The role of the travel manager* has changed.
It’s a common theme at many corporate travel conferences, forums and discussions with TMC# and corporate clients.
How has the corporate travel manager’s role changed?
What does it mean for them, and for you as a TMC account manager?
For a long time managing a travel program was all about cost savings and compliance. Almost a decade ago we began to see corporates’ attention turn to the safety of their travellers. As the world becomes more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) and with ongoing changes in laws, duty of care obligations have become an integral component of the travel program.
Today, it’s not only the traveller’s safety and security, but also their level of satisfaction at every stage of the corporate travel journey (from the initial intent to travel right through to the expense claim process when they return), that’s of focus.
The world has changed and for many organisations the competition to employ and retain good staff has become more challenging with those changes.
Employee engagement is a key driver for many businesses these days and a company’s travel program can play a part in that engagement.
At the ACTE-CAPA Global Conference in Sydney last November, statistics shared from ACTE Global’s** recent study involving ACTE members from around the world “Managing the Modern Business Traveller”, cited a somewhat surprising statistic: 31% of candidates ask to see a company’s travel policy as part of their assessment of whether they wanted to work for the organisation.
That’s a company’s travel program having a direct impact on recruitment.
For some companies their travel program has a part to play in recruitment, retention and motivation of employees. (I’ve been involved in Requests for Proposal for TMC services where employee engagement is a key component in the assessment criteria.)
In addition, travel managers are looking at how their programs impact on employee mobility, productivity and the program’s (or trip’s) return on investment.
The modern business traveller is looking for user-centric experiences and, they’re benchmarking their business travel experiences against their leisure experiences and indeed against providers in other sectors, when it comes to service and technology.
The modern business traveller is:
- Any age,
- Consumer minded,
- Looking for more personalisation and flexibility,
- Demanding of work/life balance, and combining business and leisure,
- Interested in disruptive suppliers – eg the sharing economy (Uber, Airbnb etc), and
- Aware of security concerns.
More and more travel managers are required to balance traveller choice (satisfaction and engagement) against company compliance (budget and safety). For example we’re seeing more companies incorporating Airbnb and Uber into their policies, booking processes and payment systems to meet the traveller’s expectations.
The role of the travel manager has moved from re-active to pro-active. From looking at past data to see how well the program has done, to forecasting for the business what will happen in the future and modelling what can be done to improve the outcomes – be that in the area of savings, security, compliance or user experience.
Technology is also playing a bigger role, implementing an online booking tool is not enough – businesses and users are looking for end-to-end solutions that improve productivity, the user experience, manage compliance and save money.
The travel manager’s landscape has changed – new technology, disruption, increased costs, more data, AI, chatbots, wearables, geopolitics, macro-trends, duty of care … the list goes on.
If you’re a TMC/corporate account manager, what does this mean for you and are you meeting the change?
When I first started out in corporate account management we were radically changing the game by moving from providing “tea and sympathy” – a reactive role that focused on resolving service issues (and dropping off cupcakes), to a more strategic offering that looked at a variety of performance measures (around spend, service and compliance) to understand how the program had performed.
Almost twenty years on and travel managers are looking for greater pro-activity and a forward focused approach to their programs. Not only how their program is performing (in spend, service, user-centricity, compliance, traveller safety and a whole host of areas) but what is forecast to happen in the future, and by utilising experience and expertise and modelling different scenarios, how can they continue to improve and innovate the program?
How can their TMC help them wrap the complexity of the modern traveller, disruptive suppliers, traveller-centricity, leisure competitors, consumerism, frictionless travel, cost savings and safety, neatly into their program?
Think of corporate travel management as a managed service – as the TMC you’re representing your client’s program every time you interact (either personally or via technology) with their people. And clients want (in fact need) those to be great experiences every time.
What value are you and your TMC creating for your client? Are you helping them provide their travellers with an experience that is safe, enables them to perform their job and enjoy the business travel experience from go to, hopefully not, woe^.
Are you focused on not only the operational, but also providing insights and recommendations relevant to their specific requirements, goals and challenges?
Are you approaching your relationship not only as to B2B but also B2C?
As an account manager it’s important to understand your client, their challenges, and the opportunities to ensure they get the greatest value out of their program, not just today but into the future.
As an account manager, has your client travel manager changed without you realising it? Have you changed your approach to meet their changing needs or will you be left behind as their needs outgrow you?
The best way to find out what they need? Ask them.
Would you like some help in understanding your clients better, delivering greater value and/or building on your account management skills? If so, contact me for a confidential conversation about how I can help.
You might also find this blog series on Successful Account Management helpful.
*Travel Manager – the person within an organisation responsible for the day to day and strategic management of that company’s travel program.
#TMC – travel management company, business travel agency, corporate travel agency, corporate travel provider – an agency managing an organisation’s corporate or business travel program.
^ “From go to whoa”, Australian slang meaning “from beginning to end”.
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