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Traveller tribes

Identifying the business traveller tribes of the 21st century helps buyers hone their programmes and policies, says Nick Easen

Characterisations and profiling matters in the world of travel management. In fact, personalisation is critical to a successful programme. Archetypes may not meet some of the most critical needs of individual travellers, but what they do is trigger managers into thinking about the kinds of executives now out there (see boxes), how they’re changing and the need to cater for them.

“Today you might have to address the needs of one tribe, but then tomorrow the needs of a different one. Flexibility and understanding your travellers is key to success,” says Greeley Koch, executive director at the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE).

The ‘Amazon effect’ has increased the corporate traveller’s expectation of recommendations based on their preferences. And the rise of ‘big data’, the experience economy and social media has enabled industry to capture sentiment data, which drives personalisation. In fact, relevant data everywhere from travel habits to spending overseas, is spurring on more analysis. 

“Improved cleansing with advancements in machine learning and automation, as well as the development of advanced algorithms, is allowing us to create profiles based on similar likes. This has enabled a more personalised experience,” says Lexi Honohan, senior director of intelligence for Advito.

Being able to personalise travel, organise people into tribes and target groups can potentially strengthen the bond of trust between the traveller and the corporate. “It can help travellers feel valued, contributes to employee health, wellbeing and engagement, and encourages executives to stay within policy,” says CTM director Scott Alboni.

As one travel buyer puts it: “Controlling costs and booking outside of process is one of my biggest concerns.” Certainly, profiling can help pre-empt some of the worst habits.

Christophe Tcheng at American Express GBT adds: “The travel industry is only going to become more focused on personalisation and there is no slowing that down. The demand is driven by traveller expectations and fuelled by their experiences on the consumer side.”

However, there is a fly in the ointment: establishing a detailed traveller profile requires time and not all travellers want to put in the effort to complete a profile. In addition, the introduction of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in the UK in May next year could have an impact on the way data is transferred between corporations, the GDS, the TMC and travel suppliers – which could put limits on personalisation.

But one trend that cannot be stopped is a gradual shift in focus from the corporate to the executive traveller. Addressing traveller tribes can help in that process. “Too many corporate travel policies focus on the overall goals of the corporate rather than the personal drivers of their travellers,” says ATPI managing director Adam Knights. “This is natural, of course, but focusing some effort on travellers’ motivations can achieve significant results.”

1 The corporate saviour
In a post-Brexit age, and one where a globalised Britain matters, this tribe believes doing business in markets is critical. Travel equals success and success equals travel from India to China, Brazil to Australia. Corporate saviours have an extremely positive attitude towards travel. They mainly enjoy the rigours of the road because going global and conquering new markets beyond our small island really does matter.

Profile: They hold senior roles in an organisation and tend to be older. Since they’re driven by results, there’s a good chance they may go off-policy more than others because they will do whatever it takes to get that deal, or do that business in Kiev or Tashkent tomorrow, even if it means flouting the rules. The members of this tribe like to be known and like people to know what they like and who they are, through channels of their own choosing.

How to deal with them: These types tend to be handled with kid gloves by travel managers. If you need to sort out their trip you tend to call the VIP department of your TMC in order to handle them, by virtue of their status, age and demographic. They’re still more likely to want human contact than do transactions online. They need coaxing into policies and rather than laying down the law, it may be easier to incentivise them with loyalty cards and status. Rewarding with upgrades also works well.

2 Re-con traveller
This tribe tends to be up to 35 years old, they’re more interested in a positive lifestyle than climbing the rungs of the corporate ladder. They’ve reconditioned and rethought what their business life means to them. This group is undergoing a revolution in their personal and professional lives that has far-reaching consequences for how this group should be managed. They are post-materialists, which means they don’t care much about material goods and the trappings of travel. 

Profile: They’re more interested in functionality than frills, so they aren’t fussed about loyalty cards and upgrades as much as other tribes. They can be reluctant business travellers and are more likely to say that a travel policy negatively impacts their view of their employer. They tend to be older digital natives or those with one foot still in the analogue world. They’re happy if high-speed internet works in the hotel because they can video-call their children back home. This is more beneficial than the mini-bar. It’s all about their wellbeing.

How to deal with them: Travel managers need to talk simply to this group. Hotels that have more functional sub-brands work well for this tribe. It’s about creating and managing the least fussy experience. They prefer to avoid call centres. Travel itineraries and orderliness can be used effectively to manage this group. Policies work well here if the re-con traveller has bought into the process. Forget room service, they prefer to self-serve. Re-con travellers are concerned with ease of use from an end-to-end perspective. Out of all the tribes, this is the one that has the potential to create the most challenges for the travel manager if not handled well.

3 Female tribe rising
The current decade is one in which women are starting more businesses and increasingly taking on positions of power. There are now many more female business owners, chief executives and breadwinners than in the past. This makes them a standalone tribe for services that are keen to tap into the fem-pound. A female tribe rising member is affluent, educated and confident. This tribe is also more assertive in terms of what they expect.

Profile: The percentage of business travellers who are women has grown dramatically since the early 1990s which is the reason why some in the trade have increasingly focused on this group. There are now women-only floors in certain hotels, better security, well-lit corridors and healthier lifestyle options on the road. Research shows that 77 per cent of female travellers say their firm’s travel programmes should take account their specific needs, according to Maiden Voyage. The one thing that possibly sets this tribe apart is an increased need for security.

How to deal with them: Travel managers are seeing demand for female-friendly content especially in accommodation and ground transport. Travel management companies are also trying to work with GDSs and suppliers to make structured travel content focused on women more available. As a manager, you need to keep up with what’s new and realise that safeguarding female travellers needs increasing attention. This tribe expects suppliers to be pre-screened so that they can be ready to go at any moment. Brexit also means more travel to unfamiliar destinations, which can raise more duty-of-care issues for female travellers.

4 Mobile geeks
These travellers increasingly rely on technology to help them stay productive on the move. They are attached to their smartphones. Connectivity is their number one priority. This tribe is young, they travel often and they may find business travel interesting. They are the future because they understand the tech-driven, globalised world we now live in. They a have a raft of apps, and if they can’t find a solution, they look online.

Profile: This could be a sub-set of the re-con traveller tribe. However, their characteristics are so strong, they’re worth treating as a separate entity. They suffer from a low attention span because they’re continually stimulated by social media. They have an innate ability to go direct to travel providers and book because they’re highly digitally savvy. They’re quick adopters, they’re not brand-loyal, but they are service-loyal. They have expectations of corporate smartphone apps. They can easily master mobile booking apps for itinerary management, flight updates and risk alerts.

How to deal with them: These digital natives can use complex travel systems. They want their trip to integrate digitally with their most important apps, such as Outlook and Google Calendar, as well as their favourite itinerary apps like tripit and tripcase. It’s likely the next generation of CEOs will emerge from this category as mobile geeks get older.

5 Re-engaged road warrior
Unlike the re-con traveller, this tribe is now making the most of their business travel experience. They have a sense of purpose and collaboration with managed travel providers; they gobble up loyalty points to earn rewards. They are savvy operators when it comes to managing their own business travel. They like travel and do so extensively. They are the easiest group to work with for a travel manager.  

Profile: They will work on their own trips and add ‘bleisure’ where they can to make the most of their time away. They’re quite happy to do their own bookings on a corporate app. They’ve re-engaged because unlike other tribes they are buying into the whole experience of business travel. They also realise the power of business travel to open up their 20-to-30-something horizons. 

How to deal with them: These are the best business travellers because they understand if you stick within policy it makes your corporation happy, it makes your TMC happy and, as a traveller, you may well be rewarded for staying within policy. This tribe is mostly worried about experiences and connectivity. Its members value services that allow them flexibility and fit into their personal lives. They also want to be able to share their trips and experiences with their friends, family and social network. Corporates are starting to incentivise and build in rewards for this group, such as allowing for bleisure, because they know it’s happening anyway.

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