Travel buyers and suppliers have gathered at the Macdonald Aviemore Resort for the annual ITM Conference. This year’s theme of ‘Changing the game’ has been reinforced throughout day one as sessions covered shifts in the industry that impact corporate travel programmes.

In the opening session, ITM chair Karen Hutchings and CEO Scott Davies talked about seven themes they’ve seen affecting business travel:

  • Consolidation of suppliers through mergers and acquisitions
  • Changes in distribution models such as NDC
  • The emergence of new technology such as robotics and artificial intelligence
  • Shifting geopolitical situations throughout the world
  • Safety and security – not just physically, but in terms of traveller data and internet activities
  • Changes in sourcing arising from the need to keep travellers happy for staff retention
  • And how technology and booking tools can enhance the traveller experience.

The next steps
Next, a panel of suppliers representing airlines, distribution channels, TMCs and hotels explained what they’re doing to help travel managers through these changes.

One of the key points to come out of the session came from a representative of American Express Global Business Travel, who said that in a landscape of suppliers encouraging direct bookings TMCs can play a huge part in making sure clients are still getting the best deal by giving travellers choice while displaying only the content that is relevant to their needs and corporate policy.

Meanwhile, a representative of American Airlines described NDC as a way to make sure corporates have access to rich content and even went as far as to say there’s the potential for that content to be bundled for the different needs of travellers.

The age of unrest
In an afternoon breakout session, buyers learned about ways in which companies can keep their travellers safe in a world of ever-shifting geopolitical environments. An interesting point was made about tying a business’s social media policy to its safety measures, as travellers could inadvertently put themselves at risk by posting their location or activities on social media while away on business.

The approaching General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) inevitably factored into the conversation, as the new rules will change the way traveller data is held and companies will be forced to balance safeguarding that data with ensuring it is used to appropriately to meet duty of care obligations.

AI and robotics
As has been the case at many industry events in recent months, the application of AI and robotics played a huge part in another ITM breakout session. A tech expert from Clarity related well-known tools such as Amazon’s AI to travel management, explaining how the automation of certain processes can make managers more efficient when it comes to updating and maintaining a travel policy.

Each panellist touched on the subject of machine learning and how implementing something as simple as a post-trip satisfaction rating system can help travel managers ensure they’re sourcing the right kind of content to keep their travellers happy.

Delegates finished the day with an interactive networking game, while suppliers received tips and advice for communicating with buyers from ITM chair Karen Hutchings.

We’ll report back on the key lessons from day two later on.

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