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Stress express

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Business travel can be stressful even at the best of times

Travelling for business may sound glamorous, but it can actually be pretty stressful.

Booking tickets and hotels, co-ordinating journey times, coping with queues and scrums for taxis, can all leave you frazzled before you’ve even entered the room to make your pitch.

Booking.com research finds that more than nine in 10 business travellers suffer from stress.

So wouldn’t it be wonderful if technology could take a lot of these hassles away?

From hotel concierge services offering online check in and room service at the touch of a button, to wireless Bluetooth padlocks for luggage, tech innovations promise to do just that.

But it could be artificial intelligence (AI) that has the biggest impact.

Felicia Schneiderhan’s New York-based company 30SecondsToFly developed “Claire”: an artificially intelligent (AI) travel assistant designed to take the stress out of booking your next trip, which launches later this year.

“Claire allows companies to automate travel management in a cost-effective manner, even if their annual travel budget is on the lower end,” she says.

The travel bot uses companies’ travel policies and employees’ travel preferences to create “smart itineraries”. Employees can talk to it via Slack, Facebook, SMS and Skype.

“Say the user messages Claire saying ‘NY to SF, next Friday, to land before 7pm’,” Ms Schneiderhan says.

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The dream of the seamless business trip remains elusive for many travellers

“Claire asks ‘Do you want a return flight?’ then provides a set of two to three options that the traveller can book instantly, as Claire has their personal information and payment details saved.”

Two kinds of AI are required for Claire to do this: natural language processing to converse with the traveller as another human being would, and a trip selection algorithm that personalises the booking experience within the employer’s policy constraints.

“Users will be able to book and access basic travel analytics free of charge,” Ms Schneiderhan adds.

“The cost of advanced features, such as software integrations, will depend on the volume of bookings made.”

Paul Erickson, senior analyst at IHS Markit, believes virtual assistants will soon play a significant role in business travel reservations.

“Virtual assistants can save end users one or many steps in lots of everyday tasks, including booking business travel,” he says.

“However, there will still be unique situations, such as ad hoc problem solving, that are likely to require human interaction.”

Calm down

Booking travel may become easier, but travelling itself can still be tiring and stressful.

So how about trying doppel, the world’s first “mood-changing” wristband? It emits a gentle, rhythmic vibration you can control using an app on your phone – making it faster to help you feel more alert, and slowing it down to relax.

And while a wristband that can alter your mood might sound far-fetched, it has been shown to improve focus and reduce stress in controlled scientific studies run by Royal Holloway University, London.

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Doppel claims its wristband can help relieve travel stress

Doppel co-founder Jack Hooper believes the wristbands could even help counteract the effects of jet lag after a long flight.

“Our technology has been independently shown to improve focus as well as significantly reduce stress,” he says.

“So you could, for example, use doppel to feel calmer on a flight or stay alert during a long meeting.

“It won’t eliminate jet lag, but it will help you to stay focused during the day and then wind down in the evening.”

The wristbands should be available in March retailing at $179 (£144).

Social dining

Business trips are notorious for leaving travellers with time to kill between meetings and flights. And it’s quite dispiriting always having to ask for a “table-for-one” at a restaurant.

Well don’t worry. There’s an app for that.

Dubbed “Tinder for professionals”, location-based networking app DineHero was conceived after founder Thet Soe got sick of eating alone while away on business.

“I thought, I eat every day, so if I can get to know one or two people while I eat, my network will grow much faster.”

Launched in October 2016, the app allows users to set up shared meals with up to four participants, and to view local dining events they could attend.

“You can invite specific people based on their job and education details, or simply leave the event open and see who turns up,” Mr Soe says.

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DineHero

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DineHero founder Thet Soe became fed up with eating alone while travelling

DineHero operates a points system whereby you earn credit for attending or setting up events and spend points when you invite specific users.

Using Google and Yelp, members find people to dine with via the app’s “radar invite” feature.

“At the moment, the biggest DineHero community is in Chicago,” Mr Soe says.

“But it can be used anywhere where you can use Google or Yelp and there are already member communities in 25 different countries.”

Do you have a receipt?

Coming back from a business trip doesn’t mean an end to the stress, though – there are all the fiddly expenses to claim and account for.

New travel expenses app TravelBank helps workers book trips and file claims more efficiently, and allows employers to offer incentives for coming in under budget.

TravelBank chief executive Duke Chung says: “Many companies are still using clunky expense reporting methods that don’t hold employees to a budget or allow them to forecast spend accurately.

“With TravelBank, they can control spending while rewarding budget-conscious employees.”

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TravelBank boss Duke Chung wants to simplify travel expenses

Aimed at small-to-medium-sized companies, the free-to-use app uses online sources and partnerships to pull in pricing information on everything from flights to car rental.

It then creates a budget for the trip and enables employees to file expenses and track spending as they go.

“Businesses using just these features can cut travel and entertainment spending by about 15%, while those that reward employees for coming in under budget typically see greater savings, upwards of 30%,” Mr Chung says.

IHS Insight’s Mr Erickson believes that the basic functions of billing, expensing, and management can “mostly be offloaded to some sort of AI-driven bot”.

Of course, videoconferencing tech was meant to reduce much of the need for business travel, but it seems we humans still prefer meeting face-to-face. In 2015, businesses spent more than $1.2tn (£979bn) on travel and entertainment, the Global Business Travel Association says.


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