When we look back, we tend to remember only the good things. But we don’t have to journey too far back for a reminder of how painful business travel could be before digital technology took hold
While today’s smart travellers still have their fair share of gripes and groans, it’s remarkable to see how much the travel experience has improved over the past 15 years or so. Rewind to the year 2000 and you arrive in a world where in-flight smoking has only just ended, while bans on the use of electronic devices are still strictly policed. With no 3G network and no camera or WiFi, phones were still mainly for phone calls and texts – and that was if you were lucky enough to find a signal while on an overseas trip. The BlackBerry had yet to become an essential business tool; the RIM 957, released in 2000, was still a fairly basic PDA. And laptops remained bulky and expensive pieces of kit, used mainly as word processors.
At the dawn of the new millennium, the bulk of information business travellers relied upon was still in paper form. It meant carrying around briefcases, weighed down with documents and folders. The usefulness of information had to be balanced against the effort needed to lug it around, as personal luggage bulged with agendas, reports and travel guides.
Compare this to the contemporary experience; everything can easily be stored on a sleek smartphone or tablet. In the past, airlines competed on legroom but they’re now more likely to lock horns over their digital services, offering flights with decent WiFi connections, charging points and, increasingly, the ability to make telephone calls. It’s the equivalent of having an office space 45,000ft in the air.
As well as piles of paper, business travellers were also prone to carrying a gaggle of electronic gadgets to ease their journey – currency converters, language translators, CD players and handheld games consoles. These have now been replaced by significantly more travel-friendly smartphone apps, which help us handle every aspect of a trip, from finding the right airport gate to easily managing our expenses.
Another major headache for the traveller of 2000 was returning back to the office and having to face the painstaking task of deciphering a wedge of bills and receipts to make an expense claim. Again, modern apps have removed that hassle, allowing business travellers to take a snap of a paper receipt with a smartphone camera and to upload the information to their account from wherever they are in the world.
The power of this kind of technology has helped revolutionise the way we’re able to move around. Digital tools are allowing a new generation of business traveller to forge a fresh approach to working away. But, seeing how technology has changed business travel over such a short space of time, one question remains: how much will it transform over the next 15 years?
Judging by current trends, virtual reality is set to play an increasing role in the way we travel. Instead of viewing images of a destination, we will use virtual reality headsets to properly inspect hotels and venues. But another possibility is that business travel won’t really exist in the future, with digital interconnectivity continuing to blur the line between working in an office or working away. With real-time communications and access to all the information and tools we require, it won’t matter if we happen to be located in an office, on a plane or a beach bar in Belize.
This article comes courtesy of Webexpenses, the cloud-based expenses management solution.