Travel buyers are three to five weeks into navigating the Covid-19 emergency. Those first weeks were dominated by crisis response, cancelations, repatriations, internal communications and ensuring continuity of service amid changing travel management company configurations. With those immediate needs met and some hopeful signs on the near horizon, GoldSpring Consulting partner Neil Hammond’s thoughts turn to managing programs as activity springs back. Here he considers how to address some of the airline program issues ahead.
Trips And Tickets
In the short term, managing canceled trips and unused tickets requires constant review to ensure a consistent process is in place. Think about the optimum moment to cancel trips in order to receive credit or a refund. Review your TMC’s staffing and processes for tracking cancelations and unused tickets.
Review airline communications regularly as situations change. The different dispositions between airlines may inform your communications to travelers regarding supplier selection.
Review your TMC protocols and online booking tool settings to ensure proper ticket types are purchased. With seat selection, baggage space and refund policies changing, consider allowing basic economy fares in the short term.
Review advance-purchase policies. At the moment, same-day ticket prices are rock-bottom. Ensure travelers understand that while advance-purchase requirements may be relaxed for now, they should be ready for them to be reinstated at some point.
Ensure you establish communications with your travel policy oversight management team so you can make updates rapidly in this changing environment. Set up regular communications with your traveler population. Make it simple and clear. Do not over communicate.
As travel picks up, communicate to your travelers these three key near-term considerations:
• Ensure the purpose of the trip is understood and achievable, and that there are no barriers to doing business during that trip.
• If health is a concern, or travelers are unwell, tell them not to travel. This should be a constant throughout the Covid-19 crisis and after the pandemic subsides.
• Review the responses of your travel suppliers. What precautions have airlines, hotels and ground transportation providers put in place?
There are varying opinions on how the supply/demand dynamic will evolve. Will airlines prioritize maximizing profitability or protecting and growing market share? The speed of the recovery will determine much of this, but don’t be surprised if availability becomes an issue at some point along this journey.
In the longer term, there are some strategic items to address that we should now begin to think about. The financial stress of this period may force some airlines to go out of business or become candidates for a merger or acquisition. Some degree of consolidation in the industry is to be expected, so a review of the financial health of your critical providers should be on your to do list.
Keep an eye on forward-looking QSI (also known as fair market share, accounting for a carrier’s schedule, frequency and capacity on a given route). Update airlines’ coverage overlap for your program based on the QSI analysis. This will help you identify gaps and opportunities, assess performance targets and decide on partner configurations and whether to issue a request for proposals.
As your organization emerges from the crisis, it will have undergone some financial stress. Travel may be an area of focus for savings. Will your emphasis shift from customer experience to cost control? Will this translate into a stronger mandate for policy compliance? Compliance translates to volume and market share for your preferred suppliers; consider leveraging it for deeper discounts.
Talk to your preferred airlines about how you can help them achieve their own goals. They may be focused on distribution costs, bundled services and pre-paid arrangements. They may be open to a discussion about balancing the use of unused and new tickets.
We’ve witnessed tremendous creativity and ingenuity in our industry in recent weeks. Buyers and airlines can demonstrate what it really means to problem-solve and be good partners. We all have a vested interest in making this work. Plan ahead and be ready.
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