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Expedia Partner Conference: the resilient business traveller

Egencia president Rob Greyber

Media attendees of this year’s Expedia Partner Conference in Las Vegas sat down for an exclusive Q&A session with Rob Greyber, president of Egenica, to talk about how the company is addressing the needs of business travellers.

Greyber opened the session by explaining that Egencia’s strategy is deeply rooted in consumer-inspired solutions that are making their way into the corporate world. He said travellers who use tools such as Facebook in their personal lives have come to expect the same experiences from their corporate travel programmes.

He commented: “’Business travel for the Expedia generation isn’t really a generational statement; it’s about all of us – the grandmother who plays Pokemon Go, the Millennial who’s trying to work out how a boarding pass works. We’re all trying to figure out how these supercomputers in our pockets are changing the way we interact with the world.

“It’s remarkable to look at how business travellers have evolved. 70 per cent of them find travel to be more enjoyable than their everyday work. Professionally, travel is a great experience – allowing employees to get out of the office and see how clients or colleagues in other parts of the world work. And personally, business travel can be very rewarding, especially for those who have less disposable income. Business travel gives them the opportunity to visit a city for work and tack on some extra time to explore and experience the destination.”

Greyber pointed out that consumer trends are bleeding into business travel in other ways, which could be causing continued off-policy bookings. “It’s hard to know exactly why this is happening, but at the same time it’s kind of clear. Look at the technology that has led business travel in the past. The solutions available to TMCs and travel managers is typically GDS-based, where there are no photographs and limited room descriptions. Yet on the consumer side, we wouldn’t dream of booking a hotel without pictures and detailed information.

“I believe technology should make people better at their jobs, yet for corporate travel managers, the technology at their disposal is holding them back. So no wonder travellers instead choose to go to the sites they use to book their vacations. I look at those dynamics and think we should expect that. It’s another area that differentiates Egencia from other TMCs – our platform looks and feels a lot like the Expedia platform, so it replicates that consumer experience.”

However, risk is still a big challenge for the industry, according to Greyber. “When we look at resilient business travellers, they have to face a risky environment. Terrorism and political instability are at the forefront of many travellers’ minds today. Duty of care is very important to us at Egencia. Traditionally, duty of care was either ignored or outsourced to other parties, so if a situation evolved, you might have to go through several different sources before you could understand the impact it had on your travellers.

“By having a global technology platform and owning those processes, we realised we had an interesting opportunity to innovate on duty of care – being able to see where your travellers are and message them as soon as possible after something happens. We can’t prevent incidents from happening, and we can’t promise that every traveller will be okay, but we can help companies make the effort to reach out to their travellers so they feel they’re going to be taken care of.”

When asked why he thought the business travel industry has been so slow to adapt consumer trends, Greyber said: “Unfortunately, the industry made the decision to step away from the consumer side of the business. Back 15 or 20 years ago, many TMCs strategically chose to become systems integrators. They chose to become objective evaluators of solutions so they could make recommendations to clients on which ones were right for them. I’m not sure that was a bad decision, but now they have to catch up. Once you drop out of the race, it’s hard to catch up.”

Greyber said the pace of technology changes were also a challenge for the industry. “I think about when I first started working at Egenica – I had a binder with reports and a road map of where we wanted to take the company. When a client asked me what was going to happen in the future, I would flip to a page in that binder and tell them what we had planned for such and such year. The problem is that’s totally false; we can’t accurately say what’s going to happen in 2020, for instance, and yet I had a team of people writing that road map for me.

“In a world where technology is moving so fast, we don’t use road maps anymore. Now I have one piece of paper that has a list of things we’re working on. Once a month we review what we’ve done for the last 30 days and discuss what we’re going to do with the next 30 days. It’s a profoundly different way of working. These days, we use data to determine what we’re going to focus on.”

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