BBT Roundtable: Why aren’t students learning about business travel?

There’s a wide range of travel, tourism and hospitality courses at further education and degree level across the UK, but how much weighting do colleges and universities give corporate travel in a curriculum?

At the same time, is our industry making its voice heard among academics, and providing access to relevant work experience to ensure future travel buyers and consultants are equipped for a successful career in a dynamic sector?

These questions, and more, were tackled at the first BBT Roundtable, which saw students, education providers and the GTMC gather to discuss business travel’s profile. We began by asking how students perceive business travel and the wider sector…


Lucy Bond: studying Level 3 Travel & Tourism at East Sussex College

Deepam Ramchurn: studying Tourism Management BSc (Hons) at Bournemouth University Lena Brechtelsbauer: studying International Tourism and Hospitality Management BSc (Hons) at Surrey University

Joanna Lake: team manager – conference and groups, Clarity. Passed GTMC Diploma, and previously studied Events Management BA (Hons) at Manchester Metropolitan

Adrian Parkes: chief executive, GTMC

Julie Cooper: membership manager, GTMC

Karen McKenna: managing director, Travilearn

Ian Dockreay: head of distribution, Travilearn

Molly Dyson: digital editor, BBT

Matthew Parsons: editor, BBT

Perceptions & education

Buying Business Travel: What does the term “business travel” mean to you?

Lucy Bond: You tend to think it’s based on working for your company abroad. And when you say “corporate” travel, it’s confusing… but when you say “business” travel, your mind opens up to more.

Ian Dockreay: Corporate travel is more of an international phrase, particularly American; it’s US-centric.

Adrian Parkes: So do you think of business travel as being mainly overseas?

Lucy: Yes, that’s what you think.

Buying Business Travel: In your studies, what kind of subjects are you taking?

Deepam Ramchurn: It’s a broad mix – HR, managing people, finance and strategy; it was helpful.

Joanna Lake: I found there was nothing for corporate travel. You’ve got leisure, you’ve got hospitality, you’ve got tourism. While there are skills that are transferable into business travel, business travel is more in depth, you go into travel policies, travel management, duty-of-care. My events management course wasn’t focused on the corporate sector… it’s a shame, because there is a market. People tend to fall into business travel. 

I didn’t sign up for travel and tourism to be an air hostess

Lucy: We have covered the business side, like marketing, customer service, but the work placements are with hotels, restaurants and tour operators.   

Ian: This is why Travilearn decided to look at the diploma course; that’s such a major supplement to the training that’s taking place at the moment.

Work experience opportunities

Buying Business Travel: Can you tell us a bit more about the work experience opportunities?

Lena Brechtelsbauer: I did my work placement in Siemens’ global travel management department, and that was the first time I came across corporate travel, and understood the scope and possibilities, like procurement.

Deepam: I worked at the Grosvenor House hotel in London, and for the Pacific Asia Travel Association [PATA] in Bangkok. Students actually don’t have an idea about the jobs available in business travel.

Joanna: I did a placement year, in the hospitality sector… there were no real placements for business travel.

Buying Business Travel: How much does the travel industry get involved with your university?

Deepam: We have hotel companies coming in to speak, and they tell you about graduate schemes. And PATA, which the university has a relationship with.

Lucy: We mostly have airlines, and [tour operator] Neilson. Our work experience was at the Hilton Metropole in Brighton. We also hear from Virgin Atlantic or British Airways, but I didn’t sign up for travel and tourism to be an air hostess.

Adrian: Do airlines talk about the commercial teams, or revenue management, or distribution? Or is it all about cabin crew?

The general consensus about apprenticeships is that they are for bricklayers

Lucy: Mostly cabin crew. The university offers an extra cabin crew course that links to travel and tourism. You don’t have to take it.

Joanna: Do you feel like you’re being more pushed towards tourism?

Lucy: When I first started, I thought I might like working for an airline or be a tour rep, but then I wanted something else, like events. There are 22 units you choose from and six assignments in each one, and there’s so much variety, but it is pushed towards leisure and airlines.

Joanna: It’s a shame as it pushes people away from where they could go.

Deepam: Before going to Bournemouth University, at my college we had British Airways and Virgin Atlantic away days. At BA’s HQ they give you an idea of what each department does, like finance. I got really interested in what they had to offer. I thought about getting on the BA graduate scheme.

Apprenticeship schemes

Buying Business Travel: What about apprenticeships? Are they an option in business travel?

Karen McKenna: If you had the choice when you left school between an apprenticeship in business travel, or going to college for travel and tourism, what would you have done?

Lucy: An apprenticeship, so I could be more hands on and prepared for what I want to do. I chose my course to put me on the right path.

Karen: A lot of colleges’ business models are changing. The catalyst was the government’s Apprenticeship Levy programme. There’s £2 billion sitting in that pot and £1.2 billion hasn’t been spent – for all apprenticeships. The colleges say they now need to be more employer-led, so more employers will take students on as apprentices, and colleges will support employers to provide any training on site, or off site to provide that support. So kids will not be getting into debt to go to university, because apprenticeships go up to level 6 [degree] or 7, as far as a Masters. There are 23,000 apprenticeships at level 6 or 7 and that’s growing. But the general consensus about apprenticeships is they are for bricklayers.

Adrian: It needs a new name!

Lucy: I never hear of any of my friends going into a business apprenticeship. If I knew what apprenticeships were out there, I might have thought, I’ll do my first year of college, then go into an apprenticeship. You look online, it’s not really clear, there are so many options. Where do I start?

The GTMC view: Adrian Parkes

“As part of the our continued commitment to developing talent across the business travel sector, we created a dedicated ‘GTMC Education’ initiative. It consolidates long-standing programmes, such as GTMC People and Talent and Next Generation Strategy Groups, alongside the GTMC Diploma and new ‘Pathway to Business Travel Professional’ apprenticeship programme, both in partnership with Travilearn. These efforts coincided with a groundbreaking partnership between the GTMC and Bournemouth University’s Department of Tourism and Hospitality, to raise awareness of the business travel sector career options available to students. Most recently, our efforts with learning institutions branched out to East Sussex College, where GTMC’s team members spoke to an audience of 100 students about career opportunities in business travel. The ethos for the ‘GTMC Education’ initiative further supports the GTMC’s mission to future-proof the sector for generations to come.”

Karen: There are different apprenticeship standards, such as “customer service” or “travel consultant”. Travel consultant is the only one in our industry, but it’s for someone who wants to work in reservations or operations. Once you’ve looked at the myriad training providers, they all send you to,where apprenticeships are all thrown in together.

Buying Business Travel: Is it only large companies that can offer graduate or apprenticeship schemes?

Karen: Apprenticeships start at level 2 [GCSE/NVQ level], up to 7. Travilearn has taken the Customer Service standard, and put business travel content into it, and that has become the official GTMC Diploma. The levy-paying TMCs, or any other business travel company that pays the levy, has access to the levy that pays for that, so it doesn’t cost them. It costs them if they don’t use it!   

People tend to fall into business travel

Ian: For TMCs, that’s between £1.5 million and £2 million that’s gone begging. That money goes; once it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s an awful lot of money out there for training that’s not being used.

Joanna: Clarity has a good apprenticeship scheme… next year we’re taking on the largest number yet. You can mould people; take them in at a really young age, and actually some of our apprentices are the highest performers, and are nominated for awards.

Karen: We were advised to call our apprenticeship scheme “Pathway to business travel professional”. We need new skills coming into the industry. The second most popular apprenticeship programme at level 6 and 7 is actually technology solutions… that’s the type of people we need to bring into the business travel sector.

Adrian: Meetings and events is also a massive industry. It’s a powerful part of the UK’s economy, especially inbound. The amount of hotel accommodation taken up through events is huge and, of course, a lot of TMCs do events as well. The events industry is worth £42 billion.

Industry engagement

Buying Business Travel: Do you think students, as well as colleges and universities, appreciate the sheer size of the corporate travel sector?

Adrian: Lena is working on a project for the GTMC, interviewing lecturers to get their feedback on why business travel isn’t in the curriculum.

Lena: The module I’m doing is an industry-based project, and Adrian is my mentor. We’re focusing on the lack of business travel among academics, and also the curriculum side. A lot of the module leaders don’t have a background in corporate travel; it’s more leisure based. A lot also has to do with the advisory board; they feel there is more employability in the leisure side rather than corporate, so that’s why it’s not addressed.

Adrian: What about a business like Amadeus? It’s interesting because when we first talked to students at Bournemouth University, they’d never heard of Amadeus. It’s the second largest transactional company after Amazon. I know Amadeus do a lot of intern-type work, and Liz [Emmot, UK general manager] talked at the Bournemouth University Tourism and Hospitality Fusion Summit in February. So if you talk to universities about Sabre, Amadeus, Travelport, they know the role in the leisure sector, but not the business sector. And what about the payments sector? It’s massive as well. There are opportunities to go and work for companies, such as Barclaycard.

Karen: It’s a massive ecosystem. We covered this in our diploma… when I was doing the research for that, Amazon was coming up, and companies like that, the disruptors; they’ve all got big ecosystems. Then I looked at breaking it down in the travel sector, and I thought we’re trailblazers because we’ve had this big ecosystem for so long – there’s payments, security, insurance, hotels, airlines… people aren’t aware of that in colleges and universities.

Deepam: You don’t really hear about these companies, unless they actually come into the university. You hear about technological disruption from the assignments you’re doing, but you don’t know the companies that are related to it. It would be good if they came into universities, for guest lectures, or career fairs… it would be interesting if someone from a TMC came, because that’s the only chance for [students] to get an idea.

Lena: I agree. TMCs should come in and work with universities, to create more awareness… so we learn about what corporate travel actually is.


Apprenticeship demand

Travilearn and Skills Training UK partnered to design a new Apprenticeship Standard course for the corporate travel industry called Pathway to Business Travel Professional. The programme is available to employers by using the government’s Apprenticeship Levy, with those companies paying the levy able to access 100 per cent funding for the programme. Travilearn managing director Karen McKenna says: “Strong global growth in the corporate travel sector has increased the demand for good staff and management, and organisations are struggling to attract candidates with the right set of skills.” The Pathway programme focuses on client-facing job roles; typical positions include operations, support services, sales and account management for both suppliers and TMCs.

What is the Apprenticeship Levy?

The government’s Apprenticeship Levy came into effect April 2017, and forces companies with a wage bill of more than £3 billion to pay 0.5 per cent of it to the Education and Skills Funding Agency. Levy-paying employers can then receive levy funds to spend on apprenticeships, and pay training providers.

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