Tinker, Tailor, Soldier…Technologist? Tomorrow’s Travel Manager must do it all.

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by: Kurt Knackstedt, President, Association of Corporate Travel Executives.

Many travel managers that have been attending ACTE events around the world over the past couple of years have said that one of the most challenging elements of their roles these days is the need to understand, evaluate and implement technically-oriented elements of their travel program.

When we talk about “technical” this used to primarily focus around implementing online booking tools (which TMC’s often dealt with), utilising web-based reporting and analytic solutions, and more recently expense management systems. I’m over-simplifying of course, but the point is that the technical elements of a travel program used to be fairly centred on the travel booking and expense reconciliation processes.

These days, travel managers must now navigate and evaluate a hugely diverse range of solutions and services that run the spectrum of all facets of the travel experience – not just what helps to run the program from a corporate perspective, but traveller-centric applications, services, payment options, content sources and suppliers (some known, some brand new) that all offer various benefits to everyone involved.

This evolution is not altogether a surprise to many in our industry; as example, back in 2013 a Radius Travel / ACTE report found that 64% of respondents to a survey for the report listed “knowledge of travel industry technology” as an essential skill for doing their jobs, and that being “technologically savvy” as the #1 qualification that will be more important in three years’ time. Well, it’s about 2 1/2 years since that report came out so it would appear everyone was pretty much spot on about the future.

Since then, however, what’s been an interesting trend to see emerging, following the feedback travel managers have shared with their partners and suppliers and peers, is how some key players in the “traditional” travel sense have started to try and blend all the options together and deliver them through a more collective approach.

Take the GDS’s. Traditionally they fulfilled the role of providing travel content globally to travel buyers via TMC’s and online booking tools. Which has all been well and good, however they have also identified that they can play a role in helping to streamline the consolidation of new services and capabilities and package them up in such a way that buyers can now evaluate a range of services together rather than needing to evaluate them one-by-one.

As an example, Sabre recently has tried to make sense of virtual payments within the travel booking process by integrating a virtual payment provider within their platform. Packaging payments up with booking capabilities can help a buyer see a new solution in action in a “known” environment rather than trying to figure out how to sort it all out on their own. This is not to say that packaging solutions up works best for all travel programs in all situations, but at least through this approach you can work with an established partner to try something new which helps to mitigate some of the risk of trying new things.

The pace at which travel managers must move at these days is relentless and not going to slow up any time soon. If you’re finding your head spinning with how to wade through all the options you have to drive higher compliance, savings and traveller satisfaction, you may want to consider asking your key partners to do some of the heavy lifting for you. As they say, a burden shared is lightly borne!

Kurt Knackstedt, President, Association of Corporate Travel Executives

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