Written on 9th March 2016

Creating a seamless business travel experience – the role of reward and technology

The Business Travel Show hosts each year over 50 thought provoking sessions each year, catering for all levels and knowledge requirements from the fundamentals of travel buying to the in-depth Masterclasses.

This year The Appointment Group’s (TAG) Group Strategy Director Andy Hampshaw was invited to take part in a panel discussion organised by AMEX. The event united four highly experienced travel experts (with a combined experience of over 100 years) discussing the future of travel, the influence of the millennial generation and the impact of technology on business travel.

The panel was hosted and skillfully mediated by Ashley Bowling, Sales Director, American Express Global Corporate Payments.

The Panel of experts participating in this discussion, included:

  • Francesco Deluca, Director of Sales and Client Services EMEA , Omega World Travel
  • Suzanne Horner, CEO, Gray Dawes Travel
  • Andy Hampshaw, Group Strategy Director, The Appointment Group
  • Helen Callaghan, Head of UK Corporate Sales, Kanoo

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1. What impact do you think the planned changes to BSP, from monthly to fortnightly payment, will have on TMCs and clients? How should Clients and TMCs prepare for this change?

The Billing and Settlement plan is a system designed to facilitate and simplify the selling, reporting and remitting procedures of IATA Accredited Passenger Sales Agents, as well as improve financial control and cash flow for BSP Airlines.

The payment terms of this plan will change, in June this year, from a monthly payment to a bi-monthly payment. This could potentially be the source of cash flow problems for TMC’s whose clients settle their payments on a monthly basis.

If the TMC’s have taken their responsibilities seriously, clients should have been notified, clearly explained what this change implies and what impact this would have on their payment process. The truth of the matter is that for larger TMC’s the issue will be easier to overcome, as a greater amount of their clients will be using lodge cards, which provides them with 30-day credit terms, without impacting the TMC. This is less the case for smaller TMC’s whose clients do not comply to the lodge cards criteria, they will have to establish a payment plan that works for both parties.

Andy Hampshaw comments: “BSP fortnightly remittance is out there, it’s happening. It’s the TMC’s responsibility to communicate this information effectively to their clients. Using lodge cards is really the best solution to overcome this issue and it has very little effect of the client.  Instead of paying the TMC they will pay Amex, without potentially losing the 30 day credit allowance.”

 

2. Are you using any new technologies to create a seamless travel experience, especially when it comes to booking and payment – for example, virtual cards? How important do you think technology innovations such as virtual cards and virtual payments are in achieving a high level of policy compliance?

Payment solutions such as virtual cards can be a viable solution. They have a certain amount of advantages these include:

  • Better management of cash flow
  • Greater security (avoids fraud)
  • Drives compliance

Andy Hampshaw adds: “Virtual cards make our (TMC’s) lives easier and they are beneficial to the clients as well. Virtual cards will allow Corporates to reduce the number of Corporate Credit cards handed out to their employees. Prepaid hotels on the virtual cards ensure compliance to preferred suppliers”

“There are still some issues that will need to be resolved on the back-end with administrative side of virtual cards, in particular we would like to see Amex and the other payment solution providers producing combined single statements for our clients, whereas they receive one statement for air transactions and a further statement for all ancillary transactions.  If this data could be captured on one combined invoice it would allow for far easier reconciliation and payment.”

 

3. The use of gamification and incentivisation is a key trend when it comes to travel policy compliance, particularly amongst ‘millennial’ travellers.  Do any of your clients use gamification and incentivisation to encourage compliance? If so, do you see this trend increasing in the next few years?

Incentivisation and gamification has been practiced for years with the mass-adoption of loyalty cards. This has successfully lead to travellers being increasingly loyal to certain suppliers with the objective of accumulation points redeemable for corporate or private travel.

Alternatively, an ever increasing amount of TMC’s will incentivise their staff to book travel within the corporate travel policies in place. Compliance being beneficial to all parties involved. Many TMC’s have also created dedicated “dashboards” for their clients so their employees can monitor their statistics and compare them to other teams within the company. The best compliance leading to some form of gratification.

This still remains a somewhat controversial issue as the implementation of gratification programmes and the creation of dedicated dashboards can be a costly affair. This type of incentivisation will therefore be more common in big companies, where the investment in such projects are largely outweighed by the benefits reaped from the incentivisation or gamification. This a lot less likely to be the case in smaller companies where this practice is less common.

Mr Hampshaw adds: “The practice of gamification and incentivisation will differ from industry to industry. Policy compliance can be tricky to implement at times, more so when this needs to be done in a ‘sympathetic’ and friendly matter. This is not a ‘one size fits all’ type of solution."

 

4. Thinking about your reporting back to your customers, how important is the issue of T&E and expense management? Are companies looking to achieve savings here, or are they looking for greater visibility on, and understanding of, T&E spend?

Reporting has become of increasing importance. Regardless of the size of the company, clients will have started to request greater amounts of data. This stems from both commercial and legislative requirements. Data supplied by TMC’s needs to be accurate, actionable and sufficiently in depth to be audited.

Since 2008 travel has come under scrutiny at it constitutes one of the larger overheads companies are looking to reduce. Information is key, but more so, it is all about how this information is interpreted and analysed to be of value.

It is the obligation of the TMC to highlight what they are spending their money on and demonstrate the savings made, but also indicate where savings could have been made but were declined.

Andy Hampshaw mentioned the notion of ‘investment’: “Travel is now viewed as an investment and it is imperative that as TMC’s we look at things in the same manner. The Travel/ investment must add value to the client.”

 

5. What kind of solutions and technologies is your company (TMC) looking for to enhance the traveller experience?

There is a lot of travel technology available to TMC’s and travellers alike, some offer great added value and many are more of a ‘gadget’ nature. Another element that very quickly comes into play when investing in technology is the significant cost.

The most important technology trend we are witnessing is the focus on ‘Travel alerts’. Corporate as well as leisure travelers highly value receiving and information in regarding their safety; strikes demonstrations, disturbances, health alerts and in worst case scenario acts of terrorism.

Many TMC’s are turning to technological solutions to facilitate the process of collecting, qualifying then dispatching the information to the relevant travelers. This is partially due to the duty of care, as well as it is a sign of the times.

To ensure the technology works, an increased involvement of the travel booker will also be required. Procurement will have a role to play in educating the travel bookers to actively help with the duty of care. Travel bookers have the relationship with the client, they are best placed to ensure contact details are up to date and ideally personal details are also collected. Technology is futile if we do not have access to accurate contact information and at least two means of contacting them.

Andy Hampshaw comments: “When you look at such tragic events as the recent terrorist atrocities in Paris, by far the most pressing issue in corporate travel is traveller safety and Duty of Care.  So TAG is investing in enhanced locate and report technology, destination safety reporting and general risk assessment.”

 

6. One other emerging trend in business travel is increasing use of sharing economy suppliers such as Uber and AirBnB. Are you seeing this reflected in your customers’ programmes? What effect is this having on the expense management process?

Instant access and cost awareness are two major factors in the raging success of companies such as Uber and AirBnB. TMC’s are unable to ignore this. In many cases technology has been introduced in people’s everyday life through the workplace, on this occasion it is the opposite.

People have grown increasingly comfortable using tools such as Uber and Air BnB in their personal life, which made their transition into the professional sphere quite a natural one.

TMC’s have started working with sharing economy suppliers and it is likely to gain further in popularity in the future. The only factor that is still preventing full adoption by TMC’s is the security aspect of using these suppliers. This does not prevent travelers from using these companies already, TMC’s will have to respond to this requirement.

Andy Hampshaw adds: “This is a consumer-driven market trend that is very unlikely to disappear. Regardless of the security matter, TMC’s will have to get used to this and evolve. Ten years ago we had a similar situation with low-cost airlines, no business traveller was ever going to use them because they weren’t practical, now we’re booking them on the GDS.  The same will happen with products such as AirB&B and Uber and all the rivals that will follow these hugely successful brands.  They are not going to go away, the industry needs to think how can we adapt and work with them, not how can we avoid them.”

 

7. Finally, what do you think the biggest impact of generational change in the workplace will be on travel policies? And T&E policy specifically?

It is very likely technology will be the main driver for change. Millennials are currently somewhere between 25 and 35 years old. The arrival of the millennial generation on the job market has had an impact on the increased use of technology, however the decision makers are from a generation less confident with technology.

With the rise of the millennial generation this will change, having grown up with technology there is no apprehension of granting it a more central point in the travel business. It is difficult to predict how the industry will evolve but is promises to be rather exciting.

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