July 15, 2024

Reasons to be cheerful

Our industry continues to face tough challenges but there are still plenty of reasons to be feeling positive as we stride into 2023. Here are 10 for starters…

1 Business travel is well and truly back

Despite the gloomy predictions during the dark days of the pandemic, business travel is far from dead. After coming back faster than many predicted in 2022, it looks set to significantly grow again this year.

According to a GBTA poll of travel managers, 78% expect the number of business trips taken by employees will be higher or much higher in 2023 versus 2022. Travel suppliers are even more optimistic, with 85% believing the number of corporate bookings will be higher or much higher. And it’s not just the number of trips: 80% of suppliers expect corporate travel spending will rise too.

“There is much to anticipate in 2023,” says Catherine Logan, Regional VP EMEA, GBTA. “For the first-time post-pandemic we can look forward and plan with confidence for the year ahead, knowing that the event will be able to take place. We are now seeing attendee numbers rise in line with pre-pandemic levels and opportunities to open new events in new markets is attracting a lot of support and interest.”

Felix Attua-Afari, founder of Blue Cube Travel Ghana, agrees. “I am more hopeful than ever before that corporate travel and travel in general will continue to see increased activity. Despite all the gloomy economic forecasts, I think it is fair to say that 2023 will be a lot busier on the business travel front as more and more entities push for business as usual.”

Lee Whiteing, Commercial Director at GSA, is just as optimistic. “According to a recent survey from Sabre, 82% of travel agents and TMCs expect a bounce back of corporate travel and 15% expect a travel boom within the next 12 months. Despite many organisations scaling down business travel, there is still plenty of appetite for face-to-face interactions.”

Which brings us neatly on to reason number two…

2 There’s a big appetite for in-person meetings

“Whatever shorthand you use – in-person, face to face, IRL (in real life) – as volumes have returned so has the sense of occasion for meeting face to face and the importance to how an organisation works,” says James Parkhouse, CEO at Agiito. “We are social creatures and think we understand now both the potential, and probably more importantly the limits, to virtual activity.”

Joel Hanson, Senior Director Innovation Business Development, CWT, notes that meeting in “full, vivid, 3D technicolor” contains at least 100 times more data than any web conferencing tool. “There is simply more information transmitted. One glance into anyone’s eyes is a treasure trove of more data than can be fully consumed.”

Sarah Wilson, CEO ACE Travel Management, shares that view. “Though virtual meeting technology has advanced in recent years, people still agree that the value of face-to-face interactions cannot be replaced by any kind of digital tool,” she argues. “When face to face with a prospect you can build a sense of trust that is not possible via a screen. This, in turn, helps you to forge a strong relationship that can translate into new business opportunities.”

“One glance into anyone’s eyes is a treasure trove of more data than can be fully consumed”

People have realised that Zoom “just doesn’t cut it”, says Jack Dow, Founder & CEO, Grapevine. “Whilst video calls now have a well-earned place in our lives, time has also proven that both external and internal in-person meetings are critical for businesses to function. External meetings are essential to build new relationships from scratch, close deals and prove that you are open for business. Internal meetings are a necessity to help build culture and relationships within your organisation.”

Which provides the perfect segue to reason number three…

3 Internal travel is alive and kicking

Informal conversations with colleagues and face-to-face meetings were the two top things employees missed when working remotely during the pandemic, according to research by IESE Business School. Of course, we’re no longer forced to work in isolation but remote or hybrid working is increasingly the norm in many companies, prompting a rise in internal get-togethers or team meetings.

“Company events are booming, accounting for 39% of bookings, up from 30% pre-pandemic, with more to come as events, workshops, and offsites become more prominent reasons for business travel in the new normal,’ explains JC Taunay Bucalo, Chief Revenue Officer at TravelPerk.

Kent Hendricks, Business Development Director EMEA, World Travel Protection, agrees: “2023 is going to be the year that teams can finally get together and regroup. Teams spread over different locations have often been working together for two or three years yet have only met via Teams and Zoom. They’re excited to be seeing each other in person and many organisations are building in time for informal socialising in a way they didn’t do before.”

In-person events in our own industry are also back in force and are being embraced with a newfound enthusiasm.

“I don’t think I would be the first to say that in 2019, after over 20 years of attending industry events, I was starting to find them a little bit tiring,” admits Guy Snelgar, Global Business Travel Director, The Advantage Travel Partnership. “Having them suddenly taken from you, however, really changes the perspective.”

4 Sustainable travel is entering a new era

“2023 will be the year when many businesses truly turn climate commitments into action,” says Kit Aspen, co-founder of Thrust Carbon.

With new rules coming into force relating to reporting progress towards net zero, he predicts that after several years where organisations have been busy setting ambitious goals there will now be an increasing effort to ensure they are backed by real clarity and action.

“2023 is going to be the year that teams can finally get together and regroup”

Coupled with recent EU commitments to provide a harmonised methodology to calculate transport-related emissions, the speed of change is accelerating, says Delphine Millot, SVP Sustainability and MD GBTA Foundation.

“There is much more to be done, but momentum is building to get us closer to meeting our global climate targets.”

”Greater transparency is key, says Katie Skitterall, Group Commercial Director ATPI.

“We are seeing more flights being advertised and sold with emission rates signposted upfront. Similarly, different destinations, accommodation options and locations are following suit and beginning to classify more in regard to their impact on the environment.”

Johnny Thorsen, VP Strategy & Partnerships, Spotnana, hopes this will help prompt corporate travel to shift money away from the suppliers who fail to disclose their green KPIs in a transparent way.

“They must also make clear policy rules designed to reduce the overall travel volume, such as eliminating one-day trips and enforcing rail for short-haul trips whenever possible,” he adds.

New tools – some free – are helping buyers manage accommodation, transport, and even ‘green-up’ conferences and events, adds Elkie Nicholas, Co-founder Trees4Travel.

5 Our people are more highly valued

“As we enter 2023 I am super-excited about the overall state of the travel industry, and in particular the fact that we appear to be at the beginning of a new phase where the people working in the travel industry will be valued and appreciated more than in a very long time,” says Thorsen at Spotnana.

“Expect to see more mental wellbeing initiatives, duvet days, volunteering days, charity team events, a greater focus on ESG and company values, condensed working weeks and flexible part-time roles”

“Working in travel used to be synonymous with a long list of perks and benefits designed to compensate for the sometimes crazy working hours and demanding customers expecting perfect service all the time. It is fair to say the perks and benefits have evaporated, but as we now need to attract a new generation of travel industry employees there are signs that some of these might return – and I am hopeful that the fast-growing leadership pool of Millennials and Gen Zs will challenge the norm and start providing unique and attractive benefits for the next wave of youngsters joining with native digital skills.”

Lynne Griffiths, founder and CEO of Sirius Talent Solutions, adds: “With so much emphasis now on our industry’s talent, we are seeing how companies are changing their human resources focus to put the employee at the heart of their strategy.

“From the initial interview process, onboarding, employee engagement and career development, never has the employee been considered so valuable and therefore appreciated.

“It can only mean a more engaged, happy, productive workforce ultimately making the difference to winning and retaining clients and happy travel managers.

“Expect to see more mental wellbeing initiatives, duvet days, volunteering days, charity team events, a greater focus on ESG and company values, condensed working weeks and flexible part-time roles.”

6 The talent pool is widening

After a challenging year struggling to ramp up teams and improve service levels while faced with continued disruption, the industry has been forced to look carefully at recruitment and talent development and build sustainable strategies for the future, says Pat McDonagh, CEO, Clarity.

“Historically, TMCs have fallen into the trap of only recruiting experienced staff and failing to develop the next generation,” he explains. “With the recruitment landscape changing, many TMC staff left the industry during the pandemic and didn’t return.

“The industry has had to invest heavily in training and development and the use of internships, apprenticeships, back to work and neuro-diversity schemes.

“Geography is also less of a barrier, with the ability to offer working from home, hybrid and ‘lifestyle’ working patterns expanding opportunities in the industry for those who previously may not have had access. The cavalry is coming!”

Companies are recognising the value of a more diverse workforce, says Jo Layton, Director CAP Worldwide Serviced Apartments.

“It’s taken a pandemic and a war for us to realise that we are not as diverse, as inclusive, as welcoming or as popular an industry as we all thought we were for so many years.

“Our senior teams must be cheerleaders of change, providing the support and the permission to adapt and futureproof the processes for recruitment opportunities.

“The global recruitment challenges are not just a line on a business plan to be handed to HR to solve, but they are a huge opportunity to think and act differently in how we attract and keep the best talent in our wonderful industry,” she says.

“It’s taken a pandemic and a war for us to realise that we are not as diverse, as inclusive, as welcoming or as popular an industry as we all thought we were for so many years”

Advancements in technology are helping too, says Eric Meierhans, Chief Commercial Officer, HotelHub.

“Automation and emerging AI technologies will help bridge the current gaps in the ongoing TMC staff shortage and service levels post-Covid. It will also help make it easier to train new starters and future-proof a TMC’s talent needs.”

Demonstrating faith in the industry’s future, many who were forced to leave the industry are now coming back too.

“With the upturn in business and the urgent need for companies to recruit, I’m delighted to see so many old friends and colleagues return to the industry they have worked in and been passionate about,” says David Thomas, Sales Director, Meon Valley.

7 A new generation is coming

More apprenticeships and internships, closer cooperation with colleges and universities, new vocational qualifications and initiatives like The Business Travel Magazine’s Business Travel Ambassadors campaign will help attract new people into our industry this year. The post-pandemic talent shortage is bringing a sharper focus on how to futureproof the industry. 

“It’s good to see the industry embracing new talent and recognising the importance of bringing students into our workplaces to give them ‘real life’ experience of what our industry is all about,” says Blue Cube Travel founder and Director, Mel Phaure. “We’re now working with local colleges and apprenticeship schemes to help tailor the curriculum and provide opportunities to enthusiastic young individuals.”

Mazel Vaz, a Trainee Travel Consultant, is starting 2023 with enthusiasm after completing her first year at Blue Cube.

“It’s been an incredible journey so far for me and the other trainees. I’ve gone from a flaky 19-year-old to a responsible 20-year-old,” she says.

8 The travel manager role keeps elevating

“The last two years have of course been challenging, to say the least, but travel managers have embraced this challenge, navigating their organisation and travellers through a turbulent time with many twists and turns,” says Adam Kerr, CEO and Co-Founder, Tripism.

“During this period, travel managers seized the opportunity to elevate their role, advising the C-Suite and rebuilding traveller-focused travel programmes in line with the ever-changing work environment.”

“We have entered a new geography of work – the hybrid work era – which has completely changed how people connect”

Travel is now front and centre in most organisations in terms of cost, the return on investment and on travel and sustainability initiatives, says Steve Banks, Agiito’s Chief Commercial Officer.

“So, now is the time for travel managers to engage with different stakeholders to make sure their company’s programme and buying behaviour is fit for purpose.”

Dennis Vilović, Founder Troop Travel, agrees the work of the travel and meetings manager now touches every aspect of a business and has never been more crucial.

“We have entered a new geography of work – the hybrid work era – which has completely changed how people connect.

“Adapting to hybrid work is the single most critical challenge organisations are facing today. Meetings management plays a leading role in solving this challenge.

“The work of the travel/meetings manager has a direct impact on maintaining company culture, achieving sustainability targets and driving usage of office space through enabling employees to connect in-person in a meaningful way.

“This is our Kodak moment,” he says.

9 Supply is catching up with demand

“Whilst last year saw a lot of friction in business travel as we emerged from the pandemic, I think we can optimistically say that by the end of 2023 supply and demand should have become more balanced and much of the friction should be in the rear-view mirror,” comments Agiito CEO, James Parkhouse.

“That may involve changes to prices, fees and wages, but those adjustments will be made and things will feel much smoother for everyone.”

Donna Joines, General Manager for Corporate Traveller UK, says the TMC is already seeing the signs.

“At Corporate Traveller, when making 2023 bookings we’ve started seeing airline capacity levels increase. If this continues, the cost of travel is likely to reduce, which is definitely something to be cheerful about,” she explains.

“The benefits for travel managers is that they’ll be able to present their clients with convenient options rather than those dictated by price. This opens the possibility of more direct flights from more convenient airports. Plus, with pricing levelling out, this suggests more freedom within travel budgets, leading to more people from a business being able to travel, which is great news for growing SMEs.”

But it’s not just about lower prices, she adds. “It also gives the traveller a bit more comfort and convenience when travelling.”

Which leads us to our final reason to be cheerful…

10 There’s a greater focus on wellbeing

“Looking ahead to 2023 it’s great that wellbeing is pulling rank on the agenda of more businesses and an increase in investment in tools to answer questions like ‘Are people in the air too much?’ ‘Are employees spending too long on the road?’” says John Sturino, VP Product and Technology, Egencia.

“By the end of 2023 supply and demand should have become more balanced and much of the friction should be in the rear-view mirror”

As a result, travel managers will be able to build travel programmes that deliver not only at a business level but equally consider their colleagues’ wellbeing.

“A greater focus on this sort of data will be valuable across different areas of the business and equally help to inform HR, ESG and even security conversations,” he adds.

Stefan Cars, Chief Executive & Founder, Snowfall, says the ability to now capture the first and last mile of a trip – ride-hailing, public transport, e-scooters or e-bikes – is also helping to improve traveller wellbeing and enhancing duty of care by reducing programme leakage.

“Further automation of service support, including disruption management, will enhance traveller satisfaction and wellbeing,” he believes.