Who’s driving change and leading business travel’s recovery? Which companies and products are turning heads? And what travel trends are going to punctuate the year ahead? Compiling this annual Hotlist has never been an easy task, but transitioning from a period of immense disruption in 2020 to, hopefully, the renaissance of business travel in 2021 adds an additional challenge.
Will the companies and products that delivered respite for travel managers and travellers continue to be influential in the calm that follows the storm? Which trends or concepts appearing on the horizon now will truly gain traction in 2021?
This year, we enlisted the help of three former ‘Hotlisters’ and three industry figureheads to help the BTN editorial team and its regular contributors to compile the definitive list of 20, whittling it down from nearly 200 remarkably diverse nominations – see foot of page for details.
There was by no means universal agreement, while several nominations fell short by virtue of their embryonic existence or uncertain timelines. They include Flypop, the low-cost airline due to launch services in Q3 this year between the UK and secondary cities in India. It aims to be the first truly carbon neutral international airline and also supply one meal to the homeless for every meal sold onboard.
Another airline, JetBlue, which “remains committed” to launching transatlantic services this year, was another contender. Elsewhere, ETIAS, the European Travel Information and Authorization System, had originally been due to launch this year – and may still do so – but is now not expected to become fully operational until 2022.
There was no room for the likes of mobility platform Jryney, the forward-thinking travel team at Google, and duty of care concepts like Venture, PinPoint and Global Secure Accreditation, nor more nebulous trends such as subscription services, dynamic hotel agreements, risk management and fantastic examples of collaboration from industry stakeholders united in their battle against the impact of Covid-19. They all missed the cut, but read on to find out the people, trends and products that comprise BTN Europe’s 2021 Hotlist.
Digital health passes
Digital health passes
Julia Lo Bue-Said
Julia Lo Bue-Said
Travel Vitals, from Amex GBT
Travel Vitals, from Amex GBT
ECO, from CWT Solutions Group
ECO, from CWT Solutions Group
Working from Anywhere
Working from Anywhere
Serviced apartments booking technology
Serviced apartments booking technology
APPG for business travel
APPG for business travel
VDR's Carnier, Biehl & Diemer
VDR's Carnier, Biehl & Diemer
THE 2021 HOTLIST: PEOPLE
THE BUSINESS TRAVEL ASSOCIATION
The Business Travel Association’s chief executive has been one of the industry’s most visible figureheads throughout the coronavirus pandemic and set in motion a series of significant initiatives. Wratten has frequently conveyed the struggles of the business travel industry through mainstream media channels but also earned the ear of the government. He was influential in establishing the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Business Travel, while he and his team launched the BTA Cares initiative to offer advice, training and recruitment opportunities for those out of work. He has been candid about the industry’s plight – not least that of his TMC members – and, in partnership with Nina & Pinta, increased the volume around the reform of TMC remuneration models. Wratten has shown tremendous leadership through this difficult time and has ensured our industry’s voice has been and will continue to be heard.
JULIA LO BUE-SAID,
ADVANTAGE TRAVEL PARTNERSHIP
Another voice of reason during the pandemic, the chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership juggled the concerns of both the leisure and business travel sectors, supporting its largely SME members across both sides of the beleaguered industry. She instigated daily video updates for members in the immediate aftermath of travel being grounded, lobbied government for greater support, and ensured the industry’s plight was heard through a series of TV and radio appearances. “Julia was at the heart of the industry during 2020 and her passion for the business and for people has shone through. She has represented the industry with integrity and done so in her usual warm manner. I am proud to be in an industry that has people like her to represent it,” says easyJet’s James Marchant.
RICHARD EADES, BP
The global category manager for travel, meetings and events has been widely praised for steering bp’s business travel strategy during the pandemic but was making waves well before the crisis. The bp global travel team has completely overhauled its programme, most visibly through the bold decision to move from a legacy TMC to tech-led Egencia. More recently, Eades has aligned the travel programme with bp’s company-wide objective of becoming a carbon neutral energy provider by 2050 or earlier. And he is also working with meetingsbooker.com to incorporate flexible work space solutions in the platform as bp embraces the trend for remote working. “Richard acted quickly and decisively when the pandemic broke to safeguard his travellers and ensure all the correct measures and steps were in place with various providers to facilitate [Covid] testing for crews heading offshore,” said one supplier partner.
BEX DEADMAN, BLUE CUBE TRAVEL
Blue Cube Travel’s managing director is carving out a reputation for challenging the status quo and taking her ‘constructive disrupter’ attitude to the wider industry. The straight-talking TMC boss has helped raise the profile of her mid-market organisation, and increased the volume around both the industry’s plight and forthcoming travel risk standard ISO31030. Notably, she has also helped the TMC forge ahead, pre-pandemic, with the provision of a subscription fee model for clients – a first for a TMC of Blue Cube’s size. “Bex is on a mission to pioneer changes and push boundaries for the greater good of corporate travel,” said one commentator.
VDR’s CARNIER, BIEHL & DIEMER
Headed up by president Christoph Carnier (pictured), Germany’s travel managers association VDR has long been one of the most formidable organisations in corporate travel, noted for having the ear of both Berlin and Brussels and for its detailed, practical advice for members on legal and regulatory issues. VDR responded robustly to Covid-19 by appointing former AirPlus managing director Patrick Diemer to head a Restart Business Travel taskforce, while managing director Hans-Ingo Biehl’s 2016 prediction that Privacy Shield – a framework for enabling data transfers to the US – would be invalidated, was proved correct.
THE 2021 HOTLIST: DEVELOPMENTS
Will Covid-19 vaccines prove to be the silver bullet that restores normality to the world and prompts business travel recovery? The industry is certainly pinning its hopes on it. Even so, travel managers do not expect spend to surpass 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels until the latter half of the year, according to an ITM poll. “The roll-out of a vaccination programme gives hope that 2021 will begin with an increased air of certainty and confidence when it comes to booking travel,” says Paul McManus, head of supply at OYO Europe. “International travel will become practical again without the need for quarantine, and people will be in a much better place to resume face-to-face meetings and event participation without such threat of a spread.”
DIGITAL HEALTH PASSES
As airlines’ Covid testing trials continue and the widespread availability of a vaccine becomes tantalisingly close, the need for travellers to document negative tests – or proof of vaccination – is inevitably going digital. The likes of CommonPass, Ink Aviation, VST Enterprises and Zamna all have interests in facilitating this, be it through smartphone apps or an extension of existing APIS requirements. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce courted controversy when he suggested proof of Covid-19 vaccination would be a condition of international travel, although a Sky News poll appeared to back the notion – 54 per cent of 1,700 respondents felt it would be acceptable to limit air travel to only those who’ve had the jab. “This is going to cause more headaches for business travellers and someone is going to have to define the recognised norms,” says Areka Consulting’s Pacal Jungfer. “What will be internationally recognised? What will not? It’s one more stress for business travellers.”
SERVICED APARTMENT BOOKING TECHNOLOGY
The nature of the long-stay offering has long been a barrier to corporates being able to search extensive apartment inventory online, view live availability and instantly book it. That is changing, however, with several offerings now up and running just as the serviced apartment sector looks poised to capitalise on new preferences in the post-Covid business travel environment. “At last the serviced apartments industry has a live booking tool that aggregates travel policy information. It’s been a long time coming but with Orbi, SilverDoor has worked hard to make it worthwhile,” says business travel journalist Catherine Chetwynd. “But a bit like London buses, several come along at the same time, and these include SITU’s Live Global Network and res:harmonics, which was recently updated to add property connections to channel management and pricing partners, better to cater for disparate lengths of stay.”
APPG FOR BUSINESS TRAVEL
Established last autumn, the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group for Business Travel has provided the sector with a voice in Westminster – even if many of the pleas it has heard to date, such as for more industry support, more practical quarantine procedures, and government-led pre-departure testing regimes, have not ultimately been acted upon. Nevertheless, its significance should not be underestimated as Westminster finally processes the intrinsic link between business travel and economic prosperity. “This is a real game-changer,” says Suzanne Horner, chief executive at Gray Dawes Group. “Although today it’s focused on Covid and all things related, this platform will continue forward and allow us to participate and give guidance to government in all business travel-related matters.”
The rather insipid-sounding ISO31030 standard comes into force this year, specifically covering the management of risk associated with business travel. It falls under the ISO31000 Risk Management standard and will shape the way corporates, TMCs and suppliers approach their responsibilities to risk. “More than most sectors, the travel industry has long espoused the virtues of risk management and duty of care, but with so many variances on what defines best practice, it has struggled to articulate its value and effectiveness,” says Chris Pouney of GoldSpring Consulting. “All that will change with the implementation of ISO31030, a standard for suppliers to aspire to and buyers to demand. The sector is about to adopt the rigour and structure it has long deserved.”
THE 2021 HOTLIST: COMPANIES
The accolades are coming thick and fast for London-based Thrust Carbon which also landed the BTN Group’s Innovator of the Year Award last November. Founded in late 2019 by Kit Brennan and Mark Corbett, the travel tech startup is helping corporates build more sustainable travel programmes with several tools including the Thrust Calculator. It crunches complex data to measure emissions for travel and other business activities, and presents emissions information via customisable reports and suggests offset opportunities to mitigate climate impact. Meanwhile, the company’s Thrust Widget integrates into booking tools to present emissions data and offset options within the booking process. “Innovative and game-changing,” said one commentator. “Thrust Carbon will make a lasting difference to our planet, and 2021 should be a big year for them.” The Advantage Travel Partnership, whose members include around 200 independent TMCs, would undoubtedly agree – it signed a partnership with Thrust last summer as it became clear sustainability will be a key consideration for corporates as business travel recovers. “I really welcome this sort of innovation. Thrust should provide leverage to corporations with the objective of becoming carbon neutral within three to five years, which many have,” says Areka Consulting’s Pascal Jungfer.
The business travel consultancy took the bull by the horns in 2020 and developed the Permissible Travel Framework that helped so many corporates prepare for a safe return to business travel. The widely shared work “served as a standard for corporate buyers to create a plan around the return of travel,” says Daniel Tallos, travel manager EMEA at Nike. “They unselfishly shared it on public forums. Well done – great work.” Not ones to rest on their laurels, next up from managing partners Caroline Strachan and Paul Tilstone is the Purposeful Travel Framework which “will be a tremendous help to buyers as we proceed to re-imagine business travel programmes in the new normal,” says another travel manager. “Their communication efforts, innovative initiatives, and advocacy of collaboration especially during a time of crisis like this is quite commendable, and truly rallied the travel management industry.”
Browser plug-in Shep was originally designed to help corporates get to grips with travel programme leakage but in the year of the pandemic successfully pivoted to integrate Covid-19 related messaging in booking tools. It aims to bring together Covid-related information in the booking flow as a browser extension for Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge as well as compatible online booking tools. Additional capabilities include pre-drafted email templates that travellers can access when planning a trip requiring pre-approval, along with flexible data sourcing, including the ability to integrate via API with third-party risk monitoring services. FCM Travel Solutions took a minority stake in the company last year, such is its potential.
THE 2021 HOTLIST: TRENDS
Many of us embarked on a technological learning curve as Zoom, Teams, GoToMeeting et al permeated our working lives as the coronavirus pandemic crept across the world, but videoconferencing is unlikely to disappear as swiftly as it was adopted – even if screen fatigue has set in and inadvertently helped demonstrate the value of face to face meetings. “With in-person meetings and events likely to resume slowly and tentatively in 2021, combining physical events with virtual elements will be a key stepping stone to returning to some sort of normality,” says business travel journalist Rob Gill. “This demand for hybrid meetings is going to seriously accelerate because of the pandemic. The big question will be whether technology platforms and internet connections can successfully create ‘seamless’ hybrid meetings? The pressure will be on.”
WORKING FROM ANYWHERE
The concept of digital nomads has been around for several years but the pandemic has highlighted just how many employees can continue working effectively from home… or almost anywhere they please. “No other event has led to such a swift change in the way we work and how employees communicate with customers as well as each other. The shift to remote and entrepreneurial work styles will not immediately reverse once the virus is under control,” says Dan Godfrey VP of HR for OYO Europe. “Whether for practical, economical or social reasons, flexible working will remain in place and companies will be judged as much on how they support their workforce through this fundamental change as through their output.”
Proof that not all Hotlist entries are necessarily of a positive nature, industry consolidation has accelerated amid the pandemic, with growing numbers of mergers and acquisitions and, sadly, vast numbers of job losses and several business failures – and the trend is expected to continue well into 2021. Suppliers have been hard hit, with the likes of Norwegian and Hertz seeking bankruptcy protection, while Korean Air and Asiana are due to merge and Accor are rumoured to be interested in sealing a deal with IHG. TMCs have suffered perhaps most of all, though, as business all but dried up. In the UK, Business Travel by STA, Thornton’s Travel and Horncastle Executive Travel all ceased trading, while the Business Travel Association believed half of all business travel jobs were at risk. At the global level, Travel and Transport finally succumbed to CTM’s advances in a $7.6 billion deal which could set the tone for further M&A activity.
Companies who’d set travel-related carbon reduction targets prior to the pandemic will have outperformed expectations in 2020, but there is widespread recognition that the grounding of air travel and subsequent restart is an opportunity to embed more sustainable travel initiatives. Among recent pledges is Boston Consulting Group’s goal of cutting its business travel-related carbon emissions at least 30 per cent per full-time employee by the year 2025 from 2018 levels. Microsoft, meanwhile, has signed a partnership with Alaska Airlines to reduce carbon emissions with flights powered by sustainable aviation fuel on its key business travel routes from Seattle. “Sustainability will take centre stage in a post-Covid world,” says GoldSpring Consulting’s Chris Pouney. “Younger employee demographics, along with an understanding that some travel will never return in a post-Covid world, will see sustainability being a defining factor in travel programmes for ever more.”
THE 2021 HOTLIST: PRODUCTS
TRAVEL VITALS, FROM AMEX GBT
Planning travel during the height of the pandemic was a logistical puzzle with a mass of new rules, restrictions and protocols in place. Step up Travel Vitals from American Express Global Business Travel which brings together a wealth of searchable detail pertaining to business travel in a single hub. Updated daily and powered by an internal incident response team and risk management partner Riskline, this altruistic offering was made available not just to clients of the mega TMC, but to anyone who sought such information, free of charge. The TMC says the platform is a long-term investment. “Having all that information in one place has been absolutely invaluable,” says one travel manager who wished to remain anonymous. “We’re not an Amex GBT customer but our own TMC hasn’t provided anything like this.” Pascal Jungfer of Areka Consulting adds: “I really valued this proactive effort for the greater good of the industry.”
Originally due to open last year, the highly anticipated Londoner will finally welcome its first guests in the UK capital this April. The 350-room, 16-storey hotel from the Edwardian Group is located on Leicester Square and will feature a ballroom with capacity for 864 people, six F&B outlets, two screening rooms, seven meeting rooms and a gym, wellness centre and pool. The £300 million hotel has been developed to exceed the BREEAM Excellent category for environmental and sustainable performance and has secured a £175 million Green Loan from HSBC UK – a first for the hospitality sector.
ECO, FROM CWT SOLUTIONS GROUP
Launched last autumn, CWT Solutions Group’s ECO framework is designed to help corporates reconsider their approach to the three Ps: people, planet and profit – a triumvirate that has never been more significant than now. Representing Employee wellbeing, Climate impact and Organisational performance, the ECO offering is an “avenue through which companies can simultaneously create an engaged and motivated workforce, reduce their environmental impact and manage costs more effectively”, says CWT. The framework has attracted particular interest from customers in the professional services, engineering, banking, e-commerce and energy and resources sectors ahead of a return to business travel. “Travel management is only going to become more complicated but the wellbeing of employees and sustainability, alongside travel programme performance, are unlikely to be shifted from the top of an organisation’s list of top priorities post-Covid,” says business travel journalist Rob Gill. “CWT’s ECO framework creates a practical roadmap allowing clients to find the ‘sweet spot’ between what can be competing objectives. Responsible travel has never been more important and initiatives to help corporates navigate through this tricky process will be paramount.”
METHODOLOGY & THANKS
BTN Europe’s 2021 Hotlist was compiled by the Business Travel News editorial team with the help of the following people to whom we extend our gratitude: 2020 ‘Hotlisters’ Suzanne Horner, chief executive of Gray Dawes Group; easyJet’s James Marchant, and Paul McManus and Dan Godfrey of OYO; plus Alison Rogan, director of travel and expense at Barclays, Pascal Jungfer of Areka Consulting, and GoldSpring Consulting’s Chris Pouney; and freelance business travel journalists Catherine Chetwynd, Amon Cohen and Rob Gill. Nominations opened online on 5 November 2020 and closed on November 30. Nearly 200 nominations for different people, products, companies and trends were lodged. These were initially whittled down to 77 by the BTN editorial team before being shared with nine industry figureheads who helped shape the final 2021 Hotlist. Contributors were asked to disregard nominations where there was a conflict of interests, and inclusion of a person, company or product on the Hotlist does not mean it was endorsed by all contributors.