June 13, 2024

Keep your sanity

It’s not easy being a travel manager right now, says Louise Kilgannon at Festive Road, who suggests ways to ease the pressure

At the end of 2022, I agreed to moderate a taskforce on behalf of the ITM. It was a topic close to my heart: The Future of the Travel Manager.

We set about preparing the content and where we thought the conversation would go. Five minutes into the first call, I realised we needed to rip up the plan and be guided by the seasoned buyers in the group.

Of course, everybody wanted to look forward and create an optimistic view of the future. However, since Covid and, some would agree, in the years leading up to it, the perfect storm has been brewing, and it’s having a huge impact on those leading travel programmes, with 61% of the taskforce members saying they’re stuck in the weeds.

A litany of industry challenges was exacerbated by the pandemic, and current economic and social volatility have led to unprecedented (yes, there’s that word again) challenges across our supply chain.

Travel managers split their time between managing suppliers and managing the expectations of internal stakeholders, managing up and down the chain of command. And in both cases, things have changed beyond recognition. Because how do you manage a service when your SLAs have dipped to below 10% and your senior stakeholders don’t understand the bigger picture? No amount of scenario planning could have prepared travel teams for this.

As travellers, bookers and senior stakeholders become increasingly irate with the situation, buyers are being dragged into the operational details.

Finding time to step back and look objectively at the facts is a huge challenge but it’s essential. It will give you clarity around what’s in and out of your sphere of control and influence. The uncertainty is set to continue but restating your role, your supplier relationships and the state of the industry may just be the sanity saver you need.

Here are some ideas to help travel teams cope with challenges, which we all hope are only in the short term:

Managing senior stakeholders:

Use all of your expertise and the resources at your fingertips to put together a ‘state of the industry update’ for your business.

Outline what’s in your sphere of control and influence versus what is happening at a macro level. This helps to remove the emotion from the situation.

Present clear options to your leadership. There may be a drive to make knee-jerk changes in your supply chain but take time to apply the same due diligence you would in a normal business environment.

Use organisations like ITM and GBTA to build networks and have regular check-ins.

Managing travellers and bookers:

Create a travel playbook to build traveller and booker confidence, sharing what has changed. Engage often with key bookers and travellers to build a network of advocates with access to the facts.

Put a weekly report out detailing SLA statistics and priorities on your recovery plans. It may not be good news but it’s helpful to acknowledge challenges head-on.

Managing TMC relationships:

As your TMC recruits and trains new staff, what can you do to support the building of knowledge? Create FAQs and onboarding support documents for these new agents.

Dust off your contract and initiate your governance process, escalating wherever possible. Bring in more senior members of the TMC team to meet with stakeholders and demonstrate your influence.

Work with your TMC and OBT provider to formulate a joint plan to get travellers back online. Consider segmenting queries and calls to drive the queries to the right channels.

Louise Kilgannon has worked in the travel industry for 15 years, mainly on the buyer side. Before joining Festive Road she was Outsourcing Director for American Express Consulting. She also sits on the Board of the ITM and various other industry committees.