April 16, 2024

The right combination

Ian Sinderson, CEO ATPI Group, comments on recent TMC consolidation and predicts the buying frenzy isn't over yet

The last five years or so in the TMC sector has been a frenzy of market consolidation, new entrants and even closures – all accelerated recently in the intensifying heat of the Covid-19 pandemic. Step back, and the industry looks to be returning to its foundations.

The much-hyped disruptors and new entrants are hoovering up trusted and established brands in a bid to bolster their services and expertise. In the case of the business travel industry, change has been good when it is tempered with a decent dose of experience and knowledge.

Tech start-ups are exciting and positive for every industry. At ATPI we’ve put our money where our mouth is and invested significantly in several. And of course we’ve watched with interest as different ones rise and evolve in the business travel sector.

When it comes to new market entrants, we are most interested in two things: firstly how can the new services they offer make life easier for our clients, and secondly, how will their success create new opportunities or challenges for the future of our industry?

“The corporate travel world is exactly like driving in rush hour across a busy city”

When it comes to benefits for corporate travel buyers, a few years ago moving all elements of planning and buying business travel online was the holy grail. We consistently read promises of frictionless and automated experiences. Of course, decent tech is fundamental to easy travel booking and reporting. But by its nature corporate travel isn’t simple. There would be limited need for a TMC if that was the case.

Just like the journey to autonomous vehicles has been far longer and more complicated than tech giants had us believe a few decades ago, assuming corporate travel can go fully self-service is somewhat short-sighted. Self-driving cars work brilliantly when the environment they operate in is predictable, when things move around it at consistent speeds and when everything else involved behaves in exactly the same way every single time. And we all know life is just not like that.

The corporate travel world is exactly like driving in rush hour across a busy city. There are all manner of obstructions, plenty of wayward actions and a hundred things happening every minute that might derail the best laid plans. Artificial Intelligence (AI) hasn’t worked out how to tackle the M25, and it hasn’t got there yet with business travel either.

Of course, TMCs want to encourage self-service and online booking tools where we can, but those of us who prioritise first-class service also know that the complexities of a busy travel schedule need the human touch. And an expert human touch at that. In fact, in the heat of the pandemic during lockdown and border closures the world over, our clients in industries who still had to travel needed people who could plan routes that didn’t exist.

We created ways to move, planned ahead for scenarios A to Z, chartered flights and pulled on our established relationships across government agencies and the travel industry. The best online booking tool in the world can’t do that.

“The acquisitions frenzy is far from over as newer players continue to invest to overcome their shortcomings

I’m in no way surprised that recent acquisitions in our industry have been between polar opposite companies. The tech pioneers have needed to ensure that they can service clients and meet their demands all around the world.

In fact, the tech world of being based-anywhere is no longer a proclamation of many businesses in this area and I’m noticing more of our newest competitors making the most of a traditional office network from a business they’ve recently acquired.

And the most stalwart TMCs are embracing partnerships and new investment from tech disruptors knowing that together they are a compelling option for their corporate travel clients. With limited proprietary technology platforms, their clients enjoy a massive boost in this area overnight. They also know that they bring valuable assets to the table in terms of service and expertise that are essential to any tech business wanting to succeed in this space.

The experience of the last 20 months means that new market entrants will ensure they have their service proposition well and truly established before they gun for growth. This means the acquisitions frenzy is far from over as newer players continue to invest to overcome their shortcomings.

A combination of the expertise to deliver the right service, and the power to act accordingly, is everything. Like any TMC, we are nothing without providing added-value to our clients on every policy, transaction, report and more. It takes a clever combination of brilliant tech and brilliant people to truly deliver this.