Since the UK public voted in favour of leaving the European Union in June 2016, the travel industry has cried out for clarity as to how the move will affect businesses sending employees to EU countries. As of the end of 2018, the answer was not as clear as they’d hoped.

Travel buyers, in particular, felt the pressure mounting on their own roles; a survey conducted for the upcoming Business Travel Show revealed Brexit had topped the list of the biggest challenges buyers expect to face in 2019, knocking cost-cutting from the number one slot for the first time in four years.

Respondents even went as far as to say it would remain an obstacle until at least 2022 – well beyond the proposed end of the transition period in December 2020.

At time of publication, the only thing that’s clear is that nothing is clear and may not be for some time.

Chris Grayling, secretary of state for transport
Yes, Chris Grayling appeared on the Hotlist in 2017 and 2018, but we believe the simple fact he’s still in charge of the UK’s transport decisions is impressive given the rocky year that was 2018. He could’ve handled the chaos that resulted from the rail timetable changes better (such as not putting his hands up and claiming it wasn’t his job to run the railways), but his choice to crack down on operators in the form of a massive inquiry is commendable. He has even gone one step further by saying he could strip the companies of their franchises as punishment for the severe disruption seen by passengers across the country.

And lest we forget his part in pushing through other major infrastructure projects – Heathrow’s third runway, HS2 is still on the radar, and regional airports are looking at ways to maximise their capacity in the coming years. All of these plans could improve transport in a post-Brexit UK.

New Distribution Capability (NDC)
It has been a long time coming, but things seem to be moving in a positive direction for IATA’s NDC standard. Last year’s headlines told of companies across the industry becoming certified by IATA, as well as the first NDC booking made via a GDS thanks to the work of Travelport.

Amadeus has its NDC-X programme headed up by vice-president Gianni Pisanello, while Sabre’s Beyond NDC initiative comes under the guidance of Kathy Morgan, vice-president of NDC. Both have added partners, including Carlson Wagonlit Travel, American Airlines and others, with the aim of testing solutions to eventually roll out the technology to scale. Sabre made another move with the acquisition of Farelogix, a start-up pioneering in the field of NDC.

With airlines and TMCs starting to actively engage travel buyers in the development of NDC, it will be interesting to see what happens in the lead-up to 2020 – the year IATA said it wants at least 20 airlines to have 20 per cent of their indirect bookings to be made using NDC.

HRS had a fantastic 2018, winning huge contracts with Siemens, the Crown Commercial Service and Airbus, to name a few. The news of such major clients made the rest of the industry sit up, as it showed that even large businesses are seeing value in outsourcing their hotel programmes.

When asked to explain why HRS had been so successful in recent months, CEO Tobias Ragge said the simple answer was that companies were facing an increasing challenge in preventing leakage, as the vast majority of properties were not available via the GDSs and, therefore, travellers were booking elsewhere. HRS is attempting to bridge the gap, helping independent hotels reach big-name clients that might otherwise never book with them.

It’s also doing a lot of work to digitise the accommodation industry. In fact, a stipulation of the Airbus contract is that hotels must accept virtual payment in order to be included in its programme. If Ragge is right, we are at the beginning of a new era for the hotel world.

Traveller support and wellbeing apps
As you’ve no doubt noticed by now, traveller wellbeing is a hot topic when it comes to travel policy. One of the ways in which start-ups and TMCs alike are trying to support travellers along their journey is by providing apps with a wealth of handy tools.

FCM Travel Solutions offers the Sam chatbot, an interactive AI that uses a chat-based interface to allow travellers to add trips manually, view weather, traffic and flight alerts, and connects with local ground transport options. Meanwhile, myCWT enables users to search and book hotels, as well as receive updates and alerts on travel itineraries or changing plans, giving travellers all the necessary information on their own device.

TravelPerk rewards employees for booking within budget and policy, while CultureMee offers cultural advice, information on visas, vaccinations, plugs etc, and offers answers to common travel questions – great for those travelling to a country for the first time.

Robin Smith, chief product engineer, Click Travel
One of the minds behind Click Travel’s intuitive booking platform,, which has been recognised by IATA as a “blueprint for the future”, changing the way airlines sell tickets to businesses. When hotels made a shift toward a direct connect model, Robin Smith recognised that similar changes could affect other travel sectors, placing Click Travel ahead of the curve on new forms of distribution.

Smith possesses in-depth knowledge of booking processes and has been named an IATA advisor for NDC and TMC architecture, becoming an integral part of the organisation’s Travel Management Architecture project, an initiative that aims to transform the booking software at the heart of every TMC.

Today, he is recognised as a leading voice in the industry. He has led Click Travel to be one of the few TMCs that can demonstrate the value of IATA’s NDC vision.

WTMC’s strapline is “Digital Travel Management” which is apt for a tech-centric TMC that partners with innovative players to “find a better way to manage corporate travel”. The New York-based company, led by chief executive Sarosh Waghmar (pictured), has invested heavily in its product offering and was the first TMC to be NDC-certified.

Although it’s a young outfit and not yet well known in the European market, WTMC has gone a long way to developing its Software-as-a-Service subscription model; it’s already serving large clients, such as Spotify, using a new customer service platform.

One reader, who recommended WTMC for the Hotlist, commented: “In the same way that disruptors from outside traditional travel – Airbnb, Uber etc – have shaken up consumer travel and now increasingly business travel, I think WTMC’s focus on technology, its subscription model and more, point the way to a better future for managed travel.”

Mel Phaure, director and co-founder, Blue Cube Travel
Blue Cube Travel Director Mel Phaure (pictured, centre) is passionate about nurturing young people to develop careers in business travel, launching an apprenticeship scheme with Way2Work at Blue Cube’s head office in Kew, London. The TMC has hired five apprentices, two of whom have gone on to more advanced roles within the company. One of the first apprentices, hired in 2016, qualified as a travel consultant and sits on the GTMC’s Next Generation panel.

Way2Work’s centre manager said: “Mel’s approach is nurturing yet promotes independence and resilience-building. She takes a real personal interest in ensuring the apprentices are well supported. On top of professional support, these young people benefit from life coaching, helping them develop personally, problem-solve and deal with life’s challenges. We are very grateful that an innovative and forward-thinking local business has embraced the challenge and opportunity to recruit young people and provide them with employment opportunities.”

Sustainability is at the heart of chauffeur-booking site Blacklane’s strategy, which is an important thing to consider at a time when tourism accounts for 8 per cent of global emissions. In 2017, Blacklane became the first global ride service to offset the carbon emissions of all journeys across the more than 300 cities it serves. The company does this by partnering with Carbon Footprint Ltd, the UK government’s provider to offset ministerial travel emissions.

The firm was certified completely carbon-neutral in August after it offset operational activities, such as heating, travel and electricity. That same month, Blacklane introduced its new Green Class offering, which utilises Tesla Model X and Model S all-electric vehicles in 20 cities, including London, Birmingham and Edinburgh, with more destinations to come. These rides are also carbon-neutral, as the firm offsets the emissions to produce the electricity needed to charge the cars. That’s what we call corporate social responsibility.

Festive Road
It’s clear Festive Road has a lot of fans in the industry; we received an outpouring of support for the consultancy when we opened submissions for the Hotlist, proving the team must be doing something right. And we can’t argue – it is actively involved in the industry, providing commentary and expertise at events all over the world.

Entries for Festive Road focused on the company’s “think outside the box” and #BeTheRoad ethos, which creates an environment of engagement. One reader said: “They are constantly striving to improve our industry for the better.”

The group has also been a champion for women in the business travel industry – managing partner Caroline Strachan is co-founder of the Level Women and Women At Work initiatives. Strachan actively encourages fellow women to seek out opportunities to speak at industry events in an effort to boost representation on stages across the world.

IAG’s Hangar 51
“Help your start-up fly” proposes Hangar 51 – IAG’s in-house programme that incubates and accelerates start-ups in the travel sector. Hangar 51 lets entrepreneurs trial their products and innovations with “real customers, work with senior leaders in the travel industry and create a partnership with one of the world’s largest airline groups”.

It launched in late 2016 and has helped start-ups, including V Chain and Esplorio, on to bigger and better things. It may not be a new concept in aviation, with Jetblue investing in startups since 2016, and Easyjet partnering with Founders Factory in 2017, but it’s catching on. Air France KLM recently invested in Bigblank, and Lufthansa has its Innovation Hub.

Hangar 51’s October 2018 intake has ten firms, including Biobeat, Lucky Trip, 30K and Assaia, covering AI, VR and wearable tech. And we wait with bated breath for this year’s intake to be nurtured under IAG’s, er, wing, too.

Women in business travel
2018 was a landmark year for raising the profile of women all over the world, with the gender pay gap coming into focus and the #MeToo movement sparking debate on women’s issues.

Gender equality came to the fore in the business travel industry, too, with associations around the world committing to gathering more female speakers for events. The Advantage Business Travel Symposium in November featured a majority-female stage presence, while the ACTE Paris Global Summit and Corporate Lodging Forum also increased the number of women speaking throughout the event.

With Festive Road’s Caroline Strachan, Maiden Voyage’s Carolyn Pearson and WINiT’s Michelle “Mick” Lee championing the value of greater gender diversity in the business travel industry, women are set to continue providing their expertise on the main stages – good news considering the travel and hospitality industry’s employee base is more than 65 per cent female.

Subscribe to the BBT Newsletter

Join the Buying Business Travel newsletter for the latest business travel news.

Thank you for signing up!