CWT EVP and chief technology officer Andrew Jordan thinks travel management companies need to reset priorities. The mindset should be less on transactions and more on evolving traveler needs. Maybe the latter always have been part of the value proposition, but now it’s easier to address those thanks to mobile tech and tons of data.
Why do travel management companies exist? Travelers can book a flight or hotel from their smartphone while sitting in a café. They barely need us. But when you look at what the ‘M’ in TMC represents, you leave behind the transactional lexicon and start thinking about how we create value.
If you go back 20 years, TMCs basically said they could manage travelers, get them the best rates and make sure they’re safe. I’m simplifying, but that was largely what the ‘M’ stood for. Now the traveler has different expectations before, during and after the trip.
There’s also huge pressure on the people who run travel budgets. Their bosses are asking about extra benefits for the millions spent on travel every year. It’s not all about cost anymore. We’re being asked, “What else can you do?”
So we’re morphing into something new and different because our clients push us in that direction.
Put yourself in the mind of travelers and think about each step they take. Think about the purpose of the trip and how they decide they need to travel. Think about the process — whether phoning up their TMC, speaking to their travel arranger or going online. Map out how much time that takes, particularly when it involves multiple parties from multiple locations.
If your flight is canceled, how can you get on a different flight? What happens when you’re at hotel check-in and the line is 50 deep because there’s a conference on? Maybe you need to find a fancy meeting space nearby. Oh, look, there’s another team from your office here. Wouldn’t it be cool to meet up for drinks?
The point is, we have to think about things like travelers, rather than approaching them like: “Here’s your airline ticket. Goodbye.”
That’s not how people work. It never was. It’s just that technology could never create that sensible interface. In every other walk of life, that’s the expectation now. Yet all TMCs struggle to actually think about “experience.”
So how do you make this new world happen? What does it actually look like in practice?
We know who we’ve put on the road. We know what company they work for. We know what position they hold. We know what division they’re in. We know who’s most senior. We know who’s where. All this information is anonymized but from a data perspective it’s not hard to build something really useful.
I once put together an in-person meeting for myself and four others. One was from New York, two from London and one in Paris. The logistical work involved making sure the flights would arrive in time and that all were staying at the same hotel. Those challenges are algorithmically solvable and straightforward. In group travel, the uniqueness and effectiveness of meetings comes in thinking about behavior. Some of it is quite counterintuitive. You might think, “Why don’t we just meet at headquarters?” But then you realize that two of the people flying in won’t be effective in the meeting because they rarely travel and are therefore far more susceptible to jetlag. You can start to infer other things about productivity from that experience. It’s more than transactional. It starts to make that group concept much more powerful.
There are two ways to think about that while you’re actually on a trip.
In that scenario of five people meeting in one place, on my app I can actually see if somebody is delayed. If we have a dinner reservation for five, we’ll make it four. We might defer a topic of conversation.
Another benefit may trigger at hotel check-in. My app says, “Fred and Bob are also at the hotel. Maybe you want to meet?”
You’re now interacting in a way that you probably would not have considered. There are lots of different angles to clustering data. The concept has been around as long as social media. These are just social media principles brought to business travel.
In the world of business travel, we’re used to thinking of products as monolithic:
“I have a mobile app.”
“I have an OBT.”
“I have a reporting tool.”
That’s not how the world works anymore. The app ecosystem is saturated. The very idea of something so boxed-in is a constraining concept. You want a solution, services and capabilities delivered how and when you actually need them.
For example, there are productivity tools that show engagement. Often thought of as down time, travel actually creates a huge amount of productive time. You have ways to prove that commercial productivity is shaped by the investment that you put into travel, just by crunching the data. You are now in a position to say, “I put $1 million into my travel program and I can demonstrate a 5x return.” That’s never happened before.
But again, that doesn’t speak to experience. It’s just about productivity. You want to achieve that productivity goal but also have the traveler come back from their trip saying, “That was so easy. The moment something went wrong, they were ahead of it. I walked out on the street and my phone dinged, the map kicked in and I clicked for a Lyft. It’s like having a travel agent in your pocket.”
Imagine that you have people who are a demonstrable addition in terms of business performance and they come back saying they’re happy. Is there a better result than that?
TMCs can’t continue to serve customers in the traditional way. If we think that we can just stay fixated on cost and rates, we will get left behind.
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