Technological advances and an explosion of new media are creating an uncertain future for traditional travel management, says Alex Blyth
THE ROLE OF the corporate travel manager is at a crucial tipping point. In a remarkably short space of time, many companies have gained control over their travel and accommodation spend, have negotiated the best rates possible, and have streamlined their expense management processes.
In these companies, it could be said corporate travel managers have done their job. Does this mean they’ve done it so well the role is increasingly redundant? After all, if travellers can use their smartphones to visit review sites or source opinions on social media in order to find and book the most suitable hotels and airlines for themselves, why do they need to pay a travel manager to do it?
Indeed, some companies have decided to do away with the role of travel manager altogether. They believe they can simply get the best deals through the plethora of price comparison websites, discount codes and daily deal newsletters that now exist. Others are outsourcing the function to their travel management company (TMC).
So, is this the end of the road for the travel manager? Will it, by the end of this decade, be a defunct job title? Or is there a future for them? Can travel managers adapt and survive? What might the job of tomorrow’s travel manager involve?
Most observers believe that if the role is to survive it needs to become more of a consultative one rather than managerial. “The role will change,” argues Sanjay Parekh, MD of expense management solution provider Webexpenses. “It will go beyond day-to-day booking and processing, and become more of a consultative position, advising the business on how to reduce operational costs, and sourcing information for individual travellers.”
Diane Bouzebiba, UK managing director of travel technology firm Amadeus, says: “The mobile internet essentially creates another layer between the formal and accredited expert and the end user. So the travel manager’s role becomes more complex: they’re an intermediary not just between provider and traveller but also between traveller and reviewer.”
She adds: “An analogous change has, arguably, taken place in the media. The press has changed from being an industry that makes its money from providing information – all the news that’s fit to print – to one that gathers and selects the best information – all the news that’s fit to link.”
This will alter the relationship travel managers have with travellers. They will focus less on enforcing programmes and more on influencing behaviour. Heather Cotterill is director of travel recruitment firm, Cotterill Walker Resourcing Solutions. She says this is already happening in many organisations. “The roles I’m recruiting for now are very often about engaging travellers rather than about delivering a service,” she says. “Companies need travel managers who understand the commercial aspects of a travel programme and who can successfully communicate the benefits of compliance to their travellers.”
This increased focus on the commercial aspect of travel will mean that the travel manager 10 years hence has an even closer relationship with procurement than they do now. Steve Banks, head of account management at Capita Business Travel, says that the recently announced partnership between the Institute of Travel & Meetings (ITM) and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS) “demonstrates the ever growing crossover between procurement and travel management – this trend will continue in the years to come”.
Travel managers will make far greater use of data than they do currently, believes Caroline Allen, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives’ (ACTE) regional director. “Currently we tend to use data to assess past performance of a programme or to measure compliance. By, say, 2020, travel managers will have become far better at analysing this data and using it to predict future actions.”
The role will also expand to encompass areas that are indirectly linked to travel. “We have noticed a significant increase in the number of requests from travel managers for briefings on business and social cultures in unfamiliar destinations,” says Nick Rines, CEO at the Institute of Diplomacy & Business. “There is a greater realisation that executives have to be better prepared in business and social protocol, particularly for emerging markets such as the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] countries and the Gulf. While HR [human resources] departments traditionally have responsibility for purchasing in this area, there is no question that travel managers are getting more involved. We’re also getting more enquiries about travel safety and security. This ranges from self-administration of life-saving first aid to how to identify the safest hotel room, but also how to behave in potentially hostile crowds and even kidnap situations.”
Meetings and mobile
Many experts also predict that in the coming years corporate travel managers will become more and more involved in managing meeting spend. Stuart Winstone, head of business partnerships at serviced apartment provider Silverdoor, says: “Now that travel managers have got their spending on airlines and hotels under control, they’re looking at other areas they can manage. So, we’re finding many of them are becoming responsible for the entire business travel arena, including conferences, meetings and events.”
Travel managers are increasingly involved in the provision of mobile internet to travellers, who now expect to be able to work wherever they are in the world. “With developments in mobile technology and the prevalence of wifi connectivity on planes, trains or at airports and stations, travel no longer has to reduce productivity,” concludes Rene Hendrikse, regional vice-president at mobile internet specialist iPass. “It will increasingly be the job of the corporate travel manager to ensure these business travellers have connectivity to remain responsive and efficient at all times. Mobile workers need that connectivity like we need oxygen.”
So, the role is set to deepen to become more consultative, and broaden to encompass new areas. It will be a significant shift, and while it presents a great opportunity for the travel manager to take on a more strategic and vital role, it will also require them to adapt rapidly and, in many cases, to acquire new skills.
Those in the industry who recognise these imminent changes, and who act now to prepare for them, will be best placed to take advantage of that opportunity.
MY VIEW: Emma De Lange, travel manager, Amdocs
The role I did just five years ago is long gone. I’ve been in this post for eight years and technology has changed it almost beyond recognition. In the next decade I expect this trend to continue and even accelerate.
In a company like ours, where our travellers are ahead of the curve on technology, a large part of my role is to be finding and providing kit and applications that they’ve not yet discovered. For example, while many companies block access to apps like British Airways’ mobile boarding pass, we were an early adopter.
I wonder whether in 10 years’ time we will be using TMCs at all? It’s quite possible that we’ll be able to book everything direct. I’m already getting many airlines and hotel groups approaching me directly, and I’ll be interested to see how this develops.
Safety and security of travellers is an increasingly important issue, as is our impact on the environment. In 10 years no travel manager will be able to get away with just publishing reports on CO2 emissions – we’ll all need to be actively reducing those emissions.
When I compare my role to the one I had in 2004, today it is less about managing existing programmes than about advising the company on creative ways of cutting costs without reducing travel quality. By 2022 this will be even more the case. We will all need to become even more commercially-minded and more capable influencers.