BTN Europe presents an overview of business travel and MICE predictions for this year
Virtual Event - 21 April 2021
Virtual Event - 9 June 2021
ExCeL London - 30 Sep - 01 Oct 2021
There is a certain irony that at a time when business travel
was brought to a screeching halt and now, when very few trips are taking place,
that the profile of corporate travel managers has been elevated to new levels.
When Covid-19 struck, the spotlight immediately fell upon travel
managers whose responsibility it was to safely bring employees home and put
future trips on hold. Suddenly, travel managers had the attention of senior
leadership teams and CEOs and a place at the top table.
Buyers at larger companies joined newly established steering
committees and taskforces to work closely alongside HR and security, and the c-suite
threw its weight behind new travel policy decrees.
Back in April, an ITM survey of 162 travel managers found 80
per cent agreed the pandemic had presented the opportunity for greater c-suite
buy-in to drive travel policy compliance.
And it didn’t stop there. One travel manager said they now
have regular roundtable discussions with their CEO “that would not previously
have happened”; another now participates in weekly global operational calls;
one buyer said there is now a greater understanding of what the travel
department does beyond booking trips; and several travel managers reported more
attentive leadership teams.
One participant said their CEO’s new involvement and
interest in their role “raises the profile of the travel department within
their company". More recently, in June, an ITM report said its members continue
to enjoy “high-profile visibility from their
“We have really put travel at OSRL on the map," says Alice Linley-Munro, Travel Manager at Oil Spill Response Limited. "We've even been given access to some of our member companies to show off what we do, which was unheard of before. We’ve really been called on throughout this to help with projects in all sorts of departments. They have definitely realised we do a lot more than just book travel."
She adds: "As horrific as the pandemic has been, the chance to increase engagement and visibility of my travel department and the knowledge we have has been a real silver lining."When the UK’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was launched
in March, there was a significant contrast in its uptake across the business
travel industry. While suppliers and TMCs grappled with difficult decisions
around furloughing staff and reducing workforces – and continue to do so – the
ITM estimates only 10 to 15 per cent of travel managers were furloughed.
“It was noticeable early in the situation that buyers were
going through a different experience to suppliers,” said the ITM’s chief
executive Scott Davies in a webinar last week.
Speaking in the same webinar, BTA chief executive Clive
Wratten estimated 75 per cent of TMC staff remain furloughed.
Once travellers were brought home, the focus turned to establishing
and implementing new travel policies and approvals processes, and deciding what
is best practice in this new environment. How and when is it appropriate for
business travellers to set off once again? As those conversations and plans
proceed, travel managers are once again integral.
“There really has been a shift in profile,” says Davies.
“There are always opportunities in the challenges we’ve all been facing. Buyers
have now got the focus of their leadership teams.”
He continues: “Once you have that focus it’s all about what
you do with it. The role and purpose of the travel function within an organisation
has to evolve as an enabler that helps them succeed against their competitors.”
Chris Pouney, associate at GoldSpring Consulting, agrees the
profile of travel managers has been elevated, adding that “the role of the travel manager was starting to feel
slightly exposed in companies where maturity had either been reached or was in
Davies, however, has a word of caution. “Alongside increased
c-suite engagement, there’s also a flipside. Travel has been almost zero now
for four months... some travel
buyers also [as well as TMCs] have a fight on their hands to prove their value
While some travel managers will be enjoying a sense of
indispensability, others will recognise that their roles are changing. As
Pouney says, some companies might decide that “travel spend in the ‘new normal’ will
not warrant a dedicated resource”.
On the other hand, he believes, “intense
effort is needed to create and deploy new thinking to ensure that business-critical
travel can happen and that employees’ concerns are being adequately addressed.”
He adds: “Assuming the latter, the post-Covid
travel manager needs to collaborate with internal stakeholders such as HR and security
like never before, while communicating eloquently and confidently at levels
they have rarely had access to previously.”