Corporate travel isn’t what it was 10 years ago. Travel managers today are firmly fixated on delighting employees, and breaking even while doing so. They recognise that a positive traveller is a productive traveller, and have a staggeringly diverse portfolio of technologies to make this a reality.
But what’s on the horizon for travel management, and how can managers stay agile in an evolving industry?
This idea of “traveller fulfilment” is now front-and-centre in discussions of modern corporate travel. Businesses have recognised the value in tailoring business travel to the personal preferences of employees, not to the whim of travel managers.
Travel managers have even been updating their business cards with the title “Fulfilment Manager”. Employees demand to be more involved in their own itinerary structure - and that’s something procurement, travel managers and corporate policies now prioritise.
But is this new face of corporate travel sustainable? Below we explore the future of the travel management industry.
The Role of the Travel Manager
Today a travel manager is responsible for managing contracts, savings and travel behaviour. According to former Travel Manager for Hewlett-Packard, Maria Chevalier, in today’s corporate travel climate there's an increased amount of pressure.
"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."
Speculation on the dissolution of travel management may exist, but Chevalier believes it’s simply “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 solution - that travel managers and procurement become co-dependent.
The Growing Responsibilities of Travel Managers
Regardless, it’s clear the day-to-day responsibilities travel managers are changing. For example, corporate travel is no longer a young person’s game; the ageing workforce sees older business people setting off on business around the world. The safety and comfort of these mature-age workers presents a unique challenge for travel managers.
With cost savings taking front of mind, the travel manager’s role may evolve to encompass communication management, meeting management and even collaboration management.
Virtual alternatives may present themselves as the more cost-effective option. In this case, travel managers would take responsibility for offering virtual solutions to employees. While there is much value in person-to-person communication, virtual alternatives will determine the appropriate action for business engagements.
The Tech Evolution
It may be simplistic to say that technology is the driving force of change for the travel management profession. However, with the travel industry leading spending on the Internet of Things, it’s not far from the truth.
The Internet of Things, or the growing web of physical devices connected by electronics, spans from airport terminals to accommodation, and everything in between. What does this mean for travel managers? Live and user-generated data is everywhere, consolidating it is a must.
Mobility and Management
None of this would be possible without the ubiquity of sophisticated mobile devices. Mobile bookings, data capture, secure payments and itinerary management tools are already daily realities for travel managers.
These tools promote personalisation, and travel managers are engaging their travellers with appealing overseas experiences. For example, itinerary management platforms alleviate some of common stresses associated with business travel.
At present, employees build their travel plans within company preferred applications. This function allows them to report workflow, expenses and stay connected with ease.
We know travellers already self-manage their trips via their smartphones. In fact, 2014 alone saw an increase in online accommodation bookings by 150 million. It’s up to travel managers to facilitate these.
Mobility presents a streamlined opportunity for travel managers to engage travelling employees in customised programs. It's a chance for companies to implement mobile-first policies, which take advantage of their connected travellers while encouraging productivity.
As corporate travellers evolve, the travel management industry evolves with them. Millennials, or individuals reaching young adulthood in the early 2000s, are important to consider in future programs. Especially since they make up 20% of international travel according to the World Youth Student and Educational (WYSE) Travel Confederation.
Another study conducted by Expedia revealed that professionals between 18 and 30 average five business trips a year. Thirty-two percent of this age group also indicated that booking travel via their smartphones was important by comparison to the 12% aged over 45. Millennials are more likely to engage in loyalty programs by 65%.
TopDeck Travel’s recent survey outlined how frequently this group stay connected through their social and communication platforms. Facebook took the lead at 94%. Other tech apps and platforms they use include Instagram (71 percent), TripAdvisor (47 percent), WhatsApp (34 percent) and Twitter (13 percent).
Millennials have developed with a phone in hand. For them, digital connectivity is a natural reality, so they expect their travel management to be equally savvy.
Smartphone applications that aid corporate travel are plentiful and diverse, and allow travel managers to personalise their programs.
Virtual payments are another growth area for travel managers to consider in their future programs. Virtual payments provide greater control, compliance, security and automation of the reconciliation process.
Each card has a virtually obtained number including an expiry date and CCV. Employees can only charge expenses to these cards for the specified date range. Once expired, the booking data is automatically reconciled.
The Travel Manager 2020 report produced by GBTA stated that “66% of travel managers expect alternative forms of payment technology to become a higher priority in the next 3-5 years.”
The benefits of virtual cards include:
- Saved time in the reconciliation process.
- Increased safety: A virtual card diminishes any chance of cards being stolen or lost.
- Fraud becomes almost impossible.
- Universally accepted.
These technologies are diversifying the role of travel managers. Managers need to be agile to keep pace, but those that do have the opportunity to excel.
For more information on the trends that are redefining business travel, download your free eGuide, '5 Corporate Travel Trends to Watch in 2017' below: