After two long years of being effectively grounded by COVID-19, business travel is slowly but surely coming back. Spending on corporate trips is expected to increase by nearly 40% this year and should reach prepandemic levels by 2024, according to the Global Business Travel Association, an industry trade group.
And with that rebound comes a rethinking of business as usual. “Business travel has been evolving more and more rapidly over the past 10 years—and has seismically changed over the past two years,” says Kirstie McLatchie, senior director, product management, at travel software company Deem.
One big change is that business travelers are increasingly treating corporate trip planning more like they do for personal travel: They want to reschedule missed connections and book rideshares from the airport with their smartphones rather than standing in lines or going through corporate booking agents. It’s this shift that Deem aimed to address with its new Etta software platform. “Etta stands for ‘easier to travel anywhere,’ and the idea was to put all of these needs under one roof,” McLatchie says.
Reimagining corporate travel is sure to make those early morning shuttles to JFK or SFO more palatable for travelers—and efficient for their employers. And it’s a big reason why Deem was named to Fast Company‘s list of the world’s Most Innovative Companies.
So what do business travelers want? For starters, they don’t want to go on multiple websites to book a flight, change a hotel reservation, or secure a rental car. Companies have historically outsourced their travel planning to companies that, in McLatchie’s eyes, are more focused on benefiting employers rather than easing their employees’ travel burdens. So while these travel platforms might make it a snap to track and manage expenses, employees become an afterthought, burdened by inconsistent and sometimes unpleasant customer interactions. “If the booking experience for an employee is atrocious, they’re going to go to the airlines and hotels directly, and they’re going to expense it,” McLatchie says. “And companies are going to lose the synergies across the system.”
One way Deem solves this is through Etta’s mobile platform, which gives travelers enormous flexibility to manage their own travel. If they miss a connection, they can rebook directly from the app. Deem even partners with travel providers such as Uber, integrating those services directly into Etta. “If I change my hotel dates or my flight, now I’ve got a single source where I can line up all of my services and make sure it all works seamlessly,” McLatchie says.
Etta’s offerings also include the types of information increasingly in demand by travelers, such as data on COVID-related cleaning protocols, neighborhood safety ratings, and the carbon footprint of a regular weekday shuttle. It’s this kind of actionable data that helps differentiate Deem’s approach to business travel from its peers—and is one reason that Etta is resonating with users.
“We’re constantly evolving, thinking about how we can move more quickly and respond to users’ needs more quickly,” McLatchie says. “It’s just our way of looking at the space that’s a bit different than other travel software companies.”