September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
Alex Blyth talks to Nicola Lomas, director of travel at global advertising, marketing and corporate communications company Omnicom
How did you get into the travel business? I started my career in travel in the early 1990s when I moved from the UK to Dallas, Texas. I learned from the ground up – my first job was practically as an office junior, putting tickets and document packages together. I spent the rest of the decade working for travel agencies, and it wasn’t until I moved to American Airlines in 1999 that I began working in business travel. I also had a one-year career break and started a catering company focused on the corporate lunch market. That was eight years ago, and I suppose I was considering the idea of leaving travel altogether, but after lots of deliberating I realised I have a huge amount of passion for business travel.
And after that, what led you to Omnicom?I returned to the corporate world, but initially on the TMC side. I worked for two years as a key account manager for Travel Focus then, in 2008, the opportunity at Omnicom came up and I’ve been here ever since.
Tell us about your role at Omnicom – how has it changed in the last five years?I am responsible for all travel supplier agreements in the EMEA and APAC regions. There are some things that haven’t changed and others that have evolved beyond recognition. One of the things I love about managed travel is that there is enough core consistency for a stable platform, and enough changes and innovations to keep it very interesting.
What innovations are you working to introduce?I am keen to work with external partners to reduce costs. I have seen how other travel managers have done this by outsourcing aspects of their function or by creatively partnering with suppliers to share the workload. I know there is a way to do this – I just haven’t figured out how to make it fit for my company and our suppliers.
What’s it like working for an ad agency?Working for Omnicom is fantastic. It’s a great company that does much more than just advertising. We have three of the world’s largest advertising agency networks – BBDO Worldwide, DDB Worldwide and TBWA – but we also have three of the top ten global public relations agencies – Fleishman-Hillard, Porter Novelli and Ketchum – as well as media companies like OMD and PHD.
Would you have preferred a career in marketing?I feel I have the best of both worlds – I work for a really dynamic company, and I get to do a specialist job of managing our travel suppliers. Also, because the travel industry is constantly changing I am able to keep learning and growing.
How do you think the travel industry is changing?One of the most profound – and positive – changes I’m witnessing is the relaxation of perceived control. Good travel managers no longer dictate choices for their travellers – they arm them with the knowledge to make the right choices for their business. To me, that is good business sense.
So, you’re an advocate of the unmanaged travel concept?I firmly believe that people want to do the right thing and they want to be able to make personal choices along the way. Given most people who travel for business have some business sense, it is illogical to me to try and micro-manage them and treat them like babies.
How is technology affecting the work you do?Well, I recently received a new smartphone at work and it’s taken me a week to figure out how to use it, so in some ways it slows me down... but seriously, the technology available to us is brilliant, and really helps me do my job.
In what ways? Can you give us some examples?From basic technology, such as being able to connect my laptop to the internet via my smartphone, or being able to automate processes for consistency, to online tools that are as good for information as they are for booking. I’m glad I work in a sector that is always seeking smarter ways to work. I am very excited to see what technology the younger generations bring into business travel. Even if it takes me a week to figure out what it takes them five minutes to do, I’m all for it.
What improvements do you have planned?I spent a lot of time and effort implementing a payment solution and working on our hotel programme last year. This year is all about execution. I need to ensure that what I have negotiated is fit for business, is used, is measured and is reviewed. After that, I have four or five countries in Asia which are ready to move into a more mature level of managed travel, and they will get my focus and attention
You have been the chairman of the Institute of Travel & Meetings (ITM) for the past year – tell us about that experience.It has been a real privilege to hold that role and I have benefitted enormously from it. I have learned so much, both personally and professionally.
And what can you see happening in the future?Well, I have another year to go as chairman of the ITM before I hand over the reins there. I’ve very much committed my future to the travel industry so I’m certain that whatever happens next it will be within the corporate travel sector in one way or another. On a personal note, I am about to buy a house that needs a great deal of attention, so that will keep me busy for a few years.
If you could offer one piece of advice to your existing suppliers, and to those who would like to supply you, what would it be?It is always refreshing when suppliers look at the situation from the buyer’s perspective. I’d love to see that happen more, as I believe it would lead to more win-win outcomes.
What advice would you offer to someone starting their career in the buying side of the travel industry?Find a peer network. Many travel buyers are responsible on their own for travel supplier relationships within their businesses. It is a huge responsibility, and it becomes a great deal easier with a support group and trusted advisors to bounce ideas off.
Where did you find your own support network?I found it in the ITM, and I would encourage all buyers and suppliers to get involved. But regardless of where you find your support network, find one. Also, be open to ideas and innovations, and if you think something can be done, don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Remember that bringing ideas from other business sectors is a great way to challenge the travel supply chain. And most of all, love what you do.