As a very different travel management landscape unfolds before us, Business Travel News Europe celebrates the people, organisations and developments that are driving industry change and influencing their peers.
For the first time since 2020, our annual Hotlist is not characterised by the impact of Covid-19. While some entries have indeed secured their spot as a direct result of the pandemic that blighted this industry, you’ll also find several new organisations on this year’s Hotlist that have made their mark on the industry during their fledgling existence, but also some well-established names broadening their horizons – plus one 'new' development which is more than a decade old but is only now showing signs of taking off.
Five influential people, six pioneering organisations and eight key developments comprise this year's Hotlist which paints the picture of an industry at an inflection point. Selecting them from more than 200 diverse nominations was not straightforward, with only a handful of entries universally selected for inclusion by contributors.
Those missing the cut this year but worthy of honourable mentions include the UK's Institute of Travel Management for its tremendous support for buyers and outreach to the wider industry; Jo Layton, who is working wonders at rapidly growing serviced apartment specialist CAP Worldwide; Guy Snelgar, in whom the Advantage Travel Partnership has landed a big-hitter in business travel; travel management companies American Express Global Business Travel and TripActions; Spotnana, which is rumoured to be on the brink of something big; Concur, which will roll out highly anticipated upgrades this year; Travlr ID, which claims to be redefining travel profiles; and carbon reporting platform Chooose which recently started working with Amex GBT and landed $15 million in funding.
They all narrowly missed out, but read on to discover the diverse cross-section of our industry’s finest advocates, innovators and significant trends that comprise the 2023 Hotlist...
THE 2023 HOTLIST:
Aurélie Krau has been a leading advocate of ‘working from anywhere’ for several years, a passion first broadcast long before the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the concept’s more widespread acceptance. Krau has worked and travelled across Europe, the United States, Asia and Latin America in recent years, before setting up base in Dubai, “a typical work from anywhere destination amidst the pandemic which has now become my hub”, she says. Having worked for American Express, CWT and consultancy Festive Road where she came to prominence, Krau has a thorough understanding of how working from anywhere is entwined with business travel, said one Hotlist panellist. Krau joined meetings and collaboration specialist Hubli as head of customer success last March where she continues to live and breathe what she calls ‘#missionnomad’. “The way we work is changing. The way we meet is changing. The way we travel is changing,” she said at the time of her appointment. This is Krau’s second appearance on the Hotlist, having been named ‘one to watch’ in 2016, but now ordained as a fully-fledged Hotlister.
Keeping it social
Siemens’ commodities manager for UK/IE travel Emma Eaton has beaten the drum for ‘buying social’ – the sourcing of goods and services that support their local communities or reinvest in good causes. While scope for doing so in the travel space is currently limited, Eaton has nevertheless been successful in contracting hotels and meeting venues that do exactly that, and has partnered with Social Enterprise UK to identify further opportunities. Moreover, she has enthusiastically championed ‘buying social’ among her peers, included it as an element of RFPs, contributed to several articles and a case study for BTN Europe, and took to the stage at Business Travel Show Europe to discuss making travel programmes a force for good. In a happy coincidence, one of Siemens’ preferred social enterprise partners is the Good Hotel, located adjacent to show venue ExCeL London, which a number of hosted buyers attending the event were invited to experience for themselves. “Across the supply chain internally we've set some quite ambitious targets, such as positively impacting as many lives in the UK as Siemens has employees,” she told us in an interview last year.
In 2011 the US-based National Business Travel Association changed its name to the Global Business Travel Association and broadened its focus. A decade later the organisation appointed its first vice president who is not from the United States when Mark Cuschieri, London-based head of global travel management at UBS, stood uncontested for the role. He stepped into it six months after Suzanne Neufang was brought in as GBTA’s new chief executive to steady the ship after a tumultuous 2020 and is credited with further globalising the organisation since his appointment. Last year he was additionally named chair of GBTA’s Sustainability Leadership Council and helped stage the organisation’s first sustainability summit in Brussels. “Sustainability is the topic of our times. But caring about sustainability doesn’t mean giving up on travel altogether. People and economies need to travel for business – and have an environmental responsibility to do so sustainably,” he says. Cuschieri was previously chair of GBTA’s advisory board for more than two years and, in the UK, had been the Institute of Travel Management’s chair of the board for a two-year term. “Mark is dedicated to advancing business travel and is generous with his time, having held many voluntary roles. He is well respected, influential and a valued mentor to many,” said one Hotlist contributor.
Nora Lovell Marchant
Appointed vice president of global sustainability at American Express Global Business Travel in 2021, Nora Lovell Marchant has the task of steering not only the environmental strategy of the world’s largest travel management company but also of influencing – and enabling – the actions of its very many multinational clients as they pursue their own environmental goals. Sustainability milestones under her tenure include the pilot of a sustainable aviation fuel book-and-claim platform in partnership with Shell Aviation, the launch of its Green Compass consulting solution, and the recent integration of emissions information specialist Chooose. Internally, meanwhile, she leads the TMC’s formal commitment to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) – the company expects to submit a target for official validation by the year’s end – as it targets net-zero by 2050. And in 2022 Amex GBT became the first travel management company to join the World Economic Forum where it has committed to Clean Skies for Tomorrow and the First Movers Coalition, while it is also a partner of IATA’s Fly Net Zero ambitions and has achieved Platinum EcoVadis status for its ESG standards. “Hers is a position of great responsibility and potentially huge influence in our industry’s efforts to abate its environmental impact,” said one Hotlist contributor.
A long-time challenger of the status quo, industry consultant Scott Gillespie is one of business travel’s most influential thinkers. And although one recent hypothesis was met with a cool reception by some – Gillespie’s assertion that we should all fly business class to mitigate our environmental impact – he has struck a chord with the launch of triptester.com, a tool designed to help users assess the necessity of a trip and its potential impact on the individual and the environment, and with his critique of current widely adopted emissions KPIs, specifically emissions per passenger. A better KPI, he argues, is to consider CO2 emissions per $/€/£ spent on air travel, accommodation, car rental or meetings. “The carbon intensity metric will prove to be an easy and effective way to report and compare a travel programme's progress toward its decarbonisation goal,” says Gillespie. “Expect TMCs to calculate this metric for their corporate accounts and to provide the relevant benchmarks for each industry.”
THE 2023 HOTLIST:
Founded in 2018 by Vivi Cahyadi Himmel, CEO, and Karolina Saviova, COO, corporate housing specialist AltoVita enjoyed substantial growth in 2022 – and landed investment to continue that trajectory. Knitting together the highly fragmented corporate housing landscape and aiming to reduce legacy 48- to 72-hour bidding processes to a few minutes, the London-headquartered company provides a proprietary platform and reporting dashboard for enterprises – it counts around 100 multinationals among its customers, including Hewlett Packard, Google and US government agencies – and a series of perks for start-ups, including discounted booking fees and no security deposits. AltoVita achieved 486 per cent year-on-year growth in 2022, driven by expansion into the US and Asia-Pacific, and doubled its headcount. And in December it announced a $9.5 million Series A investment round which it said will help it “reshape the technology landscape and build the largest inventory in the $201bn corporate accommodation sector,” taking it from more than one million fully vetted accommodation options in 1,500 cities currently, to 2.5 million across 35,000 locations by the end of 2023. The company noted it had secured the investment in a market which has seen less than two per cent of VC funding in 2022 going to female-led businesses.
Travel tech giant Amadeus may be a well-established name but two developments of note clinched its inclusion on this year’s Hotlist: the integration of booking tool Cytric Easy in the Microsoft Teams collaboration platform, and the impending launch later this year of a new payments business. Last spring, the company introduced travel search and book functionality for Cytric users within the Teams environment, which developed over the course of the year to become a more native experience within the platform. The two companies announced a multi-year global strategic partnership in 2021 to develop products and solutions designed to “create smoother travel experiences in the future” – and the Cytric integration certainly achieves that. Meanwhile, Amadeus announced in November its plans to launch a new payments-focused business with a prepaid virtual card set to be its first offering. The company said it would launch Outpayce as a wholly owned subsidiary to meet its goal of offering “frictionless travel payments” to clients. No resting on its laurels here.
Greater than the sum of its parts
The European Network of Business Travel Associations, handily known as BT4Europe, was formed in February 2022 to give travel buyers a united voice in Brussels, something its 13 founding member associations – including Germany’s VDR, Spain’s AEGVE and AFTM in France – felt the travel buyer community had previously lacked. The combined effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the demise of ACTE and a growing number of policy and regulatory developments at EU level accelerated ‘years of talks’, said the organisation which is led by treasurer Dominic Short, secretary Lotten Fowler and chair Patrick Diemer (pictured above, left to right), respectively of the Switzerland, Sweden and Germany’s travel buyer associations. With an underlying goal to make business travel easier and greener, the organisation released two position papers in 2022: the first called for standardised emissions data to enable the sector to reduce its environmental footprint, while the second appealed for the ‘full digitisation of business travel’ to improve efficiencies – and uptake – of multimodal travel across European borders. “We have an opportunity to raise the voice specifically of travel buyers, not just the suppliers who are already well represented with their industry bodies in Brussels,” says Diemer.
The only hotel brand to have landed on the 2023 Hotlist is Peninsula Hotels, with the Hong Kong-based luxury operator opening both its second and third hotels in Europe this year following its continental debut in Paris nine years ago. The 177-room Peninsula Istanbul will throw its doors open on the banks of the Bosphorus in February, set within the Galataport waterfront revitalisation project in the historic Karaköy district. Three of the four buildings comprising the hotel are protected historical landmarks. Following in quick succession is the Peninsula London, overlooking Hyde Park Corner and the Wellington Arch, with 190 guestrooms that the group claims will have the largest average room size in the capital. The addition of two hotels in Europe to a portfolio of 13 globally delivers a double dose of opulence.
Connecting the dots
Flying somewhat under the radar is travel tech provider Snowfall for whom 2023 could prove a significant year. The company was established in 2003 by Stefan Cars and primarily provided operational and retail tech solutions to travel industry resellers, but rose to prominence in 2021 when it launched Junction, a platform designed to address fragmented multimodal journeys, and then in 2022 came to the rescue of widely praised booking tool PSNGR1. Snowfall’s plans for the OBT, which secured the People’s Choice award at BTN’s Innovate conference in 2021, remain sketchy but it will at least add its own content and companion features to the tool. In Junction, meanwhile, it claims to have “a product revolutionising travel distribution and retailing” that “empowers providers and resellers to create seamless, door-to-door traveller experiences”. It comes at a time when hybrid working and a generational shift in the workforce are seeing shared mobility options and sustainability concerns rise up the agenda, trends that come right under Snowfall’s remit.
Getting to the core of the matter
In March last year travel management company ATPI divested a suite of eight proprietary technology modules, thus giving birth to TripStax, an independent company providing a “premium and proven tech stack” underpinned by central data processing system, the Core, and led by tech evangelist Jack Ramsey. The company’s goal is to “reduce the overly complex web of integrations between third-party vendors” and in doing so enable TMCs to manage data more consistently and cost-effectively. It’s been hard to miss the company’s vibrant presence at industry events but it’s not all for show, it would seem. It claims a “significant TMC customer base” that includes former owner ATPI and has won contracts over the past year that will involve “more than 100 agencies in locations around the world”. And in its first 12 months it has also acquired booking tool TapTrip from ATPI and other shareholders, and in December struck a deal to buy hotel booking platform Hotelzon. “2023 is the year to take control of your data and take advantage of it,” says Ramsey.
THE 2023 HOTLIST:
Carbon budgets & taxes
Addressing environmental impact
With efforts to reduce the environmental impact of business travel programmes intensifying, more corporates are turning to carbon budgets or taxes – two different mechanisms designed to achieve the same goal of steering employees to lower-carbon travel choices, or even not travelling at all. It is not a new concept. Microsoft introduced an internal carbon fee a decade ago, with $15 per metric ton of carbon emissions levied on business trips and reinvested in environmental projects. What is new is that the influential company is ramping that fee up to $100 from financial year 2023 and will continue to increase it “at an accelerated rate through FY30”. Meanwhile, both Siemens and HSBC introduced carbon budgets last year. “We want travellers to consider carbon in the same way they have always considered cost when thinking about making business trips,” says Claire Turner, HSBC’s head of concierge travel and events operations. “Our overall strategy is to travel half as much and make the experience twice as good.”
The great awakening
The sleeping dragon awakens. After three years of a pandemic-induced lockdown, China finally ditched its strict zero-Covid policy and reopened its borders on 8 January, allowing inbound visitors and outbound Chinese residents to travel without the need to quarantine. The last major Covid barrier to fall, China’s reopening saw airlines, including Emirates and Etihad, resume services to the business hubs of Beijing and Shanghai, while more than 408,800 scheduled flights are expected to depart from China in January, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. CWT China, meanwhile, reported a 150 per cent leap in bookings between 26 December and 2 January. However, the extent to which China’s reopening will affect international business travel remains unclear. Cirium’s data shows a recovery trajectory that is largely domestic, with international departures still 89.8 per cent down compared to pre-pandemic levels. Several European countries have also rushed to implement new testing rules for arrivals from China, which may deter businesses, and the EU has recommended that passengers from China provide a negative test – a move that has been met with criticism from airline and airports organisations.
New red tape
After multiple delays, the European Travel Information and Authorisation System, or ETIAS, is finally due to go live this November and will introduce significant red tape changes for visitors to the EU. Under the programme, visitors from outside the EU who currently have visa-waiver status – which includes travellers from the US and, since Brexit, the UK – will have to apply for ETIAS approval to visit the region. Applicants will have to pay a €7 fee and, if granted, travel approval will last for three years. Applications are expected to be approved “within minutes” for the “vast majority of cases”, says the EU. Similar in operation to the United States’ ESTA programme, ETIAS is being implemented to improve border security through the pre-screening of non-EU visitors and was first discussed by the European Parliament in 2016. The scheme had originally been due to go live in 2021 but was postponed to 2022 and then put back again to May 2023, before a November launch date was confirmed last summer. Better to delay the programme and get it right than to implement it with errors, believes the EU, which might also need to ramp up communications around the scheme to avoid a debacle upon its launch. “This is going to be a huge issue both administratively and behaviourally for UK travellers in particular,” said one Hotlist panellist.
All aboard European rail
Moving travellers off planes and on to trains is one of the simplest measures that businesses can take to begin ‘greening’ their travel programmes. And while some organisations will follow the lead of influential corporates doing just that, such as BCG Consulting, PwC Netherlands and Salesforce, greater powers could also force their hand. Only last month the French government’s plans to ban domestic flights where there are regular rail alternatives of less than 2hrs, 30 mins were approved by the European Commission. And while the Netherlands has previously tried to ban all domestic flights but was scuppered by EU regulation, a government-imposed cap on the number of flights at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport could be implemented later this year. Increasing competition between operators sharing networks and the introduction of new sleeper services between key European cities could take modal shift to another level, even if concerns remain about the accessibility of rail content in corporate travel tools. That might be remedied by the European Union’s Multimodal Digital Mobility Services (MDMS) framework which is designed to ensure access to all rail content for all distribution channels, with draft legislation due in the first half of 2023.
New Distribution Capability
A decade in the making
What’s that you say, NDC? On the 2023 Hotlist? The distribution standard that’s been around a decade without really going anywhere? Well unless you’ve not been paying attention, you’ll know that developments are finally afoot in the airline distribution space and several carriers are forcing the issue. Designed to enable airlines to better differentiate and sell their products, services and offerings, NDC’s protracted progress is now accelerating. American Airlines announced it will be live with NDC content in all three major GDSs early in the second quarter of 2023 but then went a step further at the beginning of December, telling travel agencies they need to be connected to the carrier's NDC technology by April to ensure access to its full range of content. Even more recently, Finnair said it will introduce continuous pricing via ‘modern distribution channels’ and remove domestic flights from traditional EDIFACT-based platforms. “It is interesting to see another carrier testing the readiness of all players for mass NDC adoption,” said one industry observer. Meanwhile, Kim Hamer, senior director of global travel and events sourcing at Visa, was named Travel Manager of the Year 2022 by BTN in the US, after she brought together United Airlines, travel management company CWT, booking tech provider Serko and NDC aggregator Travelfusion to deliver United bundles specific to Visa through the NDC standard. A new distribution dynamo indeed.
Getting back on track
When business travel came careening back last year there were large chunks of the industry that found themselves short-staffed, with companies having made layoffs during the pandemic or losing employees to industries perceived as more secure than travel. Cue a summer of disruption at airports and long waiting times to speak with travel consultants. Although some holes have been plugged, staff shortages persist for many in our industry and finding the right talent or ambition will remain an issue in 2023. “The challenges TMCs face regarding staffing levels are ongoing. We don’t anticipate the mass recruiting of 2022, but we do still see the need to be consistently attracting and retaining business travel staff across the board to fulfil service levels, particularly at operational levels,” Emma Gregory, director of Urbanberry Recruitment, recently told BTN Europe. “Companies must also be mindful of thinking differently about recruitment going forward and invest in training for emerging talent.” The good news for candidates is that average wages in the travel industry increased by 12 per cent in 2022, according to C&M Travel Recruitment, which saw its records broken for the number of vacancies it helped fill every month from March to August last year. "Last year set numerous records for vacancies and job placements, with spring and summer 2022 being the busiest period for travel recruitment that we have ever seen in the past 25 years,” says the company’s Barbara Kolosinska. “Almost all companies in the travel industry searched for new employees last year and we're seeing very few signs of this changing as we begin 2023.”
Self-sovereign identity & blockchain
Web 3.0 possibilities
For several years there was lots of hype around blockchain and what it could mean for the travel industry, but then… well, not very much happened. But now there is a growing number of technology evangelists who believe that what blockchain enables, such as self-sovereign identify (SSI) and smart contracts, will underpin the future of travel. SSI seeks to wrest power back from the tech giants, giving individuals control of their own digital identities and letting them share only those elements they wish to and with whom they choose, all while that information is securely stored on blockchain-based technology. “What this technology allows us to do as individuals is to mete out portions of who we are and create a bidding process – bidding for us,” says TravelScrum co-founder and chairman Gene Quinn. Experts believe loyalty programmes are one of the best use cases for SSI, giving suppliers the opportunity to deliver personalised deals. Chain4Travel, for example, is in the process of building a blockchain dedicated to the travel industry called Camino and is already working with Lufthansa to give Miles and More loyalty members a wider range of discounts. Travala, meanwhile, is a blockchain-based hotel booking platform, Pinktada is building a marketplace for hotel room nights based on NFTs, and TravelX is says it is building new blockchain-based distribution and retailing infrastructure for the travel industry. Also experimenting in this environment is EY, which after a pilot in the US last year, is rolling out globally a platform that allows employees to book tailored leisure travel deals. It is working with blockchain specialist Winding Tree and two unnamed airlines. Ian Spearing, EY’s global innovation and technology leader, says the project shows a “clear case” that such a set-up could be used in a larger corporate booking environment. Watch this space.
Sustainable aviation fuel
A long-term solution?
Barely a week went by in 2022 without at least one news story on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). For the uninitiated, this sustainable fuel creates up to 80 per cent fewer carbon emissions than traditional jet fuel during its life cycle and can be dropped straight into existing aircraft engines. The aviation industry is betting the house on SAF becoming the main driver in its goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. This has led several airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and Air France-KLM to create SAF platforms for corporate clients to contribute towards the fuel’s cost. Finding new ways to increase SAF use will be crucial – for example, American Express Global Business Travel’s ‘book-and-claim’ platform, Avelia, allows clients to buy SAF regardless of whether it goes into the aircraft their travellers are flying on, while TripActions enables customers to invest in SAF with Neste, a leading provider. Demand for SAF isn’t likely to be the main problem, despite being more expensive than kerosene – creating enough supply will be a much larger hurdle in this journey.
METHODOLOGY & THANKS
BTN Europe’s 2023 Hotlist was compiled by the Business Travel News editorial team together with the help of the following people to whom we extend our gratitude: 2022 ‘Hotlisters’ Linda Bekoe, chief executive of independent hotel sales and marketing business AP LBC, and Stephen Swift, travel manager EMEA & APAC at Ford, plus independent consultant Chris Pouney and Carol Randall of Partnership Travel Consulting. Nominations opened online on 29 November 2022 and closed on 30 December. More than 200 nominations for different people, products, companies and trends were lodged. These were initially whittled down to around 100 by the BTN Europe editorial team before being shared with the aforementioned industry figureheads who helped shape the final 2023 Hotlist. Contributors were asked to disregard nominations where there was a conflict of interest, while inclusion of a person, company, product or trend on the Hotlist does not mean it was endorsed by all contributors. The 2023 Hotlist entries were written by Lauren Arena, Rob Gill and Andy Hoskins, and include extracts from work by the wider BTN editorial team including Michael Baker, Amon Cohen and Mark Frary.
BTN Europe's 2022 Hotlist
BTN Europe's 2021 Hotlist