Three distinct new travel management roles are emerging post Covid, says industry expert Scott Gillespie
Like it or not, we have entered the third era of managed travel, one grounded on questioning the need for travel. We’ve been forced to adopt virtual meetings, forced to adapt to working from home, and forced to recognise that meetings, not travel, create the value businesses crave.
We must accept that a good chunk of business travel will be permanently replaced by virtual meetings and the imperative to do business in a more sustainable manner.
The pandemic has ushered in the Great Travel Reset – a massive disruption opening a window for radically rethinking the goals and strategies for managing travel.
The future of managed travel will be built on smaller corporate budgets, which will mean more contention about who gets to travel, and why. More time will be spent managing travel demand and rejecting trip requests. In the new era, we can expect to see fewer but more important trips, done by fewer and more important travellers.
What hasn’t changed is the need for meetings. The question of how to meet will loom large. When will meeting in person be notably better than yet one more virtual meeting? How will management recognise the need to meet in person more often? What can be done to help travellers achieve more successful results from their meetings?
It’s now much less about getting people to meetings and much more about the value of the meeting itself. The implications for business travel are large.
Fortunately, these questions open up new career paths and these three roles are immediately relevant:
The Travel Strategist
This role is not for the fainthearted. To do this job you must own the question “How will we recognise if we are travelling too little or too much?” You will need to drive consensus for measuring important yet frustratingly subjective symptoms such as decays in trust, weaker collaborations and less impressive innovations.
You’ll carry the burden of linking business travel to the achievement of key business goals. You will strive to own the answer of when and where more travel is needed, and why. You will need to be an impartial framer of the trade-offs between the cost of travel and its benefits.
“It’s now much less about getting people to meetings and much more about the value of the meeting itself. The implications for business travel are large”
You will regularly and credibly challenge senior management to make better use of travel budgets and travellers’ time.
This is a pioneering role; one which no organisation, to my knowledge, has yet funded. And to any brave soul who takes this bait, i say this: know that this will be by far the most impactful role one can have in travel management.
The Travellers’ Champion
This role is for those more comfortable synthesizing than pioneering. Here you will own the question “How can we make our travellers safer, healthier, more willing to travel and more likely to succeed on their trips?” Not an easy remit, but one with a fairly clear path forward.
You’ll build on the good work already done in the fields of duty of care and traveller friction, and integrate key findings relevant to traveller health and wellbeing.
You’ll borrow insights from trainers of professional athletes with respect to diet, exercise, stress management, sleep, concentration and relaxation.
You’ll extoll the benefits of putting travellers in the best position to succeed at their jobs, on trip and off.
You’ll steer the redesign of travel policies and push for the adoption of technologies that put the traveller first.
As with the travel strategist’s role, you’ll need to develop new metrics, measure trip success and track traveller wellbeing. These metrics will become the new North stars of your travel programme.
The Meetings Maximizer
This role goes far beyond managed travel’s borders. For this you must own the difficult question “How can we make ALL of our meetings more impactful?”
Note that the need to travel is a small subset of the need to meet. Why not swing for the fences and tackle the far bigger problem of the wasted time we spend sitting in mediocre meetings? Fear not, for there is a wealth of excellent resources waiting to be put to work on this epic problem.
“The pandemic has ushered in the Great Travel Reset – a massive disruption opening a window for radically rethinking the goals and strategies for managing travel”
Take this path and you will quickly learn about the proven tools and techniques from the field of meetings science.
Note that this is very different from event planning. Think more about training people to be better meeting facilitators, and less about venue selection and registration sites.
You might decide to team up with your HR colleagues or go solo as you break this new trail. Rest assured that every company needs fewer and better meetings.
Find the keys to this problem and you’ll always have a long career runway.
Scott Gillespie is a an expert on travel management, procurement, analytics and traveller friction who has provided training and consultancy to many of the Fortune 500 companies and to the U.S. Government. He is Industry Advisor at tClara LLC.