On the boards of a set of 14 business travel suppliers tracked by The Company Dime, female representation doubled between 2012 and 2023 to 30 percent. One of them has a woman serving as chair, the same number in that role among the group as in 2017 and 2012. The number of female CEOs in the set went from one to zero.
IHG’s board now has more women (six) than men (five). Subject to European Union gender balance regulations due to take effect in 2026, Amadeus has five female directors out of 11 total, up from one of 11 in 2017.
“Women now hold one in four of all chief-level positions at hotel companies, although mostly in human resources and sales/marketing roles,” according to an American Hospitality and Lodging Association Foundation report released in May and based on data generated with Penn State’s School of Hospitality Management. “At the director level, women now occupy an equal number of positions as men. Women have experienced gains in leadership positions in hospitality investment and development since 2019, going from one woman for every 10 men to one woman for every 7.9 men.”
“There were incremental gains that women made accessing senior and executive leadership roles,” said Anna Blue, president of the AHLA Foundation. “Progress is progress. At the very top? Women are 6 percent of hotel industry CEOs. But women hold 64 percent of chief human resource officer positions, showing that there’s still bias in what roles are designated for us.”
Speaking to the crowd at GBTA’s Winit Summit in Brooklyn, N.Y., last month, Blue went on to question terms like “empower,” which she said implied passivity, and “seat at the table,” which raises the question of who owns the table. “Imposter syndrome” puts blame on the individual rather than the system, she said, whereas feelings of uncertainty are normal.
“So much focus is on fixing women instead of fixing workplaces,” said Blue. “The workplace was designed for men. So the answer to gender equity will never be to fix women or any individual — anybody who is disadvantaged or discriminated against. We have to fix the systems that are making it harder for people who are suffering from the inequities.”
Women are challenging norms and systems through their presence on corporate boards. Researchers published last week in Harvard Business Review learned something about just how. Women tend more than men to be “well-prepared and concerned with accountability.” They’re “not shy about acknowledging when they don’t know something, are more willing to ask in-depth questions and seek to get things on the table.” They change the dynamic by creating a more open atmosphere, allowing for discussion of a greater variety of topics.
Within corporate travel management, Global Business Travel Association research published in June found that three in four corporate travel managers were women — unchanged in surveys dating back to 2005. Conducted in February and based on responses from 275 travel managers, the latest research found women represented in six in 10 programs with travel spend of at least $30 million per year, which tend to provide more compensation than smaller companies.
Two-thirds of 263 corporate travel manager respondents to a Business Travel News July 2022 survey were female, but “the average salary for those who identified as male was 19 percent higher — $121,254 for women to $144,088 for men,” according to the published findings. “There has been some improvement in the salary gap, but not much.”
From the Department of Rules of Thumb of TMC Economics, publicly traded Indian travel agency Yatra earns in revenue about 5 percent to 6 percent of every dollar its corporate clients spend on travel, according to recent executive commentary. That compares with 8 percent for American Express Global Business Travel in the quarter ending in September, which was up from 7.4 percent a year earlier. One of India’s largest online travel agencies, Yatra also claims to be the most populous nation’s largest corporate travel management provider, with more than 800 large corporate accounts — including EY, KPMG and PwC — and about 50,000 small and medium-sized enterprises. Generally, the Indian corporate travel market sports about a 10 percent online adoption rate, according to Yatra.
Fitch Ratings on Friday joined S&P Global in downgrading CWT’s credit rating following the travel management company’s debt restructuring announced Nov. 9. Like S&P, Fitch said it expected to upgrade its rating after gathering more info about CWT. For now, though, it saw “the equitization of the senior secured notes” as a “distressed debt exchange” designed “to avoid an eventual probable default.”
Diageo, TripAdvisor Named As Clients Of Kayak Partnership With ‘Hot Startup’ Blockskye
At its marquee conference this month, Phocuswright highlighted several corporate travel-related innovators as “Hot 25 Startups for 2024.” We first covered Blockskye in 2018 but headlines hit harder this year with the reveal of its large client, PwC, in partnership with Booking Holdings’ Kayak. Kayak CEO Steve Hafner at the conference said beverage maker Diageo and travel review firm Tripadvisor were also using the service, called Kayak for Business Enterprise, for their corporate travel. Meanwhile, Phocuswright also named AI-based call center operations optimizer Acai Travel, hotel RFP facilitator BTP Automation and decentralized travel identity and profile network provider Travlr ID.
Can I Get An Intro? Lodging Leaders Court Your C-Suite
“Why aren’t there 50? Because there aren’t. Forty-seven truly meet the criteria.”
That’s what Hyatt VP of global sales Gus Vonderheide said about the company’s roster of global enterprise accounts. The criteria include a revenue threshold and multi-continent business. The most important aspect, though, is to connect Hyatt with corporate senior leadership. “These are strategic, not transactional opportunities,” Vonderheide said at GBTA’s Dallas convention in August . “These are decades-long relationships.”
Marriott limits the number of global enterprise-level strategic corporate accounts and Hilton also has a set of parameters. During a Nov. 2 webinar conducted by GBTA and sponsored by HRS, Hilton executive director for strategic accounts and corporate group sales Shawn Parker described the qualifications.
These are the “highest-value,” long-term customers for the Hilton enterprise, generating revenue in multiple segments, with multiple brands, across multiple geographies.
While its important to consider total spend — encompassing travel, large and small meetings, incentive trips, project business, leisure and so on — “it’s not just about having that spend alone,” Parker said. “It’s really about what can you influence and what can you move.” That means demonstrated ability to hit targets and achieve program compliance, including use of designated booking channels.
“Especially with our strategic accounts partners, we’re very keen on knowing, are we one of many or are we one of a few?” Parker said. “If we’re talking about convergence, delivering that to 10 partners is much different than delivering that to two or three.”
Another component is Hilton’s access to client procurement leaders, the C-suite and other stakeholders. “If there’s a vice president of sales that’s having a sales kickoff, we want to know that person and we want to have a relationship,” Parker said.
Hilton also prioritizes companies that operate a centralized strategic meetings management program and align with its ESG goals. Dynamic pricing already in place also “would indicate a maturity of the overall relationship versus a brand new or cold starting point,” Parker said.
AI Gives Adobe Answers At A Time Of ‘Delicate Balance’
Adobe is starting to use an internally built AI-powered expense bot to improve policy compliance and collect data for program improvements. Expense violators get messages, and their feedback has been enlightening, said senior manager of global travel Kathy Burdge.
“We started to see trends which then led to business decisions,” Burdge said during a Nov. 17 webinar conducted by The BTN Group and sponsored by Navan. “It led us to look at our high-cost cities and adjust our policy. They were spending over meal limits because they weren’t realistic in the current environment, with inflation. That’s one small example.”
Why did a traveler book outside of the program? Hypothetically, ” ‘It’s because supplier X marketed directly to me, and I was able to get a better deal,’ ” Burdge said. “Or, ‘I was in the middle of an irregular operation and needed to do this directly.’ “
She said this info could help with program management and supplier relations. Adobe’s business operations group “helped us think big and really understand what’s possible,” Burdge said. “Bringing someone in with a fresh set of eyes and new ideas is really refreshing because it challenges the way we’ve always thought that we have to manage these things.”
Adobe is looking at embedding answers to common questions, like how to book or pay for travel and extend a business trip for leisure.
“The other challenge that we all have is around the pace of innovation,” said Burdge. “How do we get them the right information at the right time? We don’t expect a traveler to understand what NDC is, but we do expect a traveler to trust our programs, and I think we’re in this really delicate balance right now.”
United Execs Discuss Continuous Pricing, Aircraft Gauge And Wi-Fi
United Airlines’ NDC and EDIFACT fares are different “about half the time,” according to VP of pricing and revenue management Dave Bartels, and when they are, the EDIFACT fare will never be cheaper. Oftentimes they’re different because of United’s use of continuous pricing in economy and premium cabins, which doesn’t work through traditional indirect distribution.
During a set of online presentations last week geared to corporate clients, Bartels explained that with continuous pricing, once a $200 fare bucket is sold out, for example, rather than a step up to, say, a different fare class at $250, the traveler gets an in-between offer with the same rules associated with the $200 fare. Essentially, that means “you’re buying access to the closed class,” he said. In EDIFACT, “you are only going to be able to access the $250 fare because the $200 fare is closed.”
During another session, managing director of domestic planning Mark Weithofer showed where United, like other big carriers, is swapping out regional jets for mainline aircraft, including business-heavy routes from Chicago. “For example, we had 80 percent of our flights to Charlotte on a regional jet,” Weithofer said. “Even LaGuardia-Chicago, which is one of the largest markets in the whole country, was 10 percent on a regional jet. All of these have been converted over to all mainline with the the fall schedule this year. We will offer all mainline to Chicago’s top 25 destinations going forward.”
Overall, United’s mainline operation is 20 percent larger than it was in 2019, and the airline plans to make a similar shift away from RJs for service to Canada. Following the creation in 2022 of an Air Canada-United transborder joint business agreement, the carriers now offer a “shuttle-type schedule” connecting big markets in Canada, including Toronto and Vancouver, to Chicago, New York and San Francisco, according to Weithofer.
Meanwhile, United SVP of inflight services John Slater was asked if the airline would offer free inflight Wi-Fi. His reply: “At this point, we are not looking at free Wi-Fi because we want to make sure we have a consistent and strong product, and you can really rely on it when you’re getting on board. Retrofitting our aircraft comes with new and improved fast Wi-Fi. This is extremely important to us and we know that right now we have a modest price point, but we do offer that to be subsidized a bit if you have a Mileage Plus credit card or if you are a Mileage Plus member.
Controlling costs remains travel management’s raison d’être.
Lest anyone think the pandemic vaulted traveler wellbeing, comfort or productivity to the top of the list, cost management easily out-prioritized all that for more than 300 travel buyers/procurement professionals surveyed last month by the Global Business Travel Association.
Traveler safety and security, the second-most-cited strategic priority for 2024, is an imperative for most organizations. It’s often a multidisciplinary effort, with travel playing a supporting role. The same goes for sustainability, cited as a top travel program priority by nearly 40 percent of polled buyers.
“There are a number of factors that are impacting some of the big corporates, whether that be concerns they have about macroeconomic conditions, whether that be sustainability goals that they’ve set for themselves,” said Marriott CEO Tony Capuano during a Nov. 2 conference call with Wall Street analysts. “Whatever it might be, it is having some impact on the pace at which their travel volumes recover.”
Corporate travel volumes continued to grow during the quarter ending in September while recent indicators pointed to weaker domestic leisure air and lodging demand.
Corporate travel in aggregate remains below pre-pandemic peaks, with SMEs up and large corporates still down. The slowdown in leisure lodging had Tripbam EVP David Mollov telling corporate buyers during his company’s Nov. 2 webinar that the seller’s market could be ending. “These hotels with significant cost pressures are going to have to fill those rooms,” he said. “It’s a big opportunity for the business travel side.”
Marriott CFO Leeny Oberg told Wall Street analysts last month that the company anticipated “another year of strong growth in our special corporate rate, on top of very strong growth in that rate in 2023.”
Asked about the same, Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta said, “When you add it all together, the fixed and the dynamic — most of our pricing is dynamic at his point — it’s probably in the upper single digits.”
October 2023 hotel market rates were up 5 percent year over year, according to Tripbam, while the average rate paid by its clients was up 3 percent.
“That says to me buyers are starting to get better at being able to negotiate,” Mollov said. “Last year, hotels were asking for double-digit increases. The savvy buyer leverages other areas of opportunity and nudges that down.”
To mitigate rate hikes, Tripbam recommended a continuous sourcing approach, dynamic pricing (there are some “situations where the dynamic price is not as competitive, but better than chainwide, in a lot of cases), rate caps, audits and reshopping.
Global distribution systems ceded a few percentage points of share among booking channels for hotel reservations in the United States, according to Amadeus data. As a group, their piece of the pie shrank by one-quarter since 2019, when they accounted for 12 percent of the total. Direct channels picked up a point while CRS lost two points and OTAs stayed flat. Brand was the big winner, picking up 4 percentage points in the past four years.
Suppliers generally are stepping up efforts to incentivize customers to use their websites by offering bonus loyalty points, prices not available in indirect channels and other perks. Hilton last month announced a new direct-book program designed for small and medium-sized businesses.
Globally, the GDSs’ share of hotel bookings in 2023 fell to 9 percent from 11 percent in 2019, while brand channels gained 4 percentage points and accounted for 32 percent, according to the Amadeus numbers.
Around The Web
• Good read from Harvard Business Review on “How Generative AI Will Transform Knowledge Work.”
• Here’s a report from The Washington Post about how the industry is opposing the crackdown on “junk fees.”
• Research by McKinsey finds that “travel loyalty program members have become increasingly disloyal.” According to the consultants, “If this trend continues, it could eventually create a vicious cycle: airlines would cut loyalty program budgets if they deemed them ineffective at influencing customer behavior, lower budgets would lead to reduced program benefits, and less attractive benefits would result in customers perceiving program participation as having less value.”
• Cranky Flier kept up its critique of AA through a podcast episode comically and painfully highlighting ongoing issues with NDC and a Nov. 16 post on AA’s sales and agent support strategies: “There is so much to pick apart here that I don’t even know where to start.” On the next day, View From The Wing trashed AA’s new small business program.
• We love levity from The Economist. This time it’s “The curse of the badly run meeting.” Beware the manager-saboteur in your midst.
“A mentor of mine came along and said, ‘Katie, why don’t you try giving 70 percent? You’ll be just as good but you won’t be burning out.’ I thought, ’Seventy percent? How do I do that? What does that involve?’ This was someone saying to me that it’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to not always be operating at 100 percent. And doing that, adopting that 70 percent, changed my life. I realized that I needed that balance, to take a step back and think about where to spend my energy and where not to spend my energy.”