12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
There was a plaintive plea from industry veteran Dan Brewin at the Corporate Travel and Expense Forum in London organised by Management Solutions (UK) last week.Mr Brewin, former head of UK sales for BA and now vp Europe sales for Eos Airlines, said: "Travel is a personal business dealing with people's lives which is very important to them. That is why people write complaints about what seem to be minor issues â€“ because business travel impacts on their lives on a personal level."It was a reminder of the human side of an industry in which over the last two to three years in the UK at least travel has increasingly been seen as a commodity.While the increased involvement of procurement people has given negotiations a sharper edge and possibly produced some better deals for the corporates. It has also led to a greater concentration on the bottom line.But while this may make sense in terms of company economics, it can go too far. At the recent Business Travel Show in London, one travel manager said at a seminar that her company was only interested in the price. Every purchase had to be the lowest price. This is extreme but not unique.The loser has been the traveller. Spending 11 hours in economy on a flight to Shanghai can not be conducive to doing a good's day work. It is not just a matter of duty of care but also a matter of common sense.But there were signs at the London Forum that things were beginning to turn full circle and that levels of service were re-asserting itself against emphasis on price.Alex Woodworth, account management director for FCm Travel Solutions, said one of the biggest changes she has seen recently was exactly this. She described it as the "biggest positive change" in the industry.Ms Woodworth told BTE: "What we have seen in the industry in the last two years is corporate cost strategy which has been very much buying on price. A clear cut procurement strategyâ€¦where everything is driven by price."But what we are now seeing is internal pressure from the end user that price does not relate to the quality of service."She said that the massive changes of 2000-2001 when BA brought in its Fresh Approach strategy which reduced and then abolished commissions were coming full circle."It was then all about price but now it is much more about service. People are learning from this," she said."There is no doubt that price is still an overriding factor but service is having a much greater affect."These views were echoed several times at the London Forum. Sarah Makings, senior buyer procurement for KPMG, said her company was giving travel a higher visibility with concerns like safety and security and environmental issues to the fore.David Brown, vp of Gullivers Travel Association, told the Forum: "Travel is not fun anymore, especially in the US where it is going from point A to point B. We should be concentrating on the whole travel experience rather than the cost."We tend to concentrate on the cost rather than the travel."In Germany, procurement has not made the headway into travel buying that it has done in the UK and judging from a panellist discussion at Business Travel Days at ITB Berlin last week, few seem to want it to.Burkhard Langguth, head of procurement at the pharmaceutical company Schering, said: "We have tried to adopt the most logical approach. We see a large scope for optimisation but it is not good enough to buy merely by price. We can learn from other purchasers."Dirk Gerdom, head of global travel management at IT company SAP, said at his company travel management was part of procurement.But he added: "Again and again we see only low levels of synergy. You can't share the same tools. Travel management is very idiosyncratic. As a travel manager I have a different role."It was not, he said, in a phrase familiar to many travel managers, the same as buying nuts and bolts.The wonder is that anyone ever thought it was.