We are seeing the highest levels of business travel since the pandemic began. CWT booking volumes show a significant increase in travel to and from several countries that have recently relaxed testing and quarantine requirements for international travel.
This comes as no surprise. A legacy of the Covid-era is a visceral knowledge that the benefits of experiences and connecting in-person run deep. Travel technology company Amadeus surveyed 9,000 travelers in nine markets around their sentiment towards travel. Over 70% surveyed said they were eager to travel within the next 12 months.
The current state of business travel is the subject of a new podcast episode by Amadeus, ‘The Big Rethink – Discussing the future of business travel’ featuring Nick Vournakis, EVP and Chief Customer Officer, CWT and Paul de Villiers, SVP, Global Business Travel Accounts, Amadeus.
The resurgence of travel begs the question of how travel management companies will evolve to serve the business traveler of the future.
A shift to managed travel
“Business travel agencies and corporations have used the last 18 – 24 months to expand on their digital transformation journeys,” says Paul de Villiers, “Once they primarily provided travel, issued tickets, and made changes etc. Now it's all about having the latest and the most accurate information at their fingertips to keep clients’ employees safe and well. More than 92% of respondents to our survey stated that safety was the number one priority. Before, few mid-to-small sized companies relied on structured programs or professional travel management services. Now because of the complexity and the need to ensure the safety for their employees, there’s an increased demand for managing travel disruption, whether that’s last-minute changes, canceling a trip just before departure, or even what to do when airlines cancel or reschedule flights at short notice.”
“People need to know that they will be supported in real-time. It’s critical when you're stuck in an airport and your trip has been messed up that you can speak to somebody. There's nothing worse than being totally stressed out at the airport, calling a service number, and then you get eight options of choices of things to do. And none of them are relevant to your situation.”
People plus technology
“We have learned that the nature of taking calls is different,” says Nick Vournakis, “our calls are longer than they have been historically. Travel agents and travel counsellors are engaging in a way that they necessarily haven't needed to before around creating a level of comfort and assurance. So by and large, the nature of how calls are handled and the time it takes to get from issue to resolution is changing. That reinforces the importance of having a people-based model. The other big change for TMCs is being able to accommodate a new decision-making model and potentially a new operating model that is congruent with the way people want to work and behave.
If the nature of how people are working is changing, the TMC model has to learn and adapt and get comfortable with an always-on model from a business travel perspective; a model that has multichannel or omnichannel capability where you can support through a mobile device or an actual human on the line.
Our ecosystem is not going to be fully people driven, or fully technology oriented. It's the blend of people plus technology that will be the winning solution going forward.
A traveller might engage with a counsellor through a purely digital platform like text and chat. And that should look and feel no different than the voice channel. But that technology is important because we need to understand as much about the context of that traveler before the engagement even starts.”
Moving forward together
“Having a view of the horizon and just beyond means having an understanding of the problems that we're not going to solve on our own,” says Nick, “We have to fundamentally get comfortable with the idea that not every provider needs to do 100% of the work. We're keen on ensuring that we can operate an open ecosystem, where we have an expertise and understanding of what it means to use API's to drive the right level of connectivity.
Truly understanding what it means to be relevant in the future, we have to keep our eyes on the horizon with regard to the issues we need to solve for. How does that fundamentally change the way we operate within the ecosystem, who we partner with, and how we behave? Any organization that says, ‘we're going to build all of this in-house’ is crazy. We work with partners with whom we can co-create, collaborate and ensure that we're bringing solutions to move our whole ecosystem forward.”
Listen to the complete episode of ‘The Big Rethink – Discussing the future of business travel’