Bev Fearis, Editor of The Business Travel Magazine, chats with Niklas Andréen, President Traveller Experience and Customer at CWT.
Here’s a snapshot of what he had to say, summarised by Cecilia Morris:
Are you excited to get back to travelling again?
Yes, I am. I believe that despite new technologies such as Zoom and Webex meetings and video conferencing, nothing replaces human interactions in terms of new sales, difficult discussions and negotiations and creating innovative environments. Some of the internal meetings you can absolutely do with video conferencing but it doesn’t fill all the needs.
What do you think of Bill Gates’ prediction for the doom of the business travel industry?
I’m feeling positive and optimistic about its future and I think the industry should be too. Whilst it will probably take somewhere between three to five years to get back where we were in 2019, but people meeting people in a global economy is essential.
Are you hearing this from your clients themselves?
I am. The timing and approach is different depending on the customer, but our clients are ready to come back and to continue growing their businesses. Regarding internal meetings, hybrid meetings could have a positive effect by expanding the number of people we can reach out to. People are thinking hard about a balance between personal relationships with others, whilst also using digital meetings to expand the scope of what we do.
How will the role of travel managers change and need to adapt?
Travel managers will now play a more bigger role, than when it was just about managing suppliers. They will not take a more integral role as employee wellbeing and duty of care is higher up on company agendas. We see that swing up and down, but I think this pandemic will put it permanentlyat the centre of what companies do. It’s also about how can travel managers help simplify business travel.
Encouragingly, we’re seeing tech corporations pulling together to think about a digital vaccine or health passport and governments are in discussion over new regulations. This will build trust and confidence in reducing the quarantine, with the vaccine itself is giving a lot of people the belief that we can get through this.
The industry has clearly put on a united front during this time, hopefully this is something we will see continue?
The business travel industry is fantastic at pulling together whenever there is a crisi, whether it’s a volcano or a terrorist act. It is resilient, as it’s in our nature to handle things that go wrong, because they always do, somewhere in the world. We have the capability, the confidence and the belief to make things right. I actually think we’re the best industry when it comes to handling change, especially when it’s something from outside.
Are your clients eager to get back on planes again or is there some resistance?
When I talk to our clients, it’s not a case of saying we’re going to take the money and bank it as savings and assume we’re never going to travel again. Most of them are saying we’re keeping that money to make sure we can get back to travelling because we see the benefit of human interaction, apart from maybe where they’re asking how can we make internal travel even more efficient.
How should travel managers prepare for when travel begins to pick up again?
They should be looking at their travel programmes, the pre-trip part of it, how do we make the programme efficient not just for compliance but also to support travellers. The travel programme is there to help facilitate your travel; therefore, you can highlight the benefits of your programme. Focus on the routine you as a business have set up in order to make travelling as simple as possible. Focus on taking away the noise for the traveller from these new restrictions, for example to show they’ve had the vaccine or a test. It’s the same for when travellers get back from a trip.
Do you think testing will be around in the long term?
Well, that’s a billion dollar question! Yes, I think some form of a vaccine or a digital passport will be around. We should work with the aim of making it a necessity rather than a hindrance to travelling. We will need to try to minimize the difficulty during this process of adaptation and travel managers, alongside their travel partners, are essential to this.
Do you agree that the role of travel managers will have a much higher status coming out of this?
Yes, you see businesses that were already there with this before the pandemic. Travel managers are going to have a much wider tool kit and will be a really important part to play. Travel managers have done a fantastic job over the years and now they will have a couple of areas we need to work through.
Where do you think your first trip will be?
I am very keen to get back on an airplane and I have an immense amount of trust in the airlines and hotel partners and what they’ve achieved in terms of putting procedures and processes in place. I will take the first plane to wherever a dialogue requires face-to-face meetings, so that we might make our world be a little bit smarter, more innovative and help our businesses grow.