This is a time where the travel industry has more questions than answers. Despite that, there are two things that drive common consensus: 1) travel will return, and 2) it will be different. Will our societal adjustment to “WFH life” replace the need for certain trips, or excessive commercial office space? Perhaps. It’s also likely to reinforce the power of in-person contact and relationships, as businesses learn that some things are incredibly difficult to accomplish remotely, regardless of the quality of your webcam. (Side note – please let me know when a decent, reasonably priced webcam comes in stock anywhere?)
I certainly do not hold the answers to the future. Like others, I have made a conscious effort to connect with people, listen, and react. Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to learn and understand the inner-workings of many large travel and expense programs, and have had a front-row seat to a rapidly changing industry. Here are some of my predictions.
1. Management will realize the importance of in-program bookings.
Managed travel programs have many goals/objectives, but none of that matters if people do not abide by the program. All too often, executive management pulls back on mandates for things like corporate card usage, and booking through the preferred channels. Management has now felt those consequences first-hand and travel departments will seize this opportunity to reintroduce certain program mandates.
2. Travelers will expect and actually desire more guidance from corporate.
What do the experts recommend? How can I best stay safe? It’s a mindset we’re all in, and will continue when travel returns. Travel departments have a welcomed opportunity to serve as a guiding and more visible voice throughout their program. It goes without saying (I hope) that travelers need to be well represented for this to work. Why? We only need to think back to the time right before we allowed Uber, to recall what happens when a program goes against traveler needs. Travel Managers, get ready for more responsibility and (even) higher expectations.
3. Health/wellness trends will expand to a focus on overall well-being.
With unemployment spiking, and words like quarantine, isolation, and distancing now part of our everyday vernacular, mental health concerns are elevated. Easy access to exercise and healthy food are (thankfully) trends that are here to stay, but I believe travelers will start to ask different questions pertaining to these topics. More broadly; Do I feel safe? Do I have the necessary information? Do I feel prepared for this trip? These questions will be especially heightened around trans-border travel.
4. Duty of care will be even more important for all companies.
Duty of Care is a common term for those of us in the business travel industry. Events like 9/11, the volcano (dust cloud) in Iceland, and the earthquake in Japan, years ago made the case for large organizations to be prepared for those “what if” scenarios. Despite their significant impact, these events were all somewhat “local” and certainly did not impact every company. Additionally, most were 10+ years ago, and it’s likely that many of today’s organizational leaders may not have experienced them – certainly not from a position of leadership. Organizations both large and small have now all been through March 2020 and will emerge with lessons-learned around the importance of an effective duty of care component.
5. Supplier contracts will be different.
Minimum commitments, cancellations clauses, and even pricing structures will be at heightened attention for buyers and suppliers. The “fine-print” of these terms now matter more to all of us, as we know their real consequences. It will be interesting to see how the transactional and somewhat “commoditized” Travel Management Company pricing structure evolves to one that is more value-based. Rising trends like dynamic hotel sourcing may surge in popularity, to align with reservations (pun intended) around minimum commitments, and unpredictability of the immediate future. Additionally, I firmly believe that Travel Managers will be forced to reallocate time to more customer-facing responsibilities, therefore jumping at the opportunity to simplify the time-consuming sourcing process.
6. Suppliers will innovate.
In order to survive, we must innovate. Suppliers need to use any/all “downtime” to listen to and support customers, and get stronger. The problems, priorities, and expectations of yesterday will not be those of tomorrow. Ten years ago, Greeley Koch (previous ACTE Executive Director, life-long travel pro, and now VP at HRS Group) shared with me that one of the obstacles in introducing change to a travel problem is that it’s constantly moving – it’s like “trying to change the tires when the car is driving. And with business travel – the car is always driving!”. In discussions last week, that car “actually stopped”. There is opportunity to be found for both buyers and suppliers around introducing change – but of course, it’s directly contrasted with an extremely challenging economic time.
7. Supplier loyalty will be impacted.
Not all businesses are going to come out of this, and those who do may be operating at less capacity. Fewer options may allow for some “reset” with brand loyalty (e.g., I used to stay here, and that’s now no longer an option). Many leading travel suppliers have introduced structures that allow their top customers to further retain points/status, which will certainly help. More importantly, virtually all travel suppliers have been tested and challenged to reveal their true colors based upon how they supported their customers in a time of chaos. I expect to see some deepened strategic relationships, and a whole lot of transition.
8. Sustainability goals will continue to increase in importance and visibility.
Before March, sustainability in travel was part of our everyday discussions with managed travel programs, and I believe this will pick up where it left off. As a society, we now find ourselves in a “greater-good” mindset – taking precautions to protect our loved ones, and strangers alike. Things we do today can and will impact what tomorrow looks like. Additionally, I hope and expect that government funding put towards our industry will come with attached environment and sustainability objectives, further driving our industry forward.
9. More pressure to deliver ROI from travel.
The stakes and expectations around business trips will indeed be higher, and much of that will be self-imposed. We hear anecdotes about road-warriors – many who get their energy from in-person contact, just itching to get back on the road. There will be pressure to make up for lost time – not in trips, but in results. Also, those of us who are fortunate to be spending more time with our immediate family and loved ones are getting used to a “new normal”. As someone who averages 50 to 100 days/yr on the road, I can already hear it – “do you really need to go?”. More pressure indeed.
10. Companies will look to find more savings while employees look for increased benefits.
Times are hard for everyone – companies and individuals. Companies will emerge financially hurting, and no government bailout will change that. Cost savings will be more important, and will not (cannot) be in the form of “banning travel”. As someone who runs a business, I can attest to how critical travel is to generating revenue and growth. Business owners eagerly anticipate the time when it is safe and appropriate to get back out there. It’s all about smarter spending.
It’s also important to consider the perspective of the employee. Between layoffs, furloughs, salary reductions – many are feeling a real financial impact. Employees will be looking for every opportunity to increase their benefits and earning potential.
At Tripkicks, we see an incredible opportunity to bridge the objectives of the company and the individual. Everyone in the travel industry should be asking how they can help, and this is our way of helping with the rebound.
Jeff Berk is the CEO of Tripkicks