February 22, 2024

In the shadows

Misunderstood and often dismissed as the less glamorous side of the sector, corporate travel must shout louder, says travel manager Alice Linley-Munro 

If I charged commission to my friends for arranging their holidays I’d be mortgage free and flying first class. I’ve become their ‘go to’ for travel advice, but to be fair I’m also guilty of texting my GP friend for a medical diagnosis or FaceTiming my tube driver friend rather than calling up Citymapper, so I suppose I can’t complain.

I could spell out the differences between corporate and leisure travel, but having tried that before – and been met with very blank stares – it’s easier to fire up my laptop and ask if they prefer a beach or a pool.

A few years ago we had to ban anyone from mentioning the name of a certain aggregator website in the office because we would send travellers a quote and a few minutes later they would ping back something they’d found online. We tried to explain, but it was two bookers versus 200 travellers and so the path of least resistance was to send out a blanket email simply saying “no more”.

One particularly frustrated ex-colleague wasn’t expecting me to point out that one of the reasons he’d found a cheaper flight online was that he had asked us to look for SIN-LHR and then had searched the web for LHR-SIN. I remember he went as red as the fruit in the phrase “not comparing apples to apples”.

It’s often easier to reduce someone’s profession to a more simplistic description when we don’t actually understand the nuances of their role. I know, because I do it with friends. The accountant does “maths”, the engineer “plays with helicopters” and if you ask my nephew, Mummy works with naughty people (she’s a prison officer).

If my closest friends can’t understand the difference, having heard me talk at length about my job, it becomes easier to understand why the Government and other policy makers see travel as one homogenous lump and act accordingly, no matter how frustrating that may be.

Corporate travel largely exists in the shadows behind its more glamorous relative, the leisure sector, which is why you often hear stories of people “ending up” in our side of the industry, rather than it being a lifelong dream. The lobbying by industry groups during the pandemic has helped raise the profile of corporate travel at government level but as an industry we also need to work together to attract the next generation of talent.

We can’t offer the jet-set lifestyle of cabin crew, or the warm fuzzy feelings of helping someone book the holiday of a lifetime, but we can offer a solid career with good progression and opportunities, as well as a supportive network and some fun thrown in for good measure.

The drive to attract new talent shouldn’t come from individual companies. Instead, suppliers and buyers from across the industry should group together to showcase the career paths available through engagement with targeted educational establishments and clever marketing. The future of our beloved industry could very well depend on it. 

Alice Linley-Munro is Travel Manager for Oil Spill Response Ltd, where she has worked for 11 years. She has a particular interest in risk management and wellbeing and served for three years on the Board of Directors for ITM.