Globetrender speaks with Andrew Crawley, chief commercial officer for American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT), about why video-calls will boost demand for business travel and what the most serious challenges are that lie ahead.
How has Covid-19 affected business travel management?
If we have learnt anything from the past six months, it’s that the world suffers when people’s movement is restricted. The health of individuals, economies and societies is hindered to varying degrees. However, the value of managed business travel has never been more evident.
In March, as the world locked down, thousands of our highly skilled travel counsellors around the world worked around the clock repatriating more than 35,000 travellers and processing more than 100,000 air fare refunds.
In addition, the inability to travel freely has reinforced the value of meeting in person. Video-conferencing has been very useful, but we have all been operating in a diminished state. Many of our clients have talked about how video technology has helped them “get by” – but serious companies and organisations don’t want to just “get by”.
To build a positive culture, to develop bonds and relationships, to cultivate creativity and inspire people, we need to meet face-to-face. Travel is also the engine room of the global economy. We therefore need to get the world moving again in the safest, most efficient way possible if we are to protect jobs and grow economies.
How has Amex GBT adapted to the crisis and changed the way it works with clients?
The lockdown period was intense. Our travel counsellors and client management teams mobilised around the world, and were working evenings and weekends getting people home to their loved ones. Since then, we have been working with clients in various ways.
Travel managers need data, insights and analysis to make well-informed, thoughtful decisions about creating travel policies fit for the current environment. In the past, travel policies – the rules that govern how employees undertake business travel – were reviewed once, or maybe twice a year.
In this new era, they may require review and amendment on a much more regular basis given the constant easing and tightening of travel restrictions in countries and cities around the world.
We help travel managers implement new approval processes to make sure travellers get the right permission to travel before they book.
In this era of uncertainty, and in the absence of reliable forecasting data, negotiating with airlines, hotels and ground transportation companies is hard. We are therefore helping bring clients and suppliers together to create mutually beneficial pricing for the future.
How is Amex GBT restoring confidence to business travellers?
People need good information to feel confident in their decisions and choices – so for us, effectively communicating the most relevant, up-to-date information is key.
There’s a vast amount of data out there – from government advisories and travel restrictions, to airline, airport, hotel, rail and ground transport biosafety standards and protocols. But it’s highly fragmented, so we have aggregated this data into a single source, delivered to travellers’ mobile devices in timely, itinerary-specific updates.
Travellers also want a consistent experience, whether it’s in airports, on aircraft or in hotels. We have therefore worked with governments and industry associations, such as IATA and the World Travel
and Tourism Council (WTTC), to influence the implementation of consistent processes in all areas of travel.
What are the greatest challenges to business travel over the next year?
Until a vaccine is widely available, we’re in an era of potentially constant change. Governments and authorities can revise guidelines on a daily basis. Travel plays a vital role in economic recovery, and we are talking to government ministers and leaders about how policies could better support travel.
As well as these direct conversations, we are collaborating with industry partners – for example, along with another 100 industry leaders, we co-signed letters from the WTTC to the G7 heads of state, opposition leaders and the European Commission president, recommending more joined-up policies that can enable economies to reopen.
How important will sustainability be for business travel going forward?
Our clients say sustainability remains a priority for their travel programmes. We recently launched a new feature in our online booking platform that allows travellers to filter search results by level of CO2 emissions. It enables the booker to make well-informed choices when selecting rail and air options for their trip.
Last year, we were the first global travel management company to offset 100 per cent of staff travel CO2 emissions. Sustainability is also a priority for meetings and events, and we help clients source eco-conscious venues, reduce waste, choose low-mileage, sustainable food options, and bring community engagement into their programmes.
Investing in digital technology has been a key strategy for us to create more sustainable, efficient solutions – now with the current restrictions, hybrid meetings technology means smaller physical gatherings can be joined by virtual attendees around the world.
How will working from home change the way people travel for business?
The rise of home-working is leading more companies to examine their real-estate strategy. With a more dispersed workforce, you reduce commuting and office costs, but colleagues still need to meet face-to-face, potentially increasing the need for business travel.
Long before the current situation, people predicted the rise of virtual collaboration tools would result in business travel decline – just as people before them said the same about video-conferences, emails and fax. Once again, it hasn’t happened. These online tools have made it easier to work together on new ideas and projects with virtual teams around the world.
In fact, this technology fosters more human interaction: those virtual teams inevitably need to meet at some point, to build relationships and take their ideas to the next level. Creating new projects creates the need to travel.