How the travel industry is building back better

Corporate Traveller GM Oz Desai says agility is at the heart of the travel industry’s rebound.

Corporate Traveller’s general manager, Oz Desai, says there is every indication that business travel will be coming back faster than anticipated, saying that “There is more airlift, more options for travellers, decent fares, and the world is opening up for vaccinated South Africans.”

How travel has evolved
Oz says Covid-19 has added an extra layer of complexity to travel arrangements and as such, travel management companies (TMCs) need to think on their feet. “You might have found a solution to a problem, but the next day, or the next hour, some government somewhere changes a rule and you have to start over,” he says.

He says as companies venture back to travel, they need a travel partner that can respond quickly to their needs and to any unpredictable situation with ease and flexibility. 

“Corporate Traveller’s digital tools can be customised to clients’ needs, he explains, adding that, “they can gather and analyse data from travellers, including insights around likes and dislikes, queries, traveller friction, traveller preferences and travel behaviour. Meaning we can design the best itinerary and book the best product to meet travellers’ needs.” 

Travel trends
Oz says for now, they are seeing that smaller businesses and SMEs have been able to come back quicker than larger organisations.

He explains that SMEs are travelling because they can’t afford not to. “There is no financial buffer or rainy-day fund. They need to get back to normal. A business’s competitive edge is often reliant on building relationships with suppliers or partners through more face-to-face meetings, negotiating deals, and exploring opportunities – all of which is very difficult over Zoom.”

It helps that smaller companies are a lot nimbler and less hamstrung by strict travel policies, company-wide travel bans, pre-trip approvals or debate around what constitutes “essential travel”.

Oz says larger companies are re-evaluating travel based on the impact on their bottom line as well as the environment. “The result is that we’ll see fewer trips but longer stays. Companies looking to curb travel-related emissions say they will do so mostly by limiting trip frequency, drawing on lessons learned during the pandemic, according to research conducted by Deloitte.”

He shares that companies will be keeping more internal meetings online, and optimising schedules to reduce the number of flights taken is one of the top ways companies plan to improve their sustainable travel profiles and their budgets.

“We expect SMEs will be at the heart of the sector’s near-term recovery and as a result, the SME market is a top priority for many airlines, hotels, TMCs and other travel suppliers around the world,” he says.

More innovation and enablement
Lockdown was challenging for the industry, but he says during the downtime they worked with clients to update their travel policies. Suddenly flexibility in the form of flexible fares and duty of care is much more important than price, so they helped to update travel policies, so they’re fit for purpose in a post-Covid-19 world.

Technology has been a key enabler in the return to travel, with tools such as contactless self-service, biometrics and digital passports all streamlining and simplifying the travel experience. Travellers are embracing tech more and more, and according to Oz, the revamped travel experience will rely on AI-enhanced technology, from intuitive end-to-end booking platforms to traveller tracking, always-on support and traveller apps. “You can do everything on your mobile phone while on the move and travel management companies will have to deliver reliable, easy-to-use digital solutions for their customers,” he says.

A survey commissioned by travel tech company, Amadeus, revealed that 84 percent of the 6,000 travellers interviewed felt that technology would boost their confidence to travel. Oz points out that travellers will very soon accept these technologies as the ‘new normal’ and will expect further innovations and streamlining of the travel experience.

The latest online booking tools use AI-enhanced technology, making them intuitive and hyper personal. He says that UX has been a buzzword in the industry for a while, but the latest tech is game changing. “Not only does new AI technology add to the user experience by making quick recommendations based on booking history, but new plug-and-play tech means we can create a universal booking experience no matter where the client’s offices are in the world,” he explains.

Driving smarter travel
Oz explains that there’s a growing trend to think more strategically about how travel expenses, payments, and reconciliation processes align with company-wide strategy and profitability goals. “Technology is paving the way. New functionality allows companies to analyse their travel behaviour, spend, bookings and programme compliance quickly and easily. You can now customise dashboards and pull up-to-the minute reports for cost analysis, budgeting and planning. Clear, concise data is no longer a pipe dream but a reality,” he explains.

Technology also facilitates traveller safety, “Think customised dashboards where travel managers can get an immediate snapshot of where their travellers are, including flight times, ETAs, accommodation, itineraries and more, like mobile alerts to inform travellers of any changes or incidents, apps with a 24/7 chat or call-back function so travellers can ask for advice and support any time, any place.”

Technology will also support a drive towards zero carbon. Millions of consumers (including travellers) around the world are actively seeking out products, services and experiences that help them alleviate rising ‘eco-shame’. Companies need to rise to the occasion by setting their own sustainability targets and ensuring that everything from staff behaviour to suppliers and industry partners is aligned to their goals.

Travelling in a new way
He says that top of mind for any company for the foreseeable future is duty of care. “Companies today – more so than ever before – want to be able to track their travellers while they’re on the road. They want to know exactly where their travellers are if they need to bring them back.”

In this instance, they look to their TMC to flag any potential risks, alert travellers (and the team back home) to any developments, and actively liaise with local consulates and embassies should the need arise.

The pandemic has also emphasised the need for sustainability across the world and across all sectors. He expects that we will see more explicit definitions of ‘essential’ trips and an encouragement for employees to use video conferencing wherever possible.

He says, “There are a number of different tools that companies can use today. These include carbon calculators to measure your climate footprint and carbon offsetting programmes to mitigate the impact of those emissions that you can’t reduce,” he explains, adding that soon, it will be possible to add filters that allow employees to book flights in a more sustainable way, or choose greener accommodation options.

“They will even be able to choose the most environmentally-friendly route, which will be calculated on the distance between two locations and how many layovers are required. It’s an exciting prospect.”

Helping clients travel with ease
A new report from global research organisation, Ipsos shows that while employees don’t want to say goodbye to the flexibility and convenience of working from home(WFH), extended time away from the office has actually increased feelings of isolation and is impacting on productivity, performance and career growth.

Oz says while it’s too early to say what this will mean for business travel as well as the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions sector, it’s clear that teams need to reconnect. “While many have enjoyed the freedoms of WFH, in terms of brainstorming and problem-solving; knowledge sharing; socialisation; camaraderie and company culture; you can’t beat in-person interaction,” he reflects.

Companies are beginning to look to team meetings, conferences and events to catch up, spark creativity, boost productivity and reconnect. In this context, traveller confidence is all important. However, once a traveller has their first post-Covid-19 trip under their belt, they realise how pretty straightforward it is, if they have the right support.

He shares that they work closely with clients to boost traveller confidence. “A big part of this is immediate access to the latest, up-to-the-minute travel information. Our Sherpa-powered Traveller Hub has all the latest country-entry requirements and information, and our dedicated Travel Consultants make it their job to respond to queries within minutes. Our communication channels are very important, from travel alerts to travel apps and 24-hour support.

“Our new online tool YourCT helps customers assess their readiness, including everything from updated travel policies to duty of care.”