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Procter & Gamble this month plans to debut its managed mobile travel strategy, starting with U.S. travelers receiving on mobile devices "anticipatory alerts and notifications" about traffic delays to the airport, long security lines, flight departures, air delays and gate information.
P&G expects the functionality to be available by year-end to all 55,000 travelers globally, said global travel services manager Debbie Gittinger during an Association of Corporate Travel Executives conference here last month. Part of P&G's new strategy includes the option--at least initially for senior executives and travelers in need of complex international trip planning--to use either the online booking tool or a new concierge service that works with them en route.
As P&G continues its mobile journey, Gittinger said, the company will add "proactive rebooking for en route travelers when planes are canceled or delayed, the ability to make changes en route from personal digital assistants and an expanded concierge service" for executives based outside the United States in 36 countries. P&G eventually also wants to feed data on cash expenses collected by PDAs into its online expense reporting tool and introduce a "one-stop shop corporate intranet portal" customized by traveler with all prior and future trips, travel budgets and travel resources.
The strategy, Gittinger said, is to "deliver peace of mind for our travelers." As P&G researched and surveyed travelers to "identify the right enabling technology" to support them, Gittinger said she heard three key things: "Don't make it too complicated, ensure that there's choice and focus on areas where travelers are most vulnerable."
Hughes Network Systems also devised a mobile "roadmap" to support its 700 travelers that includes mobile booking capability, a mobile version of the Hughes intranet travel portal and enhancements to its travel security and T&E expense processes. According to Ron Tiu, Hughes Network Systems senior corporate travel manager, mobile functionality deployed thus far includes management capability to approve trips--required as part of a pre-trip approval process--via Blackberry or similar devices. Travelers are encouraged to use the mobile Web sites of such vendors as Hertz, Southwest and United, Tiu said.
The "perception," Tiu said, is that "mobile tools are an amenity today, not a critical necessity yet."
It is up to travel managers to build a business case on how and why to incorporate mobile functionality, said Johnny Thorsen, CEO of U.K.-based content provider conTgo. Managers could integrate mobile functionality to track travelers as a security measure, more proactively engage with them while on the road and integrate data collected during travel to expense or other applications, Thorsen said.
In Australia, Thorsen said, airlines have tested the capability to send and receive inflight text messages. Airlines in various markets are using mobile device-based boarding cards sent as graphic barcode images. Payment via mobile phone also has expanded, Thorsen said. In Malaysia, travelers can charge airfares to their mobile phone bills.
However, the expansion of business travel functions on mobile devices also faces obstacles, Thorsen added. There are more than 5,000 different models of mobile phones, five major mobile operating systems and multiple network providers in many countries. Within corporations, technology, rather than travel, departments often manage the use and purchasing of mobile devices, noted Amadeus product marketing manager Xavier Gardien.
Other obstacles, Thorsen said, include the expense of data services outside users' home countries. While some corporations want to use mobile phones to track travelers as part of "duty of care" or security enhancements, Thorsen warned, "it is illegal to track a mobile device outside your home country in the European Union without user consent."
Citing J. Gold Associates, an ACTE/Amadeus white paper noted that while so-called smart phones today represent about 10 percent of the world's 3.3 billion mobile phones, such devices within the next three years will "constitute 20 to 25 percent of the overall market and from 65 to 70 percent of the corporate segment."
For the white paper, ACTE surveyed corporate travel managers from 72 companies and found great disparities between the value placed on various mobile travel functionality and those used today. For example, 98 percent of respondents said they valued the airline alerts, but only 51 percent said their companies had used them. Security alerts were valued by 98 percent of respondents, but only 30 percent said travelers had received them.
Amadeus head of global commercial operations Frank Palapies said mobile technology available today could allow business travelers to program their phones to automatically order a taxi in time to transport them to the airport for a scheduled flight. Other functionality available today, Palapies said, could allow a traveler to complete an expense report using a mobile phone.
"We need to make travel more seamless and take away all of these little logistical tasks so they can be fully focused on what they are really there to do," Palapies told Management.travel.
In later stages of its two-year plan, said Gittinger, P&G would like to provide travelers with "24/7 proactive support" that would start with visa requirements sent as soon as travelers entered trips on their calendars. Among future enhancements is a "controlled Wikipedia site" that would include P&G travelers' supplier reviews or advice about getting to and from airports.
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