Serko’s Tony D’Astolfo is always ready to serve his two cents with a smile.
There’s been a lot of talk about the Great Resignation. And while we could debate why it’s happening, something not up for debate is how hard the travel industry has been hit by it. Hospitality executives lament the difficulty of replacing on-property staff that left during the pandemic, labor shortages are tanking airline operations, and even Uber and Lyft are struggling to secure drivers.
Recruiting the next era of travel professionals was a growing challenge for the industry before the pandemic hit. Now, the issue has only been compounded.
On a more positive note, leisure travel now exceeds 2019 levels and travel restrictions and mask mandates have been relaxed. The skies are getting brighter for the industry overall with occupancy, load factors and prices all on the rise. But the good news comes with challenges, as demonstrated by operational issues that continue to stress the travel ecosystem.
With business travel on the upswing, it begs the question: Have we prepared our travelers for the return? And should that preparation be considerate of the impact the Great Resignation is having on service?
I think the industry has done a good job of preparing travelers when it comes to duty of care, travel restrictions and regulatory items. Booking platforms provide information at the point of purchase regarding airline policies, vaccine and country requirements, hotel cleaning policies, and anything else to increase traveler comfort and help them get back on the road with confidence.
Most business travelers will return to the road easily, like riding a bike. They will adapt as they did post-9/11.
But I think there is one difference we need to consider. If I am on my first vacation in two years, it’s a lot easier for me to accept a crowded airport, longer lines, a dearth of eating options, longer wait times for rides, and reduced on-property service staff at hotels. But business travelers, especially road warriors, may not be as used to or accepting of these changes. As an indicator of that, a recent survey by the Global Business Travel Association showed that “staffing shortages” caused one-quarter of buyer respondents to “halt some business travel entirely.” Given that we all have a vested interest in the return of business travel, I ask you, is halting travel the best way to deal with this? Coming off two years of doing without most business travel, do we really want the message to be, “The going might be tough, so better to stay home”?
The topic of service challenges and who’s to blame surfaced in recent Op Eds by Brad Seitz and Nick Vournakis in The Company Dime. I’ll leave it to my esteemed colleagues and good friends to figure out whether anyone is to blame, as my message today is more about how we deal with the situation.
Every business travel company has been hit hard by the Great Resignation. It will take time for these companies to be able to provide the kind of service business travelers expect. While technology can relieve some of the present stress, not all problems can be fixed with technology, especially in the near term.
But if we take a step back here, while certainly no fun when it was happening, people seem to revel in telling their best travel nightmare stories. In fact, they often serve as a “badge of honor” for the most frequent of travelers. I’m not going to dismiss the impact of missing a big meeting or your kids recital — although I sat through a few of those and I recall thinking, “This might be worse than being downgraded to a middle seat in coach.” The fact remains that we’ve all lived to tell the stories and further cement our road warrior legends. (Why do you think we call the most frequent of travelers “warriors,” anyway?)
I, therefore, have a very simple suggestion that might relieve some pressure and give our industry time to get back on its feet, service-wise. It is a simple message to advise (or, in some cases, remind) our travelers of what to expect when they get back out there but to also give them a little “tough love” in advance of their next business trip. Maybe something along the lines of …
We’re happy to have you back on the road. Your arrangements have been made considerate of your personal needs and in line with the company’s policies and obligation to keep you safe and comfortable.
We’re also here to assist should you need anything during your trip.
As your travel guides, we also want to advise you that our suppliers and partners in travel are still experiencing some staffing challenges brought on by the last two years. Please be patient with them as they work to get things back to normal.
Travel is a tool you have very successfully used to get your job done and it might be a little less enjoyable in the coming months. While we are here to help, remember that our travel management company can’t find another pilot, our airline partners can’t make the air traffic control system work better, and our hotel partners might not have the staff to refresh your room every day, so be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. If the travel gods are not on your side on your next trip, try to remember that it will get better and we don’t call you road warriors for nothing.
A simple message like this could shed some light on the situation and help frame a traveler’s perspective for what might be a less-than-optimal experience. And if all ends up going smoothly, I don’t think anybody will balk at encountering a pleasant surprise.