Quick: What did you do this morning when you grabbed your phone? Perhaps you turned off the alarm (after snoozing it once or twice), checked messages, Slack and your calendar, scrolled through social posts, fired off a couple emails, perused the news headlines, and maybe even ordered some breakfast for delivery — all on separate apps.
But what if all this information lived on a single app that served you up the information and activities you wanted, when you needed it? Now imagine how convenient it would be to have the same experience on your next business trip: Booking and changing flights, hotels, and cars; getting directions with maps; chatting with an agent if you need; even automating the dreaded expense report. And because it’s an integrated umbrella app, all this functionality is seamlessly stitched together and communicating with each other — and your office — in real time.
There’s a name for this: “super app.” It’s an operating system that unifies disparate activities and streamlines actions; in other words, it’s tailor-made for a generation of mobile-firsters. And it’s exactly what we need to get back to the business of business travel. Here’s why:
The Super Goal
The super app concept may not be super-familiar to Americans, though ironically, it was an American — Mike Lazaridis, the founder of BlackBerry — who introduced the concept back in 2010. Today, it’s a more familiar concept in China, thanks to the ubiquitous WeChat. True to its name, it launched with a communication focus, but over time it’s evolved to have multiple personalities. Today you can order food, request a car, check in with your social network, book a restaurant, play games, and more, and pay for it all with one click.
The super app brings a mobile-first focus to a mobile-first generation — a process that will only accelerate as we move past the pandemic. And while the super app may be slow to migrate to the West, perhaps it’s because it doesn’t yet exist. Once people truly harness the power of mobile, the super app will be a game-changer.
And it makes sense to start the process with business travel. After all, employees are also consumers — ones who have grown used to exceptional experiences at the touch of a button. Movie? Netflix. Rideshare? Lyft. Literally anything? Amazon. Translating those apps’ user-friendly mobile experiences into the world of business travel would not only jumpstart the industry, but it’s what users have come to expect.
Of course, travel isn’t just about the act of flying or driving. There’s also the necessity to pay for it all — everything from your lie-flat airplane seat to your soy latte. In fact, integrating and streamlining the payment process is key to the super app experience, since the second-largest expense for most businesses is T&E.
It’s a huge opportunity. IDC expects the worldwide T&E management software market to reach $2.7 billion by 2022 and have a compound annual growth rate of 8.7%. The addressable market pre-COVID for business travel spend was predicted to grow to $1.7 trillion by 2022. By 2026, the commercial or corporate card market is expected to be valued at $49.3 billion. And by 2028, the procurement as a service market is projected to reach $12 billion.
But the current solutions for travel, payments, procurement, and expense management aren’t seamless at all. They involve stitching together multiple, disparate applications across multiple vendors. And the experience is anything but mobile — or efficient — for the business economy. This creates friction and waste, and that increases costs for travelers, finance, and businesses. It’s a model whose relevance slips away further every day amidst an increasingly frenetic world.
The Path Forward
To get the world and businesses moving again safely, we need a trusted, all-in-one solution for business travel. We need an app where employees and travelers can go to book meetings and travel, track itineraries, auto-apply loyalty programs, and deploy Ubers and Lyfts. And that’s just for starters. They must also have policy information at the point of need and understand their carbon footprint. The app has to offer duty of care by matching the traveler with passport, health passport and global entry information while allowing for location tracking and contact tracing. And financially, the app must account for spend, allow for touchless payments, and create smart approval flows.
An app that does all of this would create an interconnection of information that comes together securely at the right time and moment of need, all at the touch of a button. And it would do away with expense reports, since the validation, tracking, and approval of spend occurs by design and in real time.
This would lead to a world where finance no longer spends hours reconciling submitted reports, but reviews only those alerted for attention when outside the norm of parameters. Gone are the days of P-Cards or disparate third-party corporate cards that aren’t seamlessly integrated into one policy-aware, approval-inherent platform. Purchases made today must result in real-time reporting and insight dashboards that can lead to better management moving forward.
As we enter this new normal, the race for the next super app is on. A super app will help travelers access everything they need from the palm of their hand — whether that’s navigating shifting travel guidelines and protocols, booking travel, reserving office space, or streamlining expense activities. Business travel super apps are on the horizon, but only time will tell when they’ll take off.