These global travel managers are fielding a lot of new demands from travelers. Is this a sign of things to come?
Aside from employees wanting more information on sustainable travel options, or health and safety advice, global travel managers highlighted what’s on their colleagues’ minds as they prepare to travel on business again at an online conference on Wednesday.
The travel managers were speaking at travel management platform Deem’s Miles Ahead event on Wednesday. (At last year’s event, an irate U.S Army veteran talked about how the world made such a mess of reacting to the pandemic).
Here are a few areas the travel managers are now being quizzed on.
Am I Still a VIP Traveler?
Despite the ongoing extension of loyalty points, many flyers will find they’ve been inadvertently downgraded. And employees are worried, according to Tracie Saunders, manager, corporate travel and event planning at the Segal Group.
“A lot of our travelers had status. But what happens when that status disappears? People who were accustomed to being upgraded or expedited through lines, their travel experience will change without them doing anything,” she said. “When we think about ways to address that, it’s going to be a real scenario because there’s costs associated with securing some of those perks and benefits they had accepted as the norm. Their experiences are going to be different. I’m a little worried.”
Sean Parham, global travel manager at Snapchat, agreed. “With airlines, it’s just: ‘hey, can I get my status back?'” he said.
Is There an Alternative to Using the Phone?
Many corporate travel agencies still insist on taking bookings by phone calls, but that’s not going to cut it in today’s world of remote work, where employees work more flexibly.
Makiko Barrett of Automation Anywhere said she’s getting asked to remedy this.
“From my traveler base, I’ve received a lot of requests for expanded service hours from the travel agency, and also omni-channel,” said Barrett, who’s director, global procurement and travel for the software company. “They just do not want to do phones — they’re stuck in Zoom meetings, they can’t call, so how about a chat, text, and why does the business hour end at five?”
Another observation she made was that the requests were becoming more prominent because more employees were working remotely. “I feel everyone’s business hours are so much longer than before,” she said.
Can You Be More Flexible?
Again due to more employees working from home, Snapchat’s Parham said he was being asked to be more flexible when it comes to hotels. “We’ve always relied on our preferred partners, but with the new reality, that’s not going to fit because (our employees) are in so many locations. We’re seeing requests to add a lot more hotels to our program,” he said.
And as a social media company, it was only natural to go with a virtual-first work platform. “It’s made it challenging to determine what our travel patterns will look like,” he said. “We’ve had to come up with some new resources to meet the needs of people traveling from secondary markets that we never had before.”
Meanwhile, with the rise in people tagging on holidays to work trips, he’s had to address how staff book these trips, updating the travel policy on so-called “bleisure” for the first time. “All of a sudden they’re vacationing in Florida and want to tie that into a trip in Atlanta. There’s a whole back-end situation with them to reimburse the company. That’s the biggest things we’ve seen as a logistical issue,” he said.
The session, called “Prioritizing Travelers in the Next Decade of Business Travel,” also revealed some insight into how much corporate travel had actually rebounded. It’s still low, with Ken Spielfogel, global travel manager at Bank of America, sharing that before the pandemic, he was spending $300 million a year. It was now at about 20-30 percent of that, with a focus on client-related travel.
At Automation Anywhere, which has 1,800 employees, travel had returned to just 10 percent of 2019 levels. At Snapchat, which has 6,200 staff in 250 countries, company travel was at about 40 percent of 2019 levels.
Photo credit: Employees are worried about whether they'll keep their VIP status when flying in the future. Jacky Watt / Unsplash