Compiling BTN Europe’s annual Hotlist is challenging in any normal year, but throw a global pandemic into the mix and it’s made exponentially harder. Many travel suppliers who have staved off Covid-19’s repeated blows are worthy of praise but there are also the people and organisations who have banged the drum for business travel, quickly adapted to and supported corporates’ new needs, or those who have capitalised on emerging opportunities, all of which deserve recognition.
Then there are those whose efforts are entirely unrelated to the events that more or less brought travel to a halt for two years – the efforts of individuals such as Carol Fergus and Linda Bekoe to stimulate conversations, and action, on diversity, equality and inclusion, or David Blackhurst-Evans and Ruth Andrade for whom a sustainable travel programme has long been deeply embedded in their organisation.
Elsewhere, JetBlue, which received an honourable mention last year but not a place on the list, has been upgraded in this edition after successfully seeing through plans to launch transatlantic flights in the midst of the pandemic. Similarly ambitious is Norse Atlantic Airways which also makes the cut having recently cleared several key hurdles ahead of its own launch.
British Airways’ new operation from London Gatwick, EuroFlyer, however, was left on the cutting room floor. It is among a host of companies, people and trends that might have found themselves on a longer Hotlist but will instead have to settle for a tip of the hat.
They additionally include the likes of travel management platform Psngr1 (recently deployed by TakeTwo Travel Solutions), Jack Dow and Grapevine for making tangible progress on personalisation technology, Riskline for powering a huge number of travel restrictions and guidance tools deployed by TMCs and other suppliers, the Institute of Travel Management for its educational programme and buyer forums, and travel tech disruptor Snowfall, plus trends including carbon budgets and BYO – that’s build your own – travel programmes.
They all miss out on the 2022 Hotlist, but read on to discover a diverse cross-section of our industry’s finest advocates, innovators and significant emerging trends.
THE 2022 HOTLIST: PEOPLE
LINDA BEKOE & CAROL FERGUS
Carol Fergus, Fidelity International's director of global travel, meetings and ground transportation, and Linda Bekoe, chief executive of independent hotel sales and marketing business AP BLC, have brought conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the business travel industry to the fore in their roles as co-chairs of the Travel and Meetings Society's DEI committee and members of GBTA's DEI committee – and, as one Hotlist panellist put it, "have gone about it in a very inclusive way that is an exemplar of what they are advocating". Leading by example, Fergus has created documentation on how to begin conversations around DEI, has implemented more inclusive travel programmes and, with her travel management company partner BCD Travel, created an apprenticeship programme that can serve as a model for how TMC-client partnerships can bring more diversity into the managed travel space. "The conversations have started, but we have a long way to go," Fergus said in a recent interview after being named Business Travel News' Best Practitioner 2021. "We need to find ways to get people to open up more, and to demonstrate more that differences are being made as opposed to just talking about it."
Making a second consecutive appearance on the Hotlist, Business Travel Association chief executive Clive Wratten remains one of corporate travel's strongest voices in this industry's fight for survival in the first instance and latterly the ability to travel without undue restrictions. Between collecting countless accolades for his efforts – including the Outstanding Contribution to Business Travel gong and a standing ovation at last autumn's Business Travel Awards Europe – Wratten carried out more than 40 broadcast engagements in 2021 while the BTA generated more than 3,000 pieces of media coverage. His high profile helped a struggling sector draw hope that at least someone was batting on its behalf. "Supported by an incredibly hard-working team, he has developed a voice for business travel among government corridors, with tireless lobbying and influencing resulting in far better outcomes than many feared," said one Hotlist panellist.
DAVID BLACKHURST-EVANS & RUTH ANDRADE
While some companies are only now beginning their journey towards more sustainable travel policies and others stand accused of paying mere lip service to environmental concerns, cosmetics company Lush was born green. Global travel manager David Blackhurst-Evans, together with strategy lead for Earth care Ruth Andrade, created and marshal a travel programme that takes a hardline on flying, has heavy restrictions on use of taxis, and operates an electric shuttle bus for employees to, from and between the various sites that comprise its headquarters in Poole, UK. "We really don’t think like a corporate. We think like activists most of the time," says Andrade. "Sustainably comes quite naturally to us within the business," adds Blackhurst-Evans. "I’m a travel specialist but I work for Lush because I agree with their ethics."
MICHELLE MCKINNEY FRYMIRE
Facing $1.5 billion in debt amid an uncertain business travel recovery outlook a few months ago, travel management company CWT has entered 2022 with that debt slashed in half and $350 million in new capital thanks to a prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing that won speedy court approval. The TMC's CEO Michelle McKinney Frymire stepped into the thick of it, taking that position last April after serving as CWT’s president and CFO. CWT prepared a prepackaged filing that the TMC said had near-universal support among its financial stakeholders, a process that took "six full months of working with investors on what is the right capital structure, what do we want the balance sheet to look like and how do we get the liquidity to not just recover but to invest in technology tools," she said recently. After filing on 11 November, CWT received court approval to exit Chapter 11 the next day. "Every TMC big or small has had to manage through an incredibly difficult period," she told BTN prior to the announcement of the filing. "We wanted to ensure that even for a multi-year recovery that we had adequate liquidity, that our balance sheet was strong and that we could make the right investments." The restructuring was crucial to CWT's long-term survival, said McKinney Frymire, who now has the task of steering one of the world's largest travel management companies on a more sustainable path.
Visas, work permits and tax compliance are not much of a conversation starter, but many travel managers will nevertheless be sharing words on the subjects, as A1/PWD requirements, post-Brexit travel regulations and general visa-tightening increasingly impact corporate travel programmes. Recognising the potential collision course, Ford's EMEA and APAC travel manager, Stephen Swift, took the reins and reshaped procedures to improve mobility compliance, looking beyond the travel industry for solutions and systems. "He is an early adopter of technology and processes to handle mobility compliance, the converging requirements of which make international travel much more complex from a regulatory point of view than used to be the case," commented one Hotlist panellist. Swift's advice to others when tackling mobility compliance? "Build your case and get the relevant people together – HR, legal, maybe health and security teams – and present the fact that this is the new normal in the travel world. You have to make them aware there’s an additional layer of complexity, which is tax, immigration, social security compliance, and that you need to create the processes and policies around it."
THE 2022 HOTLIST: COMPANIES
After a long pandemic-inflicted wait, JetBlue last year became the first US-based low-cost carrier to operate a transatlantic service, taking off with New York JFK-London Heathrow flights in August and adding services to Gatwick in September using Airbus A321LR aircraft. Postponement of further aircraft deliveries delayed the addition of Boston-London flights which are now due to launch this year. Entering the competitive London-US market is no small undertaking – as the airline's British CEO Robin Hayes knows only too well – but the carrier's business class Mint Suites and Studios have been well-received and, crucially, its pricing is making an impact too. Like European LCCs that have previously entered the transatlantic fray (and were undone by the pandemic), JetBlue is banking on lower fares to attract bookings away from established players. While it's difficult to discern concrete pricing trends in the current environment, there is some evidence that legacy carriers have reduced their premium fares to bring them closer to the new entrant's. Latterly, the airline has expanded a codeshare partnership with Aer Lingus and launched a sustainability programme for corporate partners.
Corporate travel's young upstart continues to make waves and has secured its first appearance on BTN Europe's Hotlist by virtue of a significant acquisition, the landing of a funding goldmine, and the launch of several new products that include the European debut of integrated payment and expense management solution Liquid. "They're difficult to ignore," said one Hotlist panellist, who suggested co-founder and chief executive Ariel Cohen has something of a Midas touch about him, with investors readily backing the organisation's ambitious plans. The company stepped things up in spring 2021 with the acquisition of high-touch TMC Reed & Mackay, a very different operator that broadened Tripactions' customer base. Specialist VIP and full-service meetings and events operations for Tripactions clients were early products of the deal in September, while in October the organisation announced $275 million in Series F funding – on top of the $155 million it had raised in January. The European portion of its customer portfolio grew to around 30 per cent of the company’s spend under management by October. What lies in store for Tripactions in 2022 remains to be seen, but an abundance of news headlines is expected once again.
German travel management association VDR has had a number of significant lobbying successes on the back of sustained pressure on government and suppliers. Lufthansa's decision to expand its Pay As You Fly offering from a handful of its largest customers to all corporate clients and across the airline group was directly attributable to intense lobbying from VDR. The campaign was fronted by president Christoph Carnier, who has been VDR president since 2019 and director of travel, fleet and events at Merck since 1992, working closely with chief executive Hans-Ingo Biehl and vice-president Inge Pirner, the travel manager for Datev. Carnier and his colleagues lobbied not only Lufthansa itself but also the European Commission and the German government, which applied pressure to the German carrier when it was in a difficult position to refuse, having accepted more than €3 billion in state aid to weather Covid. PAYF was not the only lobbying success for VDR in 2021. The association helped persuade authorities in Germany to exempt essential business travel when entering a lockdown in January and was delighted when Lufthansa announced its exit from US data platform Prism following long-standing criticism from VDR and its members. "VDR continues to lobby suppliers and regulators in a way I don't think any other European association gets near to," said one Hotlist panellist.
AMERICAN EXPRESS GLOBAL BUSINESS TRAVEL
Business travel management's biggest player put further space between itself and the competition in 2021 with the acquisition of rival TMC and Expedia-owned Egencia. As part of the deal, first announced in May and completed in November, Expedia became a shareholder in GBT and secured a ‘long-term agreement’ to provide accommodation content to GBT. Since then, the TMC has announced plans to go public on the New York Stock Exchange through a SPAC deal with Apollo Strategic Growth Capital with a $5.3 billion valuation. That is expected to come to fruition in the first half of the year following shareholder and regulatory approval, with GBT claiming it will create the world's largest publicly traded business-to-business travel platform. The TMC has also leveraged its might throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to lobby governments – and engage them in dialogue – with persistent calls to relax stringent international travel restrictions. Other notable developments helping to land GBT consecutive Hotlist places include the introduction of sustainability platform Green Compass, the acquisition of the Ovation Travel Group, and the collaboration with Cvent on the launch of new sourcing questions designed to standardise the delivery of information in RFPs about suppliers' sustainability and DEI programmes.
Spotnana is to the travel industry what the Traveling Wilburys were to pop music – a supergroup bringing together some of the best-known names and talent in the business. For Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, read instead Sarosh Waghmar (Spotnana CEO and co-founder; previously founder and CEO of WTMC), Steve Singh (Spotnana chairman and co-founder of Concur), Johnny Thorsen (veteran corporate travel innovator and VP of partnerships at Spotnana), Bill Brindle (VP of travel operations and former COO of Amex GBT) and Bill Tillman (VP of sales and former Concur VP of sales). It's a potent line-up that oversaw the travel management startup burst out of stealth mode last autumn with a mission to unbundle travel with an open, API-based travel ecoystem. Spotnana can act as a full travel management company for direct corporate clients but it can also offer its tech stack to support the operations of other TMCs and suppliers. "They are finally building the infrastructure for travel that has long been broken and the team that has been assembled has some of the sharpest and most qualified people in the world," said one commentator. When Spotnana showed its hand in September it said it had around 120 employees, 50 corporate clients of various sizes, several TMC partners and, importantly, $34 million in Series A funding. "It's not just time to change the technology, it's time to change the entire business model," said Waghmar.
THE 2022 HOTLIST: TRENDS
SUSTAINABLE AVIATION FUELS
Whereas the wider concept of sustainability featured on the 2021 Hotlist as it became clear business travel was due a post-Covid reset, it is sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) that have emerged as a fundamental strand to corporate travel's efforts to lessen its environmental impact. However, SAFs are by no means a straightforward subject. Whilst the science says they deliver a reduction of up to 80 per cent in carbon emissions over the lifecycle of the fuel compared to traditional jet fuel, they are expensive to produce and purchase and only available on a very small scale. As one Hotlist panellist said, "SAFs are probably one of the most talked about subjects in business travel yet simultaneously one of the least understood". In a bid to overcome that, buyers at Boeing, Deloitte, JPMorgan Chase, Netflix and other large corporates formed the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance (SABA) last year in a bid to accelerate new SAF production and technological innovation and help establish a rigorous, transparent SAF certification system. Another founding member of SABA, Microsoft – which is well ahead of the curve in purchasing SAFs – is currently piloting a book-and-claim ledger for auditing SAF carbon savings claims. Meanwhile, several suppliers have partnered with SAF providers, including Amex GBT and Shell, British Airways and BP, and Tripactions and Neste. In September, more than 50 global companies and travel suppliers signed a pledge to power aviation using a minimum of 10 per cent SAF by 2030, with the UK government investing £180 million in funding to support the development of SAF production plants in the UK.
While the term purposeful travel has irked some commentators by the implication that some business trips are purposeless, it has become the phrase of choice to describe a new era in which every trip will be more scrutinised than ever for both the way it is booked and managed but, more importantly, the value it delivers. With sustainability concerns now high up the agenda and virtual technology capable of replacing some trips, more thought must go into whether the desired outcomes can only be achieved my travelling and meeting in person. Business travel consultancy Festive Road has been a notable proponent of purposeful travel but cannot quite claim ownership in the way it did for its permissible travel framework – and rightly won acclaim for its efforts. UCB travel lead Geert Behets is another notable industry advocate but in any case, purposeful travel is a broader and more nebulous concept. "It seems ironic that purposeful travel should be a term at all," said one Hotlist panellist. "I am sure those paying the bills would have hoped that each trip had purpose, but what is plausible is that no criteria was available or alternatives to consider in a pre-Covid world. The lens is different now and the idea of purposeful travel allows travel programmes to evolve safely and sustainably – something surely essential for decades to come."
The RFP is dead; long live continuous sourcing! How many times have we heard that sort of refrain over the years and yet remained a slave to largely abhorred request for proposal proceedings? Perhaps now really is the time for change. After all, past performance has gone out of the window, historic data has little relevance and future travel volumes are unclear. Instead, corporates can focus on sourcing more of what they need and when they need it, keeping travel programmes 'real-time' and relevant. "If I see a city in Q1 that suddenly we’re driving a huge amount of business to, we don’t wait for the RFP," said BP's global category manager for travel and meetings, Richard Eades, in an article published by BTN Europe in December. "We’ve just opened a huge hydrocarbon plant on Humberside, so I’m keeping a close eye on that. It’s a non-negotiated area where we’re using our chainwide discounts but it might come to a point where it makes sense to go into the market and come out with one or two preferred hotels."
Can overnight sleeper trains scoop up a greater share of the business travel market in 2022? Will corporates give them due consideration as a more environmentally friendly alternative to short-haul air travel? Even if it doesn't feel like it right now, long-distance rail operators are expected to be long-term winners when business travel recovers, with several governments introducing rules that limit short-haul flights where rail alternatives are available. Hoping to benefit from the policy change are the likes of OBB Nightjet in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, Thello in France and Italy, Trenhotel in Spain and Portugal, Intercites de Nuit in France, and the UK's Caledonian Sleeper between London and Scotland. Meanwhile, new entrant Midnight Trains is appealing to business travellers with its 'hotel on wheels' narrative ahead of its planned launch between Paris and ten key European cities in 2024. It says a passenger could travel by rail between Paris and Rome 23 times before notching up the equivalent carbon emissions of a passenger on a single flight between the two cities.
"Amid the horrors of the pandemic, many people discovered the power of supporting their neighbours, assisting community initiatives, and aiding those who need help," said one Hotlist panellist who believes the trend for doing social good through their purchasing habits is also infiltrating the corporate travel arena. "Buying social, ensuring the money you spend does good and drives good within companies and communities, is no longer a nice to have, but is demanded by employees and management alike. Buyers will be looking for creative ways to 'buy social' in post-pandemic travel programmes. This is a topic which is very much here to stay." Although business travel managers might have limited supplier choice to support their efforts to do social good through sourcing, there are case studies from which we can all learn. "Instead of being part of an isolated corporate world, you’re actually doing some good in society, which I feel with the size of our purchasing volumes we have an obligation to do," says Siemens UK travel commodity manager Emma Eaton. "I see this more and more as a duty than something nice to do."
DIGITAL NOMAD VISAS
'Working from anywhere' was a 2021 Hotlist entrant but 12 months later it's the digital nomad visas that facilitate the trend that have made the cut. Enabling those who are able to work remotely to up sticks and relocate to alternative environs for typically between 90 days and up to a year, digital nomad visas bring opportunity for employees and headaches for HR and travel managers. Forbes recently reported a 49 per cent rise in US digital nomads, who numbered some 11 million in 2020, recognising that the Covid-19 pandemic has prompted a wave of new opportunities. With international travel largely shut down over the last two years, it was initially destinations that rely heavily on tourism that opened their doors to digital nomads – Caribbean islands chief among them – but a large number of European countries have now joined them including, most recently, Romania and Spain. "If you're young or have few commitments tieing you down, why wouldn't you consider relocating to another country to work for a while if you meet the requirements? It's almost as good as a 'year out' but with the benefit of receiving a salary," said a Hotlist panellist. "I can only see this impacting employers more and more in the years to come, and travel, mobility and HR teams are going to have to get their heads round some new policies."
THE 2022 HOTLIST:
ONES TO WATCH
TRIPBAM FOR AIR
Having mastered rate reshopping and auditing for corporate hotel programmes, Tripbam has now moved into the air travel arena. Industry data veteran and former EY global supplier leader for travel, meetings and events Tim Nichols was brought onboard last year to spearhead the development, with an initial pilot launching in September and full post-pilot production following in December. It says eight corporates and two TMCs are currently engaged with Tripbam for Air, which is a global offering unhindered by the point of sale. Currently, 13 per cent of all tickets shopped and 30 per cent of all potential savings identified are being derived from international travel, ‘much’ of which is originating in Europe. In a test with eight corporate clients – four direct and four via a TMC – it was able to offer a lower price on 17 per cent of tickets with an average saving of £45, primarily on US domestic and short-haul international flights. As well as GDS content, Tripbam for Air is also connected to NDC aggregators. Interestingly, while Tripbam is moving into the air space, air reshopping platform Fairfly is moving into the hotel sector in Q1 of 2022, bringing the two companies into direct competition on both fronts.
The European Travel Information and Authorisation System, handily known as ETIAS, was due to go live in 2021 but is now set for a soft introduction in late 2022 and full implementation on 1 January 2023. Likened to the US's visa waiver ESTA scheme, ETIAS will mean non-EU residents travelling to the Schengen area who are exempt from visa requirements will have to obtain an authorisation before travelling. The checks are intended to help identify people ahead of travel who may pose a risk to security or health, as well as checking for compliance with migration rules.
Online applications and approvals will largely be automated and cost €7. Authorisations will be valid for three years and for multiple entries. Following the UK's departure from the European Union, the ETIAS scheme could cost British companies a reported €40 million per year as well as adding another layer of complexity for travel managers.
PAY AS YOU FLY
Very much in the embryonic stage, the Pay as You Fly concept was given a boost in 2021 when the Lufthansa group responded to pressure from German travel management association VDR to extend the concept to more corporates on more routes, allowing those customers to pay for their travel on departure rather than at the time of booking. "One of the reasons for the massive impact of the [Covid] crisis on companies is the model that has been in use for years of operating businesses permanently with customer credit," said VDR. "If a large number of cancellations occur due to a crisis, airlines are simply not able to reimburse the money due to the customers. This practice then becomes the accelerator of the crisis." With PAYF, customers do not need to chase refunds nor pay their TMC to manage refunds, and neither are they at risk of losing money to airline bankruptcies. "At the moment Lufthansa is a bit of an outlier on this so it will be interesting to see if any other airlines follow suit," said one Hotlist panellist who also noted the German airline and its sister carriers have a competitive advantage until others decide to offer a similar facility.
QUARTZ INN HOTELS
Launched last November, Quartz Inn Hotels claims to be the first European hotel group that will comprise only sustainable, independent hotels. Headquartered in London and headed up by managing director Ignacio Merino – with roles behind him at Barcelo, IHG, Best Western and at OTAs – the company says its distribution strategy will enable members to compete with larger hotel chains. It has signed affiliation agreements with nearly 40 hotels across ten countries to date and is in negotiations with more than 100. Each will meet certain service, safety and sustainability standards "while preserving the authentic character of each establishment". The group's sustainability manifesto is aligned with criteria promoted by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and includes the reduction of CO2 emissions, waste, and energy and water usage. The group will also plant a tree for every direct reservation, ban single-use plastic products, and allocate a percentage of income to reforestation projects and community initiatives.
NORSE ATLANTIC AIRWAYS
Stepping in to fill the void left by Norwegian's exit from the transatlantic market, Norse Atlantic Airways is poised to launch low-cost services from Oslo, London and Paris to several US cities this year. The company was founded in March last year by CEO and major shareholder Bjørn Tore Larsen, with Bjørn Kjos, the founder and former CEO of Norwegian, holding a minority stake in the new carrier. "We believe that transatlantic travel will resume with full force once the pandemic is behind us," says Larsen. In recent weeks it has cleared several hurdles, including the granting of an Air Operator's Certificate by the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority, taking delivery of its first B787-9 Dreamliner, and gaining US approval for transatlantic flights. "Norse appears ready to add further competition and extra capacity between Europe and the United States," says one Hotlist contributor. "The long-haul low-cost model doesn't have the finest of records but in a post-pandemic world the industry is watching them very closely indeed."
RAFFLES AT THE OLD WAR OFFICE
In 2021 it was the Londoner on Leicester Square and in 2022 it's Raffles London at the Old War Office – the UK capital has a habit of lining up a marquee hotel opening every year and this Accor property should not disappoint. Due to open towards the end of 2022 after a five-year transformation project, the historic, Grade II-listed Whitehall building – once the workplace of the likes of Winston Churchill and Ian Fleming – will feature 120 guestrooms, 85 residences and 11 dining options and bars including a rooftop restaurant with views across The Mall and Whitehall. Built in 1906, key architectural features of the seven-storey building are being restored and preserved, including chandeliers and mosaic floors. "We are so proud to be part of the magnificent five-year transformation of the historic Old War Office building," says Stephen Alden, CEO of Raffles Hotels and Orient Express. "The launch of Raffles London at The OWO is a singular moment for the London hospitality scene as the Raffles brand arrives in the city."
RELATED: Revisit BTN Europe's 2021 Hotlist
METHODOLOGY & THANKS
BTN Europe’s 2022 Hotlist was compiled by the Business Travel News editorial team with the help of the following people to whom we extend our gratitude: 2021 ‘Hotlisters’ Richard Eades, global category manager for travel and meetings at BP, and Bex Deadman, managing director of travel management company Blue Cube, plus Chris Pouney, associate at GoldSpring Consulting. Nominations opened online on 29 November 2021 and closed on 23 December. Nearly 250 nominations for different people, products, companies and trends were lodged. These were initially whittled down to around 100 by the BTN editorial team before being shared with the aforementioned industry figureheads who helped shape the final 2022 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.