Orduna: About 140
locations. The bulk of those are in the U.S. Outside of the U.S, it's now
available in locations in the U.K., in France, Norway and Australia. Obviously,
our long-term goal is that [the app] and connectivity should be everywhere.
Anywhere that a business traveler goes, we want to be there with that kind of
BTN: What will
your next focus be on the technology side?
Orduna: We want
to continue to focus on ease of use. We want to continue to focus on personalization
and customization. Not every city is the same, not every trip is the same and
not every business traveler is the same. How well can we get to know our
traveler and what he or she really needs when they need it? And how well can we
take in that information from travel managers, who want to be able to
customize, and add new features and functionality for their customers who are
those corporate travelers? We need to be able to add elements technically, like
local functionality, like Bluetooth synchronization because remember: Cars
sometimes get parked in garages, right? It's great to be on the cloud, but what
if the cloud can't reach the car? The other element, when we talked about ease
of use: How can we continue to leverage new kinds of user experience like
voice? How can we keep your hands on the wheel but get you to the absolute
right place at the right time and take care of your tolls and your parking
garage fees, even help you out with making sure that the latte that you like,
the way you like it, when you drive through Starbucks, is actually ready and
waiting for you and paid and you never take your hands off the wheel? All of
those things of creating what we're calling a sort of magic journey or a magic
drive for our business customers—that's what we want to focus on. We're now
heavily looking at the kinds of third-party services and providers that we want
to start experimenting with over the next 18 to 24 months.
BTN: Is all of
this focused on Avis, or will it extend to Budget, as well?
What we're doing with connectivity is as a proving ground and as a means of
really getting it right so that we can extend it to other brands. Besides
Budget, we have other brands now internationally, too. We've got Maggiore in
Italy. We have Apex in New Zealand and a couple of others. We want to use Avis
and [the Avis app] as really the tip of the spear. That's our forcing agent,
our change agent. If we get it right for those travel managers and for those
business travelers who are so demanding, then we know that we're going to get
it for the rest of the brands as we move across different demographics and
across different segments.
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