A new generation, who cannot remember a world without the internet, are beginning to enter the workforce and will have a profound impact on the way we work and travel, delegates were told at the annual Advantage conference.

The travel agency consortium’s three-day event, themed as ‘Man and machine’, took place at the Club Med Opio en Provence resort in the south of France.

Sara Rooney, associate at consultancy Festive Road, told business travel delegates that by 2020 more than 50 per cent of the world’s workforce will be made up of Gen Y (aka Millenials, born 1980-1994) and Gen Z (born from 1995 onwards).

Rooney said Gen Z characteristics, including being constantly connected, using an average of five online devices and famously having an eight-second attention span, will continue to influence the wider business travelling demographic. She said this generation are used to being surrounded by consumer ratings on every product and service – ratings which they value above personal recommendations.

Keynote speakers at the conference included six times Olympic champion cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, former Gadget Show TV presenter Jason Bradbury and Alistair Pritchard, lead travel partner at accountancy giant Deloitte. 

Brexit, bans and Blackberrys…

Pritchard cited a range of challenges likely to impact the travel sector including Brexit negotiations, regulatory changes, consumer confidence, currency volatility and a laptop ban on flights.

He said from a business travel perspective “it’s not just about being not able to work on the flight, it’s about not being able to work in the airport, and worse is corporate policies – my business, along with many others, has a policy no of laptops in the hold for data security reasons. If I can’t take a laptop with me at all, that could make a four-day business trip absolutely useless. That’s a big issue for the sector.”

Pritchard also warned of the potential effects of the US government pursuing protectionist trade policies and tariffs between the UK and EU.

He gave the example of Argentina’s 2007 ‘Made in Argentina’ programme, which included tariffs on imports.

“Apple pulled out of the market,” he said. “Blackberry decided to invest and with encouragement and some funding from the Argentinian government they built a factory in remote area.

“They spend $23m on the factory then realised they didn’t have local people with the skills to make the Blackberrys. They had to input the skills, at 15 times the cost it would’ve cost to make them in Asia.”

Pritchard said the Blackberry factory was completed two years late, by which time the model was out of date and very expensive. So everybody started buying cheaper, newer Blackberrys smuggled in from a Mexican factory.

“Sales of the Argentinian Blackberry tanked and two years later the factory closed,” said Pritchard.  

“What does that tell me about protectionism and global trade? It tells me people will generally buy the best value product they can, wherever it is manufactured.”

He said popular desire to keep manufacturing at home “doesn’t make a lot of economic sense.” 

During his work with the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine initiatives, Pritchard said “one of the issues we talk about is the skills economy – at the moment we don’t have the educational establishments developing the skills we’re going to need as a community in 10-20 years time.”

This, he said meant that restrictions on European freedom of movement could present a significant challenge for the UK.

Travel programmes

In a session discussing corporate travel programmes, QA Travel managing director Kevin Thom said employees are expected to comply with company rules in other areas of work, so offering rewards for travel compliance creates “a culture of ‘what’s in it for me?’”

Key Travel’s global head of product Simon Bennett said travellers could be engaged by offering incentives that didn’t directly reward the traveller. He described an initiative where a donation was made to a homeless charity every time travellers booked via the OBT.

“The travellers really bought into that,” said Bennett. But he pointed out the scheme was only effective because the user experience on the booking tool was good enough to drive behaviour change, so the travellers continued to use the OBT after the charity scheme ended.

ITM vice-chairman and senior travel buyer Mark Cuschieri recommended continually assessing user experience at every stage of the trip via frequent simple and quick-to-complete traveller surveys.

As well as engaging travellers this gives buyers up-to-date knowledge of “supplier underperformance” which can be more quickly addressed, he said.

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