A radical change in how we conduct business travel is required in the post-Covid era, says Bertrand Saillet, Managing Director, Asia for FCM Travel
There’s been a sea-change across the globe in how we think and talk about business travel. The impact of Covid-19 on travel is well-established and if the past year has proved anything, it is that empathy, flexibility and adaptability are crucial for organisations as they emerge from the crisis to meet the changing demands of the new landscape.
Re-opening strategies have been on a bumpy ride so far, with travel bubbles starting and halting due to the rise of second and third waves of the pandemic, and countries mostly split into two camps on border re-opening strategies, zero-Covid vs Covid-endemic. However, we’ve also seen promising re-openings such as the Australia-New Zealand bubble in April, and most recently Phuket as the first Southeast Asia destination to open to international travellers.
Although recovery is expected to vary between countries due to the differing pace of vaccination programmes and policies, there is still a strong yearning to get back to travel. While no one has a crystal ball to ascertain the future of the industry, it is important to monitor trends and news to prepare organisations for the new zeitgeist of business travel. Here are some things to expect, and what organisations and travellers should prepare for when they are ready to take that first step back to travel.
The Rise of Business Travel Tech
Technology transformation is not new in most businesses regardless of industries, including business travel. What Covid-19 has done is accelerate years of innovation and adoption of digital technologies.
Increasingly, the consumer-centric innovation of business travel tech will be anchored by six influences: a globally consistent booking experience with positive user experience and a simple user interface; always available travel assistance; traveller safety and wellbeing support; sustainability; AI-powered reporting and savings, and flexible integration capabilities. Together, these will increasingly form the cornerstones for many corporate travel programmes.
And if tech offerings are enabled with omnichannel digital capabilities that can be integrated onto one single platform including mobile, it will be a dream come true for travel managers, bookers and travellers. Companies will be looking for agile and flexible solutions that are customised for every company or traveller as needed.
Mobile travel tech is expected to revolutionise business travel in a way that has never been done before. Increasingly travel managers, bookers and travellers expect access to travel tech at their fingertips; they want to have access to their entire travel programme while on the go, anytime they want it. And it needs to work.
“Increasingly travel managers, bookers and travellers expect access to travel tech at their fingertips; they want to have access to their entire travel programme while on the go, anytime they want it. And it needs to work.”
From a website to mobile app and live support via chat, phone or digitally, channels that were typically used by leisure travel, retail, and financial services are now catching on in the business travel space. Travellers need end-to-end 24/7 support from a journey’s start to finish so that their business trips can be smooth and seamless. Travel managers want control in their pockets wherever they are, be it to monitor the safety of their travellers or be able to quickly access travel data. The customised service that travel managers, bookers and travellers can receive through mobile apps, pocket virtual assistants, live customer service and real-time information will be the key to any successful corporate travel policy in a post-Covid world.
Driving this omnichannel digital capability creates value and superlative customer experiences for a consistently seamless and positive journey across all touchpoints. This will bring travellers much closer to a consumer-like utopia experience in a corporate travel world and is especially important as we gradually emerge from the pandemic with a reset and recovery psyche.
Duty of Care is the New Black
Through the pandemic, travel managers and travel management companies (TMCs) were brought to task to respond at lightning speed. We saw sharp spikes in requests for access to risk management tools at the start of the pandemic. Organisations were looking to have immediate access to updated crisis information, which drastically helps to cut down response time in getting travellers to safety.
As border control eases in countries at varying paces, and organisations begin to relook at getting their travellers back on the road, instilling travel confidence will be a top priority. Although risk management and traveller tracking technology are not new concepts, Covid-19 has brought these safety and risk concerns to a whole new level. Results from many global business travel surveys in the past year indicated that companies view this as a top priority across all aspects of the business travel framework.
Enabling a risk management strategy in every company is now a necessity. It is important to drive a risk management culture in one’s organisation or work with partners to achieve this, providing travellers with automated, critical travel data and intelligence including vital travel alerts. Additionally, customised risk management dashboards can help companies to quickly assess their risk and respond to it, which adds an additional layer of security during a period of insecurity.
Data Reporting and Analytics Seen Through a Whole New Lens
Changing market dynamics caused by the pandemic also spurred shifts on the data reporting front. Businesses and travellers are now inter-dependent, data-driven and more connected than ever before. It is also easy to get left behind or lost amongst the daunting world of data without proper guidance and a simplified or user-friendly set of tools for this purpose.
Often travel data does not get used to its full potential because analysing it is too laborious. Travel managers should look for opportunities to review their data reporting tools. They need to be simple to visualise and can be easily turned into actionable insights to identify savings opportunities, establish informed strategies or quickly find statistics needed to respond to a critical incident.
A Growing Impetus for a Dynamic Travel Policy
Given the many unexpected incidents that travellers have encountered in the past year, it’s no surprise that companies have grown anxious about their travel policies.
How does our policy compare to other organisations? What areas need improving and what are the steps that can be taken to address these changes? Travel managers know they can no longer turn away from travel policy paradigm blindness in today’s evolving market environment but many often do not know where to start.
“Travel managers know they can no longer turn away from travel policy paradigm blindness in today’s evolving market environment but many often do not know where to start.”
It’s important to get creative on this front as organisations prepare to return to normalcy and reinstate traveller confidence. For a start, look for online travel policy benchmarking tools to see how your programmes compare to others around the world.
Travel managers can use these tools to refine their travel policies through a more accurate assessment of the changing business travel landscape, instantly see where their focus should be and use the data to motivate them and rapidly improve. It can also offer valuable insights to maximise efficiencies and enable businesses to monitor expenditures, elevate the traveller experience and mitigate risk.
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