Gavin Smith, director of Element, looks into what TMCs should be doing with the available technology to prepare for a corporate travel world when the pandemic is over
How will your travel business emerge from Covid-19 ready to meet the opportunities of the next normal, the challenges that come your way and thrive? TMCs who ramp up their game now will be more ready when travel is back in business than those who do not.
There are four key areas to focus on as we navigate our way through this period: revenue, organisation, operations and technology.
As the crisis subsides, TMCs will need to rethink their operating model, revenue profile, position themselves for the long term and to get ahead of the competition.
According to McKinsey survey, businesses from a variety of industries said that their new remote sales models were as much or more effective than traditional channels. Agents should move now before the recovery fully starts, launch targeted campaigns to win back loyal customers; focus on health and safety; adjust pricing, reskill the sales force to support remote selling; and use technology to streamline and automate processes that free up sales representatives to sell.
Agents should understand clients’ priorities and what businesses value most, post-Covid-19, then develop services based on those insights. Health and safety will be a key driver and influence when and where businesses travel to. Connected trips with up-to-date personalised information will play a big part in the recovery.
TMCs are already installing the latest permission-based applications such as Travel Radar that enable them to configure and manage client’s policies and ensure that the travel consultant can access the correct information and booking capability. These new applications close the entire loop of sufficient information and immediate decision making and will drive the next duty of care level for TMCs when the “return to travel” policies and processes are in place.
Businesses will also be adopting new processes, rules and changes to travel procedures. Travel companies will need to act fast and changes to processes implemented quickly to give them the edge. Businesses will be ready to get back to travelling and you may need to respond quickly to recover that client base before the competition. Develop an operating model that’s agile and urgent.
TMCs are prioritising their tech needs. Agents are looking to improve the services they supply and how they manage their budgets.
Businesses will want to track staff expenses more efficiently. The Aberdeen Group, which analysed data on buyer behaviour, found that up to 70 per cent of companies want to find new ways to manage their travel-related corporate expenses.
These operational changes are crucial but should be sustainable. Agents will need to protect against a wide range of potential shocks and act quickly, including increased use of external suppliers and partners.
Creating a new level of business resilience is expensive but there is a wave of new digital and analytics tools which significantly reduce the cost of flexibility.
Concur Compleat automates and manages everyday processes – searching low fares, securing seats, and ticketing – to streamline work processes. Unlocked Data launched a Covid forecaster looking at spending and risk to predict future spend and Travel Operations has solutions to support travel agents in their daily tasks. Tools like these increase productivity and create flexibility.
Many TMCs were already digitising their operations before Covid. Accelerating these efforts now will likely see significant benefits in productivity, flexibility and quality of service.
There is an increased demand to manage the commercials, suppliers, back-office, while corporates are able to configure the travel policies, approvals, and reporting. TMCs are looking for new systems that provide New Distribution Capability with direct airline connects and hotel consolidators and aggregators.
These platforms enable bookings outside of many global distribution system processes and related fees and compress months of effort into weeks or days. Looking beyond Covid, TMCs can build their next-normal operations around a revamped approach to spending. These new technology-enabled methodologies are accelerating cost transparency.
The new way of working, with more automation and technology, has been coming for a long time. This pandemic has just sped up the pace.
The new culture of doing things
As we come through the crisis, TMCs will have to address growth and scalability. This will depend mostly on the ability to embed data and analytics in decision making, learning to support clients and a culture that fosters value with other partners. What matters is a deep understanding of the customer.
There has been a transformation in the way we interact with each other, make purchases and do business. These changes have accelerated the adoption of digital technologies across every sector.
Technology plays a critical role in the recovery of the travel industry and new deals being struck and partnerships happening.
Earlier this year, Flight Centre Travel Group acquired tech company WhereTo for its AI platform that recommends hotels, flights and transportation to employees. Sabre integrated Mindsay technology enabling automated customer service for TMCs and airlines. At Element, we partnered with tech company Zenmer to supply an end-to-end platform for TMCs and their clients.
Businesses will need to set an ambitious digital agenda – but one that they can deliver quickly. In the post-pandemic world, business as usual will not be enough because too many things have changed.
Gavin Smith is the director of Element, a travel technology company that helps TMCs gain access to cutting-edge travel technology. A former manager at SAP Concur, Smith has vast experience across various functions within TMCs. He has worked with TMCs of all sizes supporting their goals to deliver technology and payments to their clients.