View From The Frontline
My colleague and I were discussing what's going to happen when we get over the disruption caused by COVID-19.
We try to prop each other up mentally, considering the gloomy state of the office. It's like doing the Christmas shift it's so quiet, so we try to imagine that our friends and colleagues are at home enjoying some much-deserved family time.
Meanwhile, we're busy sorting out cancellations, re-bookings and refunds for our clients.
Business Travel: Disrupted
I have watched the industry unravel in front of me on my screen, as governments close their air space and airlines upload reduced flight schedules every week. Hotels have closed down - it feels like summer is over before it even started!
Our business travellers, a combination of Millennials & Generation Z, have a mixed state of emotions. Some are shaken, some are catching up with work that was piling up and some are tapping their feet, waiting for it all to be over. However, they are adapting well to the situation, given the current societal shifts. Many of our travellers are essential workers, who are out and about every day.
Some of our clients are still calling and emailing us for help altering the trips they had already booked. We are handling things as we go - booking new trips for our essential business travellers and postponing others.
With all this time on our hands, we have more time to reflect and re-evaluate. It's a good time to research and learn more about our industry. This helps give us a better perspective of what lies ahead.
Fundamentally, the business travel industry piggybacks on the global economy - so, we move as and when the world moves. We exist to ensure people move efficiently from A to B and when they stop, even temporarily, it shakes our infrastructure to the core. It’s more critical than ever that different sectors of the global economy re-energise themselves.
In order to do that business travellers must do what they do best and make the world move. One could argue that business travel will return as soon as economies around the world start to stabilise, but the truth is business travel is the catalyst to achieve this.
Travel Management - Disrupted
I'm confident though that the TMC is here to stay. In the past TMCs have overcome worse situations and I believe we can definitely overcome this one too. Some were already shifting to home working, so this ensured the workforce was ready to deal with the major disruption, even without the government guidelines. This proves how resilient and prepared we are as a business, even in the face of such adversity.
I would like to see TMCs going further by offering Cloud based meeting as part of the business travel program, making more use of technology and digital partners. The tech giants have not escaped this global economic crisis, so they will be eager to work with their partners to add even more value for the client.
Supply Chain: Disrupted
In terms of the TMC supply chain, we already have contactless air and hotel check-in and the increased demand for hygiene and social distancing will expand this further to flight departures, cabin crew, food and beverage preparation and other in transit services.
The trial of empty middle seats for European short haul is already planned for longer haul routes, to ease concerns regarding social distancing, however, this will mean lower capacity and higher fares. Airlines may also increase existing ancillary charges for economy passengers for baggage check-in, legroom and meals.
Airlines are now working on various modelling scenarios for how and when demand returns, at what levels, and what prices travellers will pay - in order to make a profit on a specific route or flight. We will see additional security measures such as alternate seating, mandatory face masks, prohibition of food and beverage on board, passenger and crew temperature screening - some will even be denied boarding. All of these measures will come at extra cost.
In terms of how we - the frontline staff - are preparing for the future, we are making the most of the spare time that we have, to improve our skills and to expand our knowledge. Keeping up to date on client and traveller expectations in the "new normal" is very important to our role.
Our frontline service will need to evolve as our industry does, to meet the new demands of our clients. Travellers will be uneasy at first and will need reassurances regarding destination risks, visa requirements, health requirements, hygiene and sanitation of the supply chain, and general duty of care essentials.
Reducing risk and ensuring the safety of business travellers will be our priority for our clients, so transactions will take longer initially, requiring more human intervention. The future TMC may end up providing a more concierge-style service, which will be complemented by digital technology.
No-one knows what the future holds, so during this downturn I'm investing in developing my skillset further, by taking a Business Travel Professional Diploma. It's inspiring me and keeping me motivated, whilst helping me to continue building my career. I've learned all about the history of business travel, not only is it fascinating but it reminds me that unless you know your history, you cannot plan your future.