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How AI Can Transform Business Travel for SMEs As technology continues to advance and companies incorporate artificial technology into their workspaces, the tools used to plan a business trip or claim an expense can be entirely automated

By Prashant Kirtane

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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Singaporean SMEs are increasingly keen on overseas expansion to countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines. This is a vital growth strategy for companies seeking to go beyond Singapore's economy and take advantage of its neighbours' booming market potential.

The proportion of SMEs engaged in overseas business has risen to an all-time high of 83 per cent based on the findings of the Singapore Business Federation's 2017/2018 National Business Survey. According to the International Enterprise Singapore (IE), over 80 percent of the 99,000 cases that requested and received government assistance in overseas expansion since 2014 were SMEs.

For aspiring CEOs looking to succeed in the Asia Pacific region's relationship-centric economy, establishing business partnerships and alliances through physical networking and face-to-face discussion is vital, and business travel will play a huge role in maintaining business momentum and relationships. However, business travel can pose a challenge for SMEs in terms of limited resources for productivity and budgeting. Thus, the challenge for many SMEs in Singapore will be to manage business travel and expenses as a strategic driver of growth.

Tech Answers

Artificial intelligence (AI), as technology, has undergone many disruptive iterations, many businesses in today's economy are looking to the future to imagine how AI could transform business travel by solving two of the most significant issues on the minds of travel and HR managers: compliance and process. In the long term, AI adoption by the travel industry will revolutionise business travel management in a variety of ways, such as reducing compliance monitoring efforts and automating traditionally analogue tasks, including expense claim oversight and trip arrangements.

Here are three ways the use of AI can help SMEs as they look to grow their companies internationally.

Data-Driven Personalization

Business travellers are usually on the go and appreciate efficiency, especially when travelling. With thousands of potential travel offerings available online, much time would be wasted sifting through options to find an ideal airline or hotel.

Through machine learning, AI can track and study user searches online to customise and recommend travel solutions based on past searches or location-based parameters. This could enable companies and travellers to improve the speed and accuracy with which they personalise their travel offerings and itineraries, such as airline preferences, hotels and car rental companies, based on parameters set by users. Instead of using a company agent, booking and planning could be accomplished quickly via an app or site, cutting the cost and time needed to plan the trip.

Workflow Automation

In the past, to book a work trip, one had to get in touch with a travel agent who then checks for available flights before replying with a listing and availability. In the ever-changing technological ecosystem, booking flights and accommodations has become increasingly more accessible and seamless. Today, one does not even need to deal with a travel representative from the start of a trip to the end.

As technology continues to advance and companies incorporate AI into their workspaces, the tools used to plan a business trip or claim an expense can be entirely automated. Why waste precious time scanning receipts and following a detailed expense reimbursement procedure when you could directly capture the receipt with your smartphone, upload it to an app and get it approved within minutes?

Insights

As larger companies invest heavily in AI, SMEs who use AI have an advantage in that they can process vast amounts of information in a blink of an eye. This means that data mined by your company and similar companies, such as travel details, can be used to provide insights that help SMEs make cost-saving decisions.

From finding the best flights and accommodations based on a specific budget and time frame to automatically scanning and extracting data for reimbursements or automatically importing data into the company's accounting software, incorporating AI into the workplace leaves less margin for error and ensures that everything moves as smoothly as possible from pre-trip to post-trip. It also helps SMEs cut costs and manpower requirements.

The use of AI is becoming increasingly mainstream and will soon—if it has not already—become the standard across business travellers, especially for SMEs looking to expand their businesses outside Singapore. By leveraging travel personalisation via data insights, AI will become a game-changer for all business sectors by providing smart applications and automated efficiency in the business process through optimal utilisation of organisational data.

Applying AI to business travel will open up a myriad of opportunities to improve and enhance the business travel experience. The technology as a whole is still in development, but it is the future. As it matures and scales, AI will expedite complex travel decisions, streamline the booking process and deliver more personalised recommendations for business travellers. With the advantage of automation, AI will free up more resources for SMEs to add value to their businesses and scale to achieve valuation and profit.

Prashant Kirtane

CEO and co-founder, Travelstop

 

Prashant Kirtane is the CEO and co-founder of Travelstop. Headquartered in Singapore, the company sets out to revolutionize business travel for SMEs by providing a simple, flexible, and integrated solutions for business travellers.

Prior to Travelstop, Prashant co-founded Travelmob, a leading company in the vacation rental industry, which was acquired by Expedia’s subsidiary Home Away. Prior to his ventures into startups and the travel/vacation industry, Prashant worked for 12 years at Yahoo!, where he was the Senior Director of Engineering (Video).

He holds a Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical) from the Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute at Mumbai University in India.

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