By ITB Community and Bertrand Saillet, Managing Director, Asia at FCM Travel
With a significant change in the proportion of which corporate travel makes up the total activity of travel, and the future profile of travelling segments likely to change fundamentally; how will corporate travel rebound? Is video conferencing a long-term substitute? What is the future of corporate travel and its ecosystem including airlines, hotels and travel management companies (TMCs)?
As we look to the years ahead, ITB Community had a conversation with Bertrand Saillet, Managing Director, Asia at FCM Travel, to explore how to prevent corporate travel from having its own “Kodak Moment”.
2020 was a year of change resulting in a different set of focus and different business priorities by our customers as well as business travellers. So can you tell us a little bit more about what these changes have been and what innovations will emerge from this?
No doubt 2020 was a year of transition in a lot of ways. And for companies looking at their own corporate travel, a lot has shifted in their priorities. As you know when the crisis started back in early 2020, the main priority was to understand where my travellers are, how I can get them back to where they should be, what is happening with all the border controls, and some countries have basically stopped people from coming in or getting out.
Of course this is where TMCs have had a huge role to play around Duty of Care, getting information back to the companies, and making sure that customers would get the right amount of information and support, to do what they have to do and prepare employees to get back safely. I guess that was a big shift in the minds of a lot of travel managers. Many of them already knew about the importance in this area but COVID-19 just accelerated the change and transformation towards a much more controlled programme.
In particular, it was about looking at the travel policy through multiple angles. It is not only about whether travellers go on business class or economy, but about how I get a partner that can help me through the change and transition of a travel policy.
It is about Duty of Care: Getting to know where my travellers are, and how I make sure they are safe.
It is about information, and I think the key word right now is about information: How do I know what sort of visa I get if I need to travel to a particular destination? What are the different steps to get from point A to point B? How to make it easy? This is something that we as a travel management company have responsibility of, to make sure that we bring to the companies, the right level of information that gives them the peace of mind, so they have the right environment for their travellers to be safe.
Do you foresee any specific changes when it comes to corporate travel segments either in verticals or by markets?
Travel tomorrow is never going to look like travel yesterday. Firstly, a lot of companies are re-looking at their travel policies, and some has already mentioned that they want to have a more flexible working arrangement, they want to have people to work from home. So that means corporate travel is going to be consumed a bit differently.
Secondly, at least for the foreseeable future, it will be about understanding the health requirement to get on the plane or to cross the borders. Digital health apps are going to be very important, ensuring that vaccination and PCR testing are checked. We as a travel provider need to ensure that we cover the end-to-end and make sure that companies have a reliable partner that can get their people on the planes. This includes partnerships with healthcare institutions for PCR testing, vaccination or other requirements, and apps that can store all of this information to allow travellers to go through the different controls. I foresee that this is going to be a big shift.
When it comes to the question around industries, it is quite difficult to see right now but the marine and energy businesses have been quite steady during the crisis because people still need to board ships.
We also noticed that the financial sector and construction industry is still very strong because they still need to get people around.
In general, companies are quite desperate to get back on the road because they need their sales teams in front of their customers for investment in different countries. For the growth of companies, they need to get people back to travelling. So it is going to be interesting to see what will happen in the foreseeable future.
Can you share about some trends that may emerge in the travel industry as a result of this pandemic?
From the beginning of this crisis, it has been very difficult to anticipate trends because everything is changing by the day. But one thing that is pretty obvious is that this industry will consolidate further because the smaller players will experience some struggle in catching up with technology requirements to operate during and post-COVID. To survive through this crisis, TMCs have to secure investments to get some cash-lines and ensure that they can get through this. The bigger you are as a company, the easier it is to secure funds.
I believe corporate travel is going to become a tech playing field.
The ones who can come up with innovative technology solutions that feed the needs of the travellers, bookers and travel managers are going to come back strongly after this crisis. The shift has happened, and the shift is going to gear towards technology and innovations to make complex travel easy, which again is why we are here: to solve problems for companies and allow them to get back on the road.