On April 15, 2020, Traxo held an Office Hours event, "Addressing the impact of COVID-19 on our travel programs." Moderated by Chad Costa, the webinar featured experienced travel managers Suzanne Boyan from ZS Associates, Michelle Grant from Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers, and Caroline Popescu.
Travel Operations Manager
2019 BTN Corporate Travel Manager of the Year
Travel Administration Manager
Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers
Corporate Travel Professional
The panelists shared how they reacted to the rapidly evolving situation of COVID-19, what changes they were considering to their travel programs, and questions and concerns going forward. Booking data was an underlying factor of many of the concerns along with the ability to achieve the complete picture on past, current, and future bookings - both for corporate travel booked through their travel management companies (TMCs) and directly with suppliers.
The audience participated in a few polls throughout the webinar. In the first, they placed a high value on data with nearly 40% of 131 attendees answering that “Data Visibility / Business Intelligence” was the most important travel program component.
The audience also thought we had a few more months before corporate travel returns with almost 70% of 150 attendees answering that travel would return either in July or after the summer.
Traxo is organizing similar events with other key stakeholders in corporate travel. If you’d like to be notified when the next webinar will take place or are interested in learning more about Traxo’s control center for corporate travel managers, please contact us. In the meantime, watch the recording of the event.
During the webinar, the panelists took questions from attendees. There wasn't time to respond to all of the audience questions so the panelists have generously provided responses below. Thank you panelists!!
Booking Data Analysis
The audience wanted to learn more about booking data from the panelist’s TMCs and from Traxo. They were interested to learn what booking data analysis tools were provided by these services as well as how the data sources and tools worked together.
For Caroline, TMC pre-trip data reporting is essential to monitor new and canceled bookings in real-time. Their TMC ran reports for them but self-service reporting is a key asset when there are time-sensitive data needs. Caroline relied heavily on the Traxo dashboard to provide an aggregate view of active travel, including trips booked outside their TMC. For situation and ground-level updates, WorldAware was well equipped to push daily comprehensive intelligence at the destination level.
Like Caroline, Suzanne at ZS Associates uses a combination of their TMC and Traxo reporting resources. In addition, ZS has built their own reporting tool called JetBridge which combines data from TMCs, Traxo, HR, expense, card and meeting programs, and other sources. This is a product that ZS Associates sells so Suzanne would be happy to chat with anyone if they’re interested in combining all of these data sources for a truly complete picture of spend, leakage, trends and traveler whereabouts.
There were a few questions about how TMCs supported the panelists in the early stages of COVID-19. In general, TMCs acted as a partner and attempted to get in front of the situation early.
For Caroline, her TMC engaged with them during the third week of January with a focus on China. This led to receiving an official update from her TMC on February 3rd announcing new US control measures and border entry restrictions.
In the case of ZS, their TMC began collaborating with them about plans and pulling reports in February. ZS doesn’t require that employees buy travel through their TMC. It’s actually somewhere in between where they provide employees with a lot of flexibility in terms of choices on how to book but expect them to follow those options and not book outside.
Regarding if the panelists felt that the pandemic would create a greater need to mandate travel because of the need to keep colleagues safe, Caroline thinks that companies will double down on TMC booking policy while exception management will be subject to a review. Safety first will be the priority in the short term but she expects freedom of choice will re-open the debate eventually. ZS, on the other hand, feels slightly different as Suzanne doesn’t think that mandating will prevent leakage. There will, though, be a greater demand for better and more complete reporting.
Suzanne also doesn’t think companies need to reinforce antiquated practices because a pandemic happens. If anything, she thinks it should demand more innovation and better access to data. Like Suzanne, Caroline feels that this is a great opportunity where TMCs should revisit their technology offerings and partner strategies to fill in those service gaps. In addition, industry limitations from a GDS distribution standpoint are holding back reasonable business travel activities. In Caroline’s experience, accessing conference rates, independent properties, Airbnb, flight passes, and bookings with loyalty points have been reasonable arguments to circumvent TMC policy.
Duty of Care Services
Duty of Care and traveler safety were underlying concerns in most audience questions. Regarding how Duty of Care services like WorldAware and iSOS have been utilized during this time, Suzanne worked with their provider (iSOS) to verify their reports and ensure they didn’t miss anyone. For ZS, they preferred to manage employee communications themselves as they felt messages would be better received if they came from someone internal to their organization.
Going forward, Suzanne feels that government policy and mandates regarding duty of care will be different country by country and that some countries will start to intervene more.
A few audience members wondered how COVID-19 will affect relationships with travel suppliers like airlines and hotels. Regarding pricing, Caroline reminded us that the laws of supply and demand will always prevail. The timing of supply will depend on when restrictions are lifted and she wouldn’t be surprised if suppliers that don’t survive will result in more captive markets (especially airlines) and, as a result, cause price increases.
For hotels, Suzanne thinks pricing will be at an all-time low. While airlines can likely control their costs based on flying their planes, hotels don’t have the same luxury with their costs.
Attendees were curious about supplier contracts for 2020 and 2021. Suzanne has been doing some work on this for ZS’ air program. Recently her suppliers have said they’ll extend through 2021. She thinks hotels, on the other hand, will be the rockiest. Suzanne anticipates they’ll be the hardest hit in the industry so she is not terribly concerned about hotel price gouging in the near future.
Caroline expects hotel partners will extend current terms to 2021 but there may be an opportunity to revisit the landscape since some destinations may be less or more relevant in the future. Her chain partners don’t project deep discounting in the transient sector however the group/meeting business currently offers some cost incentives and more favorable attrition/cancelation terms.
Regarding if companies will use supplier-direct bookings as a means to cut costs if we do have a recession, Caroline felt that organizations would only feel comfortable if they were already equipped to monitor those off-channel bookings. Otherwise, she expects there to be an uptake in TMC adoption (at least in the short term). Companies will need to be able to account for all employees’ travel in order to assess potential risk.
Our panelists, as always, are treating their travelers as a key stakeholder in their travel program. They trust that employees will carefully weigh the risks of travel and expect that their employers should arm them with safety protections. That being said, Caroline thinks that travelers would also appreciate the right to refuse travel and be afforded alternative means to achieve their role objectives. “Essential travel” will likely be how travel will restart but will be subject to strict pre-approval and risk control measures.
Suzanne also emphasizes that humans are social beings with a need for connection and we tend to have a short memory. As a result, she thinks that things will go back to normal sooner than we think.
Credits & Refunds
There were also some questions about available credits and true refund numbers from cancelled bookings. Caroline’s view is that a TMC should be able to report the status of your credits and the value of their redemption or loss. She suggests also leveraging your support to identify tickets eligible for name change transfer to share that cost avoidance opportunity with other budget stakeholders in your organization.
Regarding the idea of moving airline credits to UATP cards for easier management of the funds, Suzanne says that their credits are billed to clients so they will need to continue to go to the same clients.
Suzanne says that tracking credits and refunds is exactly why she thinks people need Traxo and BI tools. One should never rely on one singular source of truth for these numbers since it’s unlikely to be complete. Traxo will help get booking data for the folks who book outside of your program and the BI tool will bring all your sources together for consolidated reporting.