Extra air capacity in the UK
Heathrow finally received approval to build a third runway, unlocking the potential for much-needed capacity growth in the UK – but there’s clearly a long way to go, with Parliament’s decision being challenged in the courts by local advocacy and environmental groups.

It’s good news that Gatwick has applied for permission to use its existing emergency runway to accommodate more short-haul flights. Stansted has been given the green light to serve an extra eight million passengers a year, and a new arrivals terminal is scheduled to open in 2020.

Regional airports, too, are expanding. Birmingham airport has revealed its master plan to serve 40 per cent more passengers by 2033, while Manchester is in the midst of a £1 billion transformation programme to improve the customer experience. Even Doncaster Sheffield has been backed by its local community to expand its facilities, including a new onsite railwayy station. The question now is which airport will deliver extra capacity first?

The “v” in Vchain stands for verification, but it could stand for victory, as this start-up has been making waves over the past two years with a string of accolades.

Vchain is a blockchain-powered identification system for air travel, and is designed to speed up passenger movements though airports and on to planes. Designed by Vchain co-founders Irra Ariella Khi and Alexander Gorelik (pictured) the system won investment from IAG’s global accelerator scheme Hangar 51 in 2017, while last year it came first at “Pitch at the Palace” – the Duke of York’s tech start-up competition.

With data breaches and hacks on the rise, Vchain may have a role to play in allaying cyber security fears. Meanwhile, digital identity is set to be a buzzword this year, and as IATA steps up ONE order (its vision for “safe, secure and simpler passenger identification”), we may well be hearing more about Vchain in the coming months.

When BBT first encountered TroopTravel, the start-up was competing with other young companies for the coveted Business Travel Disrupt Award at the Business Travel Show in 2018. It won the trophy based on a rapid-fire pitch in which co-founders Leonard Cremer and Dennis Vilovic wowed judges with the platform’s ability to disrupt the way businesses plan meetings.

TroopTravel uses multiple data points to determine the ideal destination for a meeting. It takes into account personal and company preferences, as well as visa requirements, cost, ease of travel and more. The BBT team liked the fact that Cremer and Vilovic often use Bali as an example of the best place to bring colleagues together under certain circumstances.

The start-up was recognised again when audience members at the ACTE Paris Global Summit and Corporate Lodging Forum in October chose TroopTravel as their favourite new tech tool. It plans to launch its platform publicly at this year’s Business Travel Show. Watch this space.

IATA’s One Order
While the industry has been harping on about NDC, IATA has slipped in another concept that has the potential to revolutionise travel – if it comes to fruition. One Order is defined by the airline body as “the concept of a single customer order record holding all data elements obtained and required for order fulfilment across the air travel cycle – such as customer data, order items, payment and billing information, fulfilment data and status”.

One Order consolidates all data on a passenger name record (PNR), e-ticket and electronic miscellaneous document (EMD). IATA claims this will facilitate product delivery and settlement between airlines and their partners in a single standardised order management process, regardless of different business models. Oana Savu (pictured), manager, implementation and engagement at One Order, says it has the potential to reduce confusion for customers, who currently have to deal with multiple reference numbers for different aspects of the same order.

Fello launched at the 2018 Business Travel Show to the delight of travel managers and travellers, with former ITM chief executive Simone Buckley as top boss. Since then, the “traveller first” TMC has gone from strength to strength – joining the GTMC, attracting high-profile talent (including David Chappell and Brett Rance) and being shortlisted for the Business Travel Awards.

The company prides itself on the fact that it places the traveller at the heart of everything it does, ensuring employees – a valuable asset for any business – are looked after in order to help them be more productive. Fello utilises technology to facilitate a smooth booking process and provides a dedicated account manager to each client, with 24/7 support available to handle any incidents. One travel manager said their partnership with Fello meant they were able to balance cost with the welfare of the business’s employees – something that has always been a challenge for travel managers around the world.

Doug Anderson, CEO, American Express Global Business Travel
The morning of 9 February 2018 dawned with perhaps the biggest news of the travel management industry – American Express Global Business Travel’s (GBT) acquisition of HRG. The takeover would create an estimated £2.04 billion in annual sales, making the combined company the number one TMC in the UK.

Amex GBT CEO Doug Anderson handled the media frenzy with poise, maintaining his focus on the tie-up as the joining of two complementary firms. When the deal was completed in July, Anderson gave BBT an exclusive interview to explain both organisations were “delighted with the deal” and that his goal was to “ramp up our technology development”. As we move into a new year – and a new BBT Leading 50 TMCs list in May – it will be interesting to see how the continuing merger of Amex GBT and HRG progresses, as well as how Anderson and his team deal with the world watching their every move.

Hotel rate-checking bots
There’s a lot of talk in the industry about whether corporates are actually getting their negotiated hotel rates and even whether these rates are giving companies good value for money.

Technology is taking some of the guesswork out of the process, with platforms such as Tripbam, Waylo and HOTbot (Hotel Optimisation Tool Robot) helping travel managers keep track of rates to ensure they get the best price. While Tripbam and HOTbot track rates after a booking is made, Waylo’s engine predicts the probability of future price drops, as well as minimum rates, giving corporates the chance to decide the best time to book for cost savings.

TMCs are also getting in on the price-tracking act, with CWT’s Price Tracking platform rebooking the reservation if it identifies lower rates for both hotels and air fares.

Hotel rates aren’t just about price but also what’s included (breakfast, gym access, etc), and checking bots claim to ensure corporates are getting a like-for-like deal if a lower rate is found.

Emma Maslen, MD of UK enterprise, SAP Concur
Since joining SAP Concur in 2017, Emma Maslen has spearheaded the company’s commitment to diversity, inclusion and eliminating bias. As a road warrior herself, she also has a deep understanding of the importance of traveller safety and duty-of-care, especially when it comes to female travellers.

And she’s not stopping there; through her close relationship with customers, Maslen is opening up conversations about diversity in their travel policies, asking whether they’re serving their companies’ diversity and inclusion commitments. She hopes to move the conversation on to how to make corporate travel safer for all and put SAP Concur at the forefront of this change.

Plus, Maslen is an advocate for Concur Locate, which aims to help businesses know the whereabouts of their employees when faced with the challenge of policy leakage. She is working to build an ecosystem of experts who can provide a flexible and supportive system for employees.

Andrea Sommer, founder and chief executive of start-up Hiver, told BBT last year she was “absolutely rubbish at remembering names” – and this spurred her to create a new platform.

Hiver is a tool that tracks users’ movements at an event, such as a conference or exhibition. Event organisers issue delegates with a wearable Bluetooth beacon device, which connects to the Hiver app on their smartphone. It detects when someone is talking to another person, and then stores the details of both people, giving users the option to later connect on Linkedin.

The technology is very open– it can be integrated into other meeting platforms via a software development kit. The app also creates a map of user interactions at an event, which can be particularly useful for event organisers and exhibitors. By tracking movements and interactions, Hiver can help exhibition and conference organisers identify which stands or booths do well and which experienced fewer interactions.

Sommer has turned a laser-like focus on the MICE sector and Hiver is one to watch.

It can be uncomfortable for business travellers being sent to new locations. While a travel manager can try to mitigate the stress, it’s perhaps more helpful for the employee to have access to guides throughout their visit. CultureMee aims to provide such a tool in a single app.

CultureMee provides travellers with pertinent information about their destination, including practical advice, a comparison of their own culture versus that of their destination, fun facts about the country they’re visiting, travel advice, such as visa and vaccination requirements, a map of all the countries the user has visited, and advice and tips from fellow travellers.

Husband-and-wife duo John and Dee Lee founded CultureMee in an attempt to break down cultural barriers and help business travellers to enjoy their trips. (Dee Lee is pictured, centre.) Having this information can go a long way toward helping employees feel more comfortable about visiting new countries.

According to research by Egencia, SME travel managers are increasingly turning to technology and “self-managed” tools to understand their company’s travel patterns. So it’s a good time for start-ups such as TapTrip which aim to make travel as seamless for SMEs as it is for corporates.

Launched out of the Founders Factory in Manchester by Neil Ruth, formerly of Skyscanner and IHG, and Tom Young from Booking.com, TapTrip is leveraging strategic partnerships with Skyscanner, Booking.com, Goeuro, Uber and others rather than traditional GDSs.

TapTrip aims to make business travel easier for SMEs. Its inventory covers flights, hotels, rail and car services across the UK and Europe. The TapTrip management dashboard offers a range of automated services, including travel spend tracking, expensing and personalised travel policy implementation. It’s a new exciting way of looking at business travel. (Pictured left to right: chief executive Thomas Young,chief technology officer Jack Timblin and chief commercial officer Neil Ruth.)

Airline fuel prices
The industry has been watching oil prices, expecting the growing cost per barrel to affect air fares, but so far the impact has been minimal. Other than the obvious examples of Monarch, Primera and Cobalt, many airlines have been able to absorb the cost, perhaps owing to the increasing revenue from the sale of ancillaries.

But that could change this year. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr has warned fuel costs could hit ticket prices, while the Lufthansa Group said its airlines would slow capacity growth in 2019.

Carriers around the world are investing in more fuel-efficient aircraft. Many, such as British Airways and Qantas, are funding research into alternative fuels. Easyjet is partnering with Wright Electric to develop electric-powered aircraft capable of flying from London to Amsterdam. Fuel prices will continue to impact airlines this year – for better or for worse.

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