In April, 85 percent of more than 600 buyer and supplier respondents told GBTA they “like” or “love” working in the business travel industry. “Once you’re in it, no matter how hard you try, you don’t leave,” said GBTA VP of education and engagement Jill Koronkiewicz. “You keep coming back. It’s inclusive and welcoming; there are so many facets, and you can do 17 jobs. There’s a big educational component to it, and you may reach a ceiling, but there is a huge number of other jobs out there. You learn as you go.” 

There’s plenty to learn. The profession today is feeling the impact of new airline distribution technologies, demographic changes in the workforce, the ripples of remote work and the emergence of generative artificial intelligence.

Research shows that alignment between a person’s skills and their position’s requirements drives job satisfaction. A match helps generate a sense of purpose. So when job requirements change, workers must develop their skills, contributing to job security and further contentment. 

Automation will free up your time, but what will you do with it? That was the question asked during an online Business Travel Executive event co-hosted in April by The Company Dime. Speakers Mihai Dinu, expense reporting manager at robotic process automation software company UiPath, Mat Domaradzki, corporate travel manager at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Clinics, and Lea McLeod, a coach and consultant for individuals and teams, suggested that the goal should be to prioritize areas for upskilling, focusing on human-centric skills.

It’s up to travel professionals to leverage automation while maintaining a human touch. Here is a list of skills and priorities developed by The Company Dime and the panelists.

Human-Centric Skills

  • Emotional intelligence and empathy
  • Understanding and addressing traveler needs
  • Building relationships with stakeholders
  • Customer care skills
  • Creative problem-solving
  • Applying design thinking and user research
  • Adapting to unforeseen circumstances in the travel industry
  • Strategic decision-making
  • Analyzing data insights and making informed decisions
  • Aligning travel programs with organizational goals
  • Making a strong business case

Collaboration With Automation

  • Understanding the capabilities and limitations of automation
  • Identifying automation processes that suit travel management
  • Leveraging data literacy to support decision-making and identify trends
  • Partnering with vendors of technology solutions
  • Using extra time gained from automation to focus on strategic tasks

Continuous Learning And Adaptability 

  • Staying updated with the latest technologies and trends
  • Embracing change
  • Being curious and asking questions 
  • The importance of self-improvement 
  • The need for companies to support employee development

We’d love to hear from you … what are we missing?

Koronkiewicz echoed the three panelists and said it was too early to pin down AI’s impact on the travel manager’s role. 

“It’s so much about the people part of things that I don’t see AI ever replacing them,” she said during a May 7 interview. “It can supplement and make task-oriented things easier. I think it’s important that travel managers stay on top of what AI can do.” 

Emburse on Tuesday announced that Tripbam released Air Contract Audit, bringing to fruition Steve Reynolds’ vision for airfare rate audits. Emburse called it the “first third-party solution” of its kind that accurately imports airline contract details. It alerts program managers to bookings that don’t reflect contract terms, often while there’s still time to take action. By identifying reservation booking designators and fare basis codes, the tool also flags purchases that don’t qualify for discounts, “offering customers new on-demand sourcing opportunities.” It monitors contract performance and highlights reasons for underperformance. The solution is mainly for large clients and does not work well with booking data from outside travel management company channels.

Steve Reynolds
Emburse Travel GM Steve Reynolds

Reynolds, general manager of Emburse’s travel division, told The Company Dime that the lack of detail in feeds from some off-channel capture options limited utility. (He’s hoping to solve this by getting data directly from suppliers.) Meanwhile, Emburse’s Air Intelligence analytics now includes “what if” scenario analysis for alternative airlines based on the entire program, specific routes or cabin class

Emburse also announced the addition of NDC to its reshopping and analytics tools — for reporting but not booking — and the integration of price assurance to the Emburse Go traveler app. According to Reynolds, the Emburse Go development roadmap includes allowing travelers to define clusters of hotel properties for reshopping, which he expects will boost adoption. Tripbam is also working on a way to enable online booking tool developers to incorporate a price assurance widget.

Lacking a travel service has been a competitive disadvantage for Expensify, executives said after the company announced a new alliance for travel. Formerly an AmTrav partner in an offline concierge model that didn’t take off, the publicly traded expense software provider on May 8 announced Expensify Travel powered by Spotnana. The pair initially will offer travel services through Expensify’s mobile app and website; eventually, it will appear in the chat-based New Expensify. “We think that travel is one of the best tools we have to combat churn,” said Anuradha Muralidharan, Expensify’s COO, during a conference call with equities analysts last week. “It’s a reason people cite when they do leave for a competitor.” According to CFO Ryan Schaffer, the travel product “brings in transactional revenue” via an undisclosed booking fee and a revenue share program, presumably with Spotnana. According to an Expensify press release, the travel service “already has a sizable backlog of interest and will be cross-sold through our existing account manager and sales teams. Expensify Travel is designed to scale up to the very top of the market and is the most commonly requested feature from our midmarket and enterprise customers.” Spotnana also provides travel services to Expensify competitors Brex and Center.

An 8,000-person reduction in force by SAP is impacting Concur. Announced in January and due for completion by the end of next year’s first quarter, the moves include “voluntary leave programs and internal re-skilling.” Involuntary separations are also underway. An SAP Concur spokesperson did not specify the number of affected positions at Concur. SAP will “prioritize strategic growth areas including business AI.” The company intends to end this year with “steady headcount levels.”

Reaction: Consultant Louise Miller of Results Plus commented on our explainer about benchmarking by imploring buyers to check the math. Buyer Rebecca Jeffries and consultant Paul Tilstone appreciated Steven Mandelbaum’s view that the industry is in the “infrastructure business,” while Amex GBT consultant Ian McPartlan told him that systemic reshopping may not be possible as NDC matures. Discussing implications from Amex GBT’s proposed acquisition of CWT, travel buyer Nicole Del Sesto wrote that it was an opportunity for buyers to reassess programs and cautioned them that “best-in-market” approaches to TMC selection can mean forgoing standard global tech. Gavin Smith and Pamela Campbell traded anecdotes about TMCs skewing booking displays for their benefit. Consultant Scott Gillespie offered a pointer on relevant airline energy consumption metrics. Thanks also to travel buyers Suzanne Boyan, Richard Clowes and Faye Zeidlhack — plus risk management guru Bruce McIndoe, Amex GBT consulting director Larry Silman and Travel Incorporated chief technology officer Winston Rich — for contributing to the dialogue.

Go Figures

The slowdown in corporate travel transaction growth measured by Prime Numbers Technology is apparent across all modes, with air (domestic and international), hotel and car rental all settling in the low-single-digit percentages during early 2024. These are more modest growth rates than those for managed travel revenue reported by individual airline and hotel companies in recent weeks.

According to Tripbam, clients’ U.S. hotel bookings were flat during the 90 days through May 12 compared with the same period in 2023. During an April conference call, Hilton’s Chris Nassetta told Wall Street analysts that revenue from business travel and groups had passed the 2019 level “but from a demand/occupancy point of view, they’re both below. Business transient is a little bit off. The small and medium businesses are already, demand-wise, over and the big corporates are under. We’re hearing from our big corporate customers that they’re traveling more. Their balance sheets are strong. Earnings are still relatively strong.”

Discussing first-quarter unit revenue and demand trends, Marriott CFO Leeny Oberg said the hotel company’s top 100 corporate accounts were going stronger than they had been in two years.

Major U.S. carriers reported more first-quarter revenue from managed corporate customers. For March, though, ARC found a 5 percent year-over-year decline in the number of passenger trips booked by predominantly corporate agencies, the first such reduction in two years.

Corporate hotel rate hikes abate, according to Prime Numbers Technology

According to Prime Numbers Technology, the increase in the average hotel rate paid by corporate travelers continues to diminish along with transaction growth. At about $176, the benchmark is just a few dollars above that of the first quarter of 2023 and more than $20 up from Q1 2022.

According to Tripbam, the average U.S. hotel rate booked by clients during the 90 days through May 12 was $207, up 3 percent year over year, while the average rate available in the market rose 6 percent to $264. Property dynamic rates showed the most significant decline, 6 percent, while the average best available (public) rate shot up 25 percent. In between were chainwides (up 4 percent on average), consortia (up 5 percent) and flat rates (up 6 percent).

Adoption of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) remains “abysmally low” due to minimal availability, according to an April SimpliFlying report determining that although SAF production this year will triple to 1.875 billion liters, it will meet only 0.53 percent of aviation’s needs. Air-France-KLM leads passenger airlines with a “meager” 0.6 percent, while United leads in future procurement, securing off-take agreements for nearly 3 billion gallons of SAF.

Commercial airline fleets are expected to double by 2050, to 44,000 aircraft, and “will all run on (at best) a blend of SAF and regular jet fuel,” according to SimpliFlying. IATA estimated that SAF by 2050 would account for 65 percent of aviation’s carbon reduction en route to “Net Zero.”

According to an April report from nonprofit research center Resources for the Future, “Although SAF emerges as an immediate solution, as it is compatible with existing aircraft and infrastructure, it requires addressing issues such as limited technological maturity, high costs, feedstock sustainability, competition for resources from other sectors and lack of financial backing.”

A little more than one-third of 500 corporate travel decision-makers polled by Amadeus during last year’s third quarter indicated their companies had invested in SAF, and another 44 percent said they planned to invest.

Southwest Airlines last month acquired Saffire Renewables, which is working to convert agricultural residue feedstock into renewable ethanol. LanzaJet, in which Southwest also invested, would then convert the ethanol into SAF.

Qantas reported last month that 11 additional corporate clients joined a SAF program and agreed to pay “a premium” to contribute to SAF purchasing “rather than traditional carbon offsets.” The newest participants include Accenture, Commonwealth Bank, Deloitte, Fortescue, IMC, ING Australia, McKinsey & Company and Raytheon Australia.

Also last month, the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance said 20 of its corporate members agreed to buy $200 million of “high-integrity” SAF certificates in the next five years. That equates to about 50 million gallons of SAF, or 500,000 tons of abated CO2e, comparable to the “emissions of 3,000 fully loaded passenger flights from New York City to London.”

Forty organizations last month announced the SAF Coalition to help “rapidly scale investment in the SAF sector and advocate for the incentives and policies necessary to promote U.S. economic competitiveness in the emerging SAF marketplace.” American Express Global Business Travel and the Global Business Travel Association joined the group along with various airlines, aircraft manufacturers, agricultural companies, airports, tech firms, labor unions and biofuel producers.

The U.K. government in April issued a policy requiring all flights departing the country to use SAF for at least 10 percent of their fuel by 2030 and 22 percent by 2040.


Following our March 14 coverage of Amex GBT and data privacy protections, industry sources noted that we left out a key method companies use to demonstrate proficiency in this area: Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs). Governing data transfers to and from the European Union, these clauses are pre-approved by the European Commission and easier to implement than Binding Corporate Rules. They can supplement or serve in place of self-certification via the Data Protection Framework (DPF), which applies to EU-U.S. data transfers and offers a public registry.

TMCs and other entities can point to these different mechanisms when clients and prospects ask about their data protection procedures. 

“For a lot of clients, that’s the first thing they look at,” said CTM global chief information security officer Tim Krueger during a late March interview. “That attestation and documented report goes a long way. The audit processes are fairly clear. Where it gets challenging is because with any large organization you’d be entertaining as a client or prospect, there are no regulated questionnaires. The challenge is to be able to establish an effective means of communicating compliance so we can transfer data between entities without taking more time submitting answers to questions than actually focusing on security.”

Corporate Travel Management North America achieved its DPF certification a week after our March story.

Fox World Travel VP of information technology Jeremy Dyken said in a March 22 interview that the company was considering the DPF but had gone through the “very tedious” process of creating SCCs, which he described as broader and more comprehensive.

“It’s a necessary evil,” said Dyken. “The amount of data is exploding. The data we’re passing around is very personal information. We have a lot of personally identifiable information that is necessary to share, so we’ll continue to invest in protection. That’s table stakes. And one of the elephants in the room is artificial intelligence. The world has not really determined the appropriate safeguards, and we have not all adopted those. It’s a work in progress. The tech is moving so much faster than legislation.”

“The challenge with AI is access to the data,” said Krueger. “Where is that consolidated data being stored? How are you controlling the ability to delete it? With privacy, you have the right to be forgotten. So you need to be validating that this goes all the way through and is inclusive of any AI.”

Pithy Wisdom

Lisa Pierce, Air Canada

“There’s the traveler, who sometimes is the customer, and then there’s the buyer, who’s definitely the customer. And you have a travel management company. If you don’t recognize that whole value chain and you ignore one, you will fail. They all have, depending on the situation, greater influence or lesser influence. You may not make everybody happy, but you have to acknowledge that each of those stakeholders has an influence.”

Lisa Pierce, Air Canada VP of global sales and Air Canada Vacations, when asked during an ARC/ATPCo conference, “Who is the customer?”

Leave a Reply