It was summed up by Nikki Rogan when she said, "Price is still important but sustainability and safety are in the mix."
Nikki, who is responsible for the travel programme at Synamedia, was speaking on a "What's Next for the Travel Buyer" panel on the second day of this week's UK's BTA/GTMC (see below) conference. Her fellow panellists, Jo Lloyd of consultants Nina & Pinta and Stephanie Smook, ACTE regional director EMEA, highlighted traveller well-being/traveller centricity as the number one issue for travel managers.
By the time of this panel it was no surprise that price was now merely one of the runners and riders rather than in the clear lead.
On the opening day delegates were reminded about how embedded sustainability had now become in corporate strategies.
Sustainability has stormed back onto the corporate agenda after slipping off in the wake of the 2008 global economic slowdown. The difference now is a universal belief that it is here to stay and needs to be addressed in travel programmes before corporates experience any reputational damage.
Solutions are not straightforward. The GTMC offset the cost of all 170 return flights between the UK and Amsterdam for the conference. However, there are no universally accepted standards for offsetting, nor is there an agreed best practice or roadmap. What is the best way of offsetting? Directly with the airline, with a dedicated carbon offset organisation or via an agent or other third party?
To factor sustainability into supplier sourcing is complicated. Airline fuel is only one element in the aviation carbon calculation — electric airport buses, eco-friendliness of aircraft, adjustments in flight altitudes, the use of non-single use plastic, etc. are all factors.
And it's not just air. Choosing rail over car might be a better choice.
And it's not just transport. Do you ask travellers to stay in the property of a hotel group with a robust sustainability policy in preference to one without whose property just happens to be 5 miles closer to the traveller's meeting?
Supplier choice is definitely in the mix. The question of whether RFPs were still desirable or necessary was raised. Continuous sourcing may have rendered RFPs obsolete because of revenue management practices such as dynamic pricing but still necessary for TMCs because the right fit for consultancy and problem-solving isn't determined by best price on the day. Have the TMCs avoided commoditisation while suppliers may have succumbed to it?
So many of the specific points were well-taken but not surprising.
Some stunning graphics from Mike Croucher, chief architect at Travelport, had illustrated a changing landscape including how the traditional travel department approach of minimising cost, expense management and duty of care was diminishing as corporates increasingly focused on the long-term wellness and retention of people. Organisations' objectives are evolving from cutting cost to gaining maximum value from each employee.
At this same conference the GTMC itself too announced that it was changing. It has rebranded as the Business Travel Association (BTA) to represent the changing dynamics of the industry, namely that the lines of demarcation were falling. It was no longer only about the commercial interests of one segment, namely travel management companies, but had expanded its scope to address partners, customers and, indeed, business travel's needs.
"Our commitment to unifying our members and partners behind solutions to cross-industry issues remains strong and we are excited to build upon this work for a brighter future," said Adrian Parkes, CEO BTA.
Globalisation was about working and trading cross borders. Borders are now disappearing between priorities, functions and sectors.