Skift Take

Travel management firms face challenges helping their customers deal with widespread travel disruption this year, the inevitable knock-on effect from the wider industry's own struggles with labor shortages. CWT needs to staff up as quickly as possible.

Corporate travel agency CWT is refocusing on how it hires staff to “lever up” after the pandemic downturn, a period which saw it enter bankruptcy and switch its own CEO two times.

The Minneapolis-based agency wants to get back into growth mode, according to its new chief customer officer, after September’s $1.5 billion refinancing deal.

“The biggest challenge is how do you manage that spike in demand,” said Nick Vournakis — a 22-year CWT veteran who took on the new role in January this year.

Calling Up

CWT is now revisiting how it rewards employees, looking at its compensation and bonus schemes. Vournakis said the agency was also able to bring back furloughed capacity after its pandemic “realignment.”

“We need to recognize how to be more aggressive and an employer of choice,” he said. “Attrition in the industry is pretty rampant and therefore competition for skilled expertise is also fierce … it’s important to ensure we’ve got the economics right in terms of competitive pay and potentially variable pay.”

During the coronavirus crisis the company also invested in technology to enable frontline staff to work remotely, and in the pandemic’s latter phase it trialed predictive analytics company Zytlyn, which diverts resources to where they are most needed. The platform predicts future travel demand to and from specific routes, overlaying CWT’s historical booking patterns, helping CWT with resource management, supply requirements and capacity planning.

Vournakis said one concern was manning its call centers, despite the ongoing industry focus on adopting new technology in the business travel sector. CWT now wants more frontline staff to answer the phone, and Vournakis said competitors were bullish in by encouraging customers to use digital channels for booking.

“Getting those questions answered by a human rather than a machine, that’s really important. There are very few digital tools that are effective in making changes to trips and itineraries,” he said. “We’ve to make sure we’ve got all of the right infrastructure, getting our frontline enabled, our people and technology to support the resurgence in travel … You’ve got people calling.”

Industry Crunch

Travelers are starting to feel the pain of widespread staff shortages, with airlines both in the U.S. and Europe struggling to cope. Cabin crew strikes will also likely affect operations later in the summer, which could drive more calls from business travelers looking to rebook as their schedules change.

CWT isn’t the only one addressing the issue. American Express Global Business Travel’s newly acquired Egencia division recently opened a new hub in Gurgaon, India, to focus on travel management, global technical support, website reliability engineering and e-commerce.

There are 144 employees, with space for more than 275 people. “Our talented team in India will continue to innovate, enhance, and build products supporting our customers and give travelers the best user experiences, unmatched content, and unbeatable service,” said Pratik Modl, senior director, technology and India lead at Egencia.

Free Daily Newsletter

Sign up for the most popular Skift daily download of news, happening, and headlines in the travel world

Tags: american express global business travel, bankruptcy, business travel, corporate travel, covid-19, cwt, labor, travel management

Photo credit: The travel industry is struggling to cope with demand spikes. Hiurich Granja / Unsplash