On 23-25 October 2019 the annual ACTE Global Summit & Corporate Lodging Forum took place in Amsterdam. The ACTE Summits are always a great opportunity for professionals working in the industry of Business Travel to learn about the developments in this field. At the same time they’re an invaluable occasion for sharing experiences and networking with peers from several nationalities and backgrounds.
For the second year I was honoured to lead one workshop within the very packed program of the conference and I’ll tell more about it in this post.
I’ve summarised my learnings and impressions of the three days in 7 pills, which cover some of the emerging overarching themes.
I hope you find them relevant and useful for you and your work.
Let me know what you think about them!
Pill #1 – It’s not the strongest, but the most adaptable…
Since the first Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) appeared on the market, the fate of Travel Management Companies (TMCs) seemed very clear: they were bound to capitulate in front of the new technology. Fast forward 20 years and TMCs are still here and going strong!
So what’s the truth here?
The topic was covered in different sessions, with similar outcomes.
The synthesis of the matter I’m offering here was brilliantly and provocatively made by Antonio Perea (CEPSA Travel Manager and President of AEGEVE, the Spanish Association of Travel Managers) during the “Travel Management Governance” session: “We don’t need TMCs any longer!” But then he specifies: “We don’t need TMCs which are just focused on issuing tickets: technology partners will do that. We need TMCs that can advise us on how to best move forward, how to enter new markets and make sense of the new trends in the market”.
This concept was also very nicely put on the table during the “How to calculate the total cost of Travel” session at ACTE Amsterdam Global Summit 2019 where it was said that: “TMCs should move from the price per transaction model to a price per service model.”
And I couldn’t agree more.
There is plenty of space in the industry for operators who can prove their value to the Travel Managers and their Travellers and can build robust relationships among them.
New smaller and agile vendors are launching technologies that bring greater efficiencies and superior user experiences at a lower cost.
Technology will not replace humans but will cause, and it’s already causing, a paradigm shift in the way we all operate.
The activity of the different players in the market will change and will get more and more intertwined. So will the business models and the rules of the game. It will be crucial for everybody to be quick at picking the unfolding trends and act upon them.
But most importantly, these changes must be carried out in full transparency, to keep high the level of engagement and trust among all the parties involved.
My takeaway for this pill is:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change” (C. Darwin)
Pill #2 – There is data, and then there is smart data!
Data will be more and more the foundation of any travel programme. But beware: As pointed out during the “The Data You Need and How to Use it in an Integrated Travel and Meetings Programme” session more than big data, we need smart data.
Let’s focus on the data we need to understand the basics of the travel (and M&E) programme.
And more importantly, corporations need people who can analyse those data and interpret the story behind them.
Data analysts should be an essential component of any Travel Team, and they should add in-depth knowledge of the travel market to their data analysis capabilities.
I second this thesis and think that it’s of no use to start collecting data for the sake of it. You’ll soon drown in data that you won’t be able to use. So my suggestion is to start collecting and using data with a clear objective in mind.
It sure is useful to have people who know how to manipulate and analyse data given the vast amount of information any travel programme entails. However, data skills are still not well represented in the travel teams around the globe. Based on recent CWT research presented during the “Travel Management Governance” session, currently, only large Travel Programmes exceeding USD 300m spending have Data analysts in the Travel Team. This percentage drops to less than 50% for smaller programmes. This significant gap doesn’t help in promoting a culture of data analytics in the corporations.
How can we help sell this need to the corporations? As Professor Rico Maggi, Director of the Master in International Tourism at the Università della Svizzera Italiana pointed out: “We need successful cases to prove the value of data mining and analysis.”
My takeaway for this pill is:
Collect data responsibly, and use it with a clear objective as what you want to achieve and don’t be shy in creating business cases supporting your positions.
Pill #3 – The Triangle of Trust and the elephant in the room
This is a theme I’ve got a personal stake in, as it has part of the Suppliers session delivered together with my partner in crime Katharina Navarro, Global Travel Manager at Capgemini.
Not unexpectedly, the same topic emerged in the twin session dedicated to Buyers run by Scott Wayne and Claire O’Keefe from Envoy.
In both sessions, we tried to explore an old problem: how can we create a real partnership between the suppliers and buyers of the industry?
The participation and engagement of both parties during the sessions were high, highlighting a real wish to move forward towards a more open, relaxed and fruitful relationship.
How can we do that?
We’ve concluded that only when the Triangle of Trust is fully functional, then you can have a real partnership.
The Triangle of Trust is composed of Suppliers, Buyers and Travellers. Yes, there’s a third party in the relationship!! If suppliers and buyers need to build trust in a reciprocal relationship, it’s also true that Buyers need to build trust with their Travellers! Travellers are “buyers” in themselves, and as such, their trust needs to be earned!
And trust can be only built on transparency.
Transparency is not only disclosing everything in every situation, but it’s also declaring if there’s something that cannot be shared and disclosed. Any tension in the relationship (the proverbial “elephant in the room”) needs to be acknowledged if only to put it aside and move forward!
Another critical element in the path of building trust with your counterpart is empathy, which means putting yourself in the other person shoes, learning how the other person sees the world.
It involves looking at a problem from the perspective of the other person, giving up assumptions and getting rid of biases. Empathy can give you a more comprehensive comprehension of the situation at hand and can provide the “key” to a solution that better satisfies all the needs at stake. And there is only one way forward here: asking the other party! Learning how to ask questions, but also opening up when answering (empathy should be a two-way feeling), puts people on the optimal route towards a successful partnership
My takeaway for this pill is:
Even in a business partnership, there are always two people, one in front of the other, and we bring our whole selves to work. Our feelings, frustrations but also our enthusiasm and motivations follow us on the job. So be human!
Pill #4 – The Babel Tower
Diversity of language is a big problem: but we have learnt at ACTE Amsterdam Global Summit 2019 that it’s not just a problem between suppliers and travel managers. It’s a big issue also in the relationship between travel managers and their Travellers.
Suppliers tend to use their corporate language when talking to travel managers, making little effort in understanding the language of the client corporations.
At the same time, things that are valuable for the Travel Managers and that they work on, like the concepts of leakage, compliance, and other “jargon”, don’t mean anything to the Traveller.
A significant effort is then required to bridge these differences. Not surprisingly, we can hardly find communication specialists in the Travel Teams around the globe, with this role being present in less than 20% of the companies worldwide.
The consequences of this are easily understandable.
Poor communication practices are standard fare in Business Travel, with long Travel Policies, information fragmented among different channels and Travellers who need to find by themselves what they need, with the waste of time and sometimes alarmingly drop in the level of trust in the Travel Programme.
It’s also true that collaboration with the Internal Communication departments, where present, can significantly lift the burden on the shoulders of Travel Managers and help to put the information overflow, we all experience these days, under control.
My takeaway for this pill is:
Communicate, communicate, communicate!!
Pill #5 – Not two apples are alike!
Although we are all different, Travel programmes and travel policies are mostly standard across the Traveller’s base.
Depending on the company, there might differentiation in policies based on the travelling frequency or the traveller’s hierarchical level. Rarely if not at all, the differences among travellers, acknowledging the natural diversity of interests, motivations, and personal situation, are taken into account.
This is a vital topic for me. In my view of Business Travel, Travellers always come first and are at the centre of the Travel Programme. The Traveller needs, interests and situations, as persons as a whole, should ever be taken into account when creating a Travel Programme.
I’ve been promoting the use of Design Thinking to design Travel Programmes starting from the needs of the Travellers, as I also explained last year at the ACTE Paris Global Summit in my workshop “Harnessing the power of Design Thinking in Business Travel”.
Hence why I’m so happy that the session “Traveller Tribes – How to Meet the Needs of Different Traveller Types” at ACTE Amsterdam Global Summit 2019 introduced the concept of “Tribes” which represent the different groups of Travellers united by some unique traits (in the session presentation the attitude towards technology) .
Knowing who your Tribes are is the first step towards a more personalized and customized travel programme, which in turn should help keep the Travellers in the programme and achieve higher levels of Travellers’ satisfaction.
Once you know your Travellers and what drives their behaviour, perfectly replicating the mechanisms that are more and more used in every consumer market, you can design the tools and the policies that best fit the situation you have at hand.
And this takes us straight to the next point on the same topic.
Dealing with the Business Traveller as a “user” of a service moves the discussion from how to make them use the Travel Programme towards more “subtle” levers as highlighted in different sessions, but specifically in the “Build Your Store: Power Up Your Programme Experience with Merchandising and Traveller Engagement” session.
It means making use of the insights that Behavioural economics can provide and to present the Travel Programme as it were a “normal” service that the Travel Manager, needs to sell to the Travellers. It means to render it attractive, provide the right triggers and anchoring effects so that Travellers are hooked to the programme spontaneously.
I also wrote a bit about this in my article “Five steps to the perfect hotel programme with the Banana Principle”, but the trend towards the creation of a “real virtual” shop for Business travellers is more and more apparent.
So I‘d like to give a slightly different meaning to the word “Consumerization” of Business Travel!
Consumerisation: treating Business Travellers as if they were users of a purely commercial service so to encourage and nudge them to use the company Travel Programme.
My takeaway for this pill is:
Know your travellers: what drives them? What motivates them? What are the different personal situations? Let’s stop treating our Travellers as if they are robots merely executing instructions, and start treating them as the humans they are!
Pill #6 – I can beat you!
And now I ask you, Travel Managers!! How many times have your Travellers come to you saying: I’ve found a better rate!!! I often make a joke about it when I’m in a room full of Travel Managers, asking them to raise their hands if they have heard this at least once. The answer I get is unanimous: almost 100% of the people have been at least once in this situation.
It looks like Travellers find an intimate satisfaction in proving to us they are better at finding the cheapest possible rates, as one fellow Travel Managers has pointed out during the “How to calculate total cost of Travel “ session at ACTE Amsterdam Global Summit 2019. Needless to say, this situation is a source of endless frustrations for the Travel Managers.
Travellers keep searching for alternative rates outside a Travel Programme for several reasons.
First of all, during the session emerged the idea that they do it because of endless conditioning.
The imperative that has been drilled into all of us to “treat company money as it were your own”, makes the Traveller look for a cheaper alternative the same way it would do when searching for a personal vacation.
In principle, this behaviour is not to be condemned. Still, it generates indirect costs, such as the cost of time the Travellers spend to find a Eur20 cheaper ticket, rarely taken into consideration and accounted for. Probably we should be more aware of the unwanted effects of the messages we broadcast towards the organisation.
Second, in my opinion, the spasmodic research of alternatives comes, from an unclear communication about the why’s and how’s of the Travel Programme.
I know it might feel a bit of an overkill, and as a Travel Manager, you’re maybe wondering why you should explain to your Traveller how you do your job. Still, if you remember the pill #3 around the Triangle of Trust, you already know that the Traveller is your active counterpart in this situation and that transparency about the back stories of the Travel Programme can help to create a collaborative environment and build trust
Third, you might do the best you can in terms of communication, you’ve started a Yoga class to manage your stress, and yet you keep receiving these emails. And you know what?
This is normal!! Travellers’ are humans and humans want to beat the “machine” on the other side (i.e. the TMC and/or OBT).
It’s a well-known Design Principle, which makes Google Maps providing three different alternatives routes to the same destination so the user can choose. Travel Managers should do the same: provide the Traveller with all the possible alternatives, highlighting why those cannot be used, or the disadvantage the Traveller will get in case they use it but leaving the Traveller free to choose!
My takeaway for this pill is:
Be transparent, take time to explain o your Travellers how things work t and the reasons behind the choices you’ve made and always have a stress ball on your desk when the situation takes unwanted turns.
Pill #7 – Beyond business travel…
As the budgets shrink, programmes reach maturity, and the lemon has been thoroughly squeezed out, it’s essential to look at further sources for optimisation. We should look into bigger fruits but maybe also into some vegetables! Bigger fruits: meetings and events, extended business trips and expat assignments but also the way corporations manage adjacent categories such as fleet or logistics. These categories have a lot in common in terms of travellers’ needs and company objectives. Yet, they’re often managed in a very fragmented organisational environment where it’s challenging to get an understanding of the overall picture, let alone finding optimisation opportunities.
Travel Managers should also look into other departments within their company, and other industries (the vegetables!).
Some issues are the same across many industries, and some industries are more mature than others. The solution to a longstanding problem might be found learning how similar issues have been solved somewhere else.
And last but not least, I’ve personally encouraged during the session on “How to calculate the total cost of Travel” at ACTE Amsterdam Global Summit 2019 to search the collaboration of other functions and departments and to better exploit the “collective intelligence” in finding creative and new solutions to old problems.
It’s incredible how people engage when you ask for their help and organisations cannot afford any longer not to look at things more holistically and comprehensively.
My takeaway for this pill is:
Look outside the travel industry for ideas and inspiration and search the collaboration of travellers and colleagues from other departments to find viable solutions to your problems.
I’ve been in the industry for some years now, and I’m more and more surprised by the amount and variety of fields that intersect the industry of Business Travel.
Looking at the seven pills above, you might notice that the overarching themes emerged during ACTE Amsterdam Global Summit 2019 have little to do with pure business travel, and have more connection with the worlds of digital transformation, customer and user experience, performance improvement, data science, negotiation, design thinking and so on.
How far has the industry progressed, from simple air tickets issuing and hotel booking!
It’s fantastic how the different players have evolved. Some of them have even redesigned the rules of the game of the industry. Specifically, as the corporate person I’ve been most of my career, I’ve seen the role of Travel Managers growing and developing.
I’ve written a lot about the role of the Travel Manager (see my “Anatomy of a Travel Manager” series), and I’m in awe by the high professional level reached. I’m always struck by the passion we all put in our work, despite the difficulties of a job which not always gets the right level of recognition in the companies we work for.
That being said, my overall takeaway from the Summit is the following
Keep calm and carry on: we’re superheroes!!
Thank you to everybody for sharing your experiences and your achievements with all of us at the conference!
See you all in Madrid for ACTE Global Summit 2020!!