COMMERCE IS COMMERCE, and I have had the opportunity to demonstrate in previous roles that commercial skills are transferable, having worked in aviation, tour operating, leisure and also a global role in franchising in the hotel sector. When people ask me if it is very different working in the business travel arena as a commercial director, I can honestly answer ‘no’. But if asked if there are many differences between business and leisure travel, of course I’ll answer ‘yes’. But fundamentally, and with feedback from TMCs in my organisation, I can also see many of the challenges are the same. Some challenges affecting both leisure and business travel are out of our control, such as the world economy, fluctuating oil prices, terrorism and health issues such as the Zika virus. Somehow the travel industry adjusts. Other challenges are more industry specific; getting to grips with changing technology is a battle for both divisions of travel, but especially for the SMEs in the TMC arena. Technology upgrades are expensive, implementation can be resource intensive and by the time the latest version has been installed and users familiarised, a new product is available. How do you keep up? Data is another challenge that affects both business and leisure travel companies. There is so much of it available, coming from different systems, many agencies are not sure how to use it effectively. The leisure industry is a big user of data for predictive analysis and for promotional activity. The TMC, meanwhile, is keener on post-trip analysis, for reporting purposes.
Whatever the data is used for, the challenge faced is to move quickly and influence behavioural change – not wasting it or sitting on analysis that is eventually out of date and archived.
IATA CARD COMPLIANCE RULES
Extremely challenging for both sectors of the industry taking credit card payments is the introduction of the new IATA Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliance regulations, now postponed – thank goodness – until March 2018. These are proving a headache for traditional travel agencies and TMCs. The original deadline of June 1 2017 was too short and some companies are saying they still need more clarity in order to ensure they comply with IATA’s requirements. The PCI DSS rules will come into effect at the same time as the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which will make the total compliance of personally identifiable data essential for all travel businesses processing or controlling data, which, if breached, will have serious consequences for a business. The upshot of these new regulations will affect both sectors, but high street travel agencies may find it tougher. Staff taking payment by phone, email or face-to-face will have been issued with strong security policies, enforced to prevent them contravening the rules and writing down a credit card number on paper. TMCs, except the very smallest, tend to have payment channels set up and not take card payment with every transaction and, therefore, may have less of a challenge with the new regulations. However, they will need to take more care to ensure the traveller’s ‘right to be forgotten’ is factored into their processes. On the subject of staff, recruitment of new blood into the industry as a whole does not get any easier. How do we entice Gen Y into the business? The travel and tourism apprenticeship scheme is a step in the right direction but both sectors have to work hard in this area.
NEW DISTRIBUTION CAPABILITY
IATA’s much-debated New Distribution Capability (NDC) seems to be a predominantly a business travel issue, as does the huge interest in securing additional aviation capacity from an airport hub – both issues could go on for years before they are resolved. Leisure travellers on the whole accept that to get the best deal they probably won’t be flying from Heathrow! Compliance with travel policy doesn’t exist in the high street agents’ world, but can be challenging for the TMC. One thing that I’ve found very refreshing about the business travel world is that it’s not obsessed with price. It’s not as price sensitive as leisure travel, with no reliance on search engine competition. Of course, price plays a part when deals are negotiated, but, equally, it’s about quality of travel with convenience, time management and ROI high on the agenda – not forgetting the power of an airline loyalty programme on defining behaviour. In conclusion, adding business travel to my remit has not been a ‘whole new world’ – there have been differences, but also more of the same and just as enjoyable.
Paula Lacey joined the Advantage Travel Partnership in September 2016 as group commercial director, bringing together the business and leisure divisions of the members’ organisation. The Advantage membership includes around 200 independent TMC locations.