April 23, 2024

How times have changed

Scott Davies at ITM reflects on how much the travel buyer role has evolved over the years and how much has changed, or not...

As The Business Traveller Magazine celebrates its 100th issue, it’s incredible to think how the role of the travel manager/buyer has evolved.

In the early days travel management was a highly people, paper and postage-intensive business with almost all transactions conducted over the phone with trained bookers and operatives. Ticketing conditions and green screen jargon meant that there was something of a mystique around those who fully understood the end-to-end complexities.

Travel managers tended have backgrounds with TMCs or ‘business travel agents’. Due to the open-ended nature of commissions and fixed sales and marketing agreement the way that TMCs earned their money was rather opaque. And making a couple of Concorde bookings in a week would transform the performance of the branch office.

In addition to perennial stakeholder and other internal stuff travel managers would conduct a revolving door of monthly review meetings with suppliers. Prime focus would be upon driving down costs and many of us struggle to forget the painfully attritional negotiations that were the norm.

So much has changed. Aside from short term crisis situations and out of hours assistance, transactions are mostly untouched by people. Whilst efficiencies through technology have thankfully driven the paperwork, native displays and delayed reporting out of the industry I would suggest that, in all other ways, travel management is a whole lot more complicated.

ITM surveys confirm that travel buyers must now be experts in areas of sustainability and carbon removal, neurodiversity, accessibility, equity and inclusion, duty of care, visas and other border documentation, retailing and distribution technologies. I’m really only scratching the surface here. Back in the early days travel managers had to be smart cookies with a good measure of collaboration and relationship-building skills, resilience and vision. This would seem to be just as applicable today, albeit with each element supercharged.

Just to add to the fun, fundamental shifts in the commercial models and approaches from suppliers have meant that money flows in the industry are once again rather confusing, complicated and opaque.

It would be nice to think that in another 100 editions this latter rather troublesome part of our industry has clarified and crystalised in a universally satisfactory way. Still, I may not be that bothered. I hope to be jetting away in retirement on whatever the successor to Concorde is…..

Disclaimer: As CEO of a not-for-profit there is no chance of me affording this dream sequence scenario!