Gavin Smith, director of specialist corporate travel technology provider element, explains how travel management companies can be part of the evolution of business travel
As the current lockdown prevents most of us from travelling to the office a business trip feels about as much a possibility as time travel at the moment.
Business travel is currently grounded with international work life, meetings and deals reliant on Zoom (other platforms are available).
People have learned to communicate with colleagues and associates without jumping on a plane. So, is this the future for business travel?
When the lockdown is eventually lifted there will be a reticence for many to return to office life.
Many businesses have already hinted that they will be reviewing operations and may decide that there’s no need for their 3,000 sq ft office when this pandemic ends.
But it seems that there is no such reluctance to travel for conferences or face-to-face meetings, wherever that may be.
There is a clear advantage to conducting business interactions face to face, with various benefits to communicating in person.
At the very least it forges a bond and unifies cooperation.
However, in the short term, the thought of being packed into an airplane cabin with 100 or so other passengers is one that will not seem so appealing to many. Despite the free drinks.
Before the COVID catastrophe, global business travel had reached $1.3 trillion per year and was coasting along very nicely.
When business travel does return, it will take a long while before we reach those heights again and it’s likely that business travel will change.
People will combine meetings, packing more into their trip. Especially as the cost of flights are expected to rise and budgets are tight.
However, the experience is likely to improve, with cleaner planes, easier transfers, greater connectivity. The same goes for the hotel industry too.
With a significant rise in traveller expectations and emphasis on safety, business travel managers will undoubtedly adopt a data-centred approach with information and staff wellbeing at the core of their operations.
Connected trips with up-to-date personalised information will play a big part.
So, what can travel management companies do to make sure they’re ready for the evolution in business travel?
TMCs need to prepare for these new demands and shift their operations to align with and support changes to business travel requirements.
This will necessitate the introduction of new technology: consumer style chat and payment options, automation, fee structures and travel approval processes.
Duty of care will be a major priority and there are integrated travel management solutions designed to instil traveller confidence.
These operational changes are crucial but should be sustainable. Agents will need to protect against a wide range of potential shocks and act quickly, including increased use of external suppliers and partners.
Creating a new level of business resilience is expensive but there is a wave of new digital and analytics tools which significantly reduce the cost of flexibility.
The concern however is that business travel agents lack the specialist skills in-house to deploy such highly configurable and intelligent solutions.
Especially the smaller agencies which may not have the luxury of internal IT teams to manage the process.
These systems can be complex, and while it’s easy to offer advice on the changes a business needs to make, the reality can seem daunting if not impossible.
In the last twelve months or so since this pandemic threw the travel industry into a tailspin we have seen a number of positive changes.
Businesses have been forming new partnerships and working together to bring a new wave of products and skillsets.
Sabre integrated Mindsay technology enabling automated customer service for TMCs and airlines.
We recently partnered with Amadeus to help TMCs and their clients implement cytric, its travel management solution.
This new wave of collaborations and the services they bring are helping business travel prepare for the changes to come.
Travel management companies need to make sure they are part of the evolution.