Corporate travel has changed. ‘Traveller fulfilment’ now takes centre stage in discussions about modern corporate travel.
Some travel managers have even changed their business cards to ‘Fulfilment Manager’ as organisations recognise the return on investment of tailoring business travel to the employee’s, not the travel manager’s, preference.
The increasing ability to search and book travel online has emboldened employees to demand more say in their itinerary and organisations are embracing that, understanding that a positive traveller is a productive traveller.
Luckily, modern travel managers, who focus more on delighting employees but still need to break even, also have a growing portfolio of technologies at their disposal.
But is today’s corporate travel reality sustainable, what else is on the horizon for travel management, and how do travel managers stay relevant in an evolving industry? Below we explore some of the key factors impacting the future of the travel management industry.
The Changing Role of Travel Managers
Today, travel managers manage contracts, travel behaviour and savings – and there’s increasing pressure on the savings side, says former Hewlett-Packard Travel Manager Maria Chevalier.
"You've got enormous pressure in procurement to drive incremental savings, and it's a shell game, but you do it because you have to prove your worth to the procurement gods,” she says. “In the old days, [with hotels] you'd benchmark against that flat rate, but now it doesn't exist, so you look at year-over-year, and you factor in inflation or deflation and see how you did in comparison to that."
While opinions abound on the demise of travel management, Chevalier also believes it’s just “more crucial that travel managers become masters of data: not just their own company's travel data, but also industry knowledge of practices, trends and technology.”
Jörg Martin, owner of CTC Corporate Travel Consulting, offers another suggestion: travel managers and procurement become co-dependent.
Regardless, it’s clear the daily responsibilities of travel managers are evolving. For example, an ageing workforce means older business people are setting off on corporate travel around the world, and their safety and comfort presents a specific challenge for travel managers.
What’s unlikely to change is the focus on cost savings, so the travel manager’s role may evolve to encompass communication and meeting management, and even collaboration management.
Virtual alternatives may leap forward as a cost-effective option, with travel managers assuming responsibility for offering virtual solutions to employees. While there is still value in person-to-person communication, virtual alternatives will drive more and more business interactions.
With the travel industry leading spending on the Internet of Things – the growing web of physical devices connected by electronics that spans from airport terminals to accommodation – technology-driven change will continue to present new challenges. Live and user-generated data, for example, is everywhere and consolidating it is essential.
Mobile bookings, data capture, secure payments and itinerary management tools are already daily realities for travel managers, allowing them to provide travellers with tailored and ‘fulfilling’ overseas experiences.
Employees build their travel plans within company preferred applications, which allows them to easily report workflow, expenses and stay connected. And we know travellers already self-manage their trips using smartphones – online accommodation bookings increased by 150 million in 2014 alone – and it’s up to travel managers to facilitate this.
This is all driven by sophisticated mobile devices, which present a streamlined opportunity for travel managers to engage travelling employees in customised programs and for companies to implement policies that take advantage of travellers being connected to encourage productivity.
The Millennial Falcons
Millennials are important to consider in future programs, with those reaching young adulthood in the early 2000s making up one-fifth of international travel, according to the World Youth Student and Educational Travel Confederation.
An Expedia study showed professionals aged 18-30 averaged five business trips a year and booking travel via smartphones was important to one-third, compared with 12% in the over 45s.
TopDeck Travel outlined how frequently this group stay connected through their social and communication platforms: 94% used Facebook, 71% used Instagram and 47% used TripAdvisor.
Millennials have grown up smartphone in hand. For them, digital connectivity is the norm and they expect their travel management to be just as tech-savvy.
The travel management industry needs to evolve with changes in its demographic, and plentiful and diverse smartphone apps that power corporate travel allow travel managers to personalise their offering.
GBTA’s Travel Manager 2020 report suggests “66% of travel managers expect alternative forms of payment technology to become a higher priority in the next 3-5 years.”
Virtual payments, which provide automated reconciliation and greater control, compliance and security, is another growth area for travel managers to consider.
Each card has a virtually obtained number and includes an expiry date and CCV. Employees can only charge expenses to these cards for a specific date range. Once expired, booking data is automatically reconciled.
Virtual cards reduce time spent on reconciliation, are universally accepted and dramatically reduce the chances of fraud or cards being stolen or lost.
Like many other industries ‘disrupted’ in recent years, the changing face of corporate travel presents many challenges for travel managers. But it also presents opportunities to continue to prosper for those agile enough to evolve with the industry.
A seamless end-to-end corporate travel platform with a range of app-powered workflows, like Travelport Locomote, is the future of corporate travel. Easy, intuitive and cost efficient, it’s a powerful platform that provides more travel choice, improved travel intelligence and better travel experiences.
To find out how Travelport Locomote can help you ride the wave of travel management change, chat to one of our team or book in a product demo today.