It is not my intention to be insensitive when I contemplate and talk about how COVID-19 will impact the corporate travel business after the pandemic is gone nor is it my intention to draw any serious parallel to Winston Churchill’s words as he considered global instability and uncertainty during a different time and under much different circumstances. This is just where my anxiety filled brain takes me at the moment, under quarantine, worried and hopeful at the same time about friends, family, colleagues, our industry, and competitors.
When we considered creating CapTrav in early 2018, the motivation was centered around capturing corporate travel spend leakage and leveraging that spend with air and hotel suppliers. NDC was on the horizon, we knew that supplier strategy was becoming more focused on supplier direct bookings, and we understood that the changing demographics in organizations made it unlikely that in light of these realities, we’d see much uptick in TMC traveler compliance. Maybe as importantly, our procurement focused clients were pushing us to find savings, deals, and creative ways to think about their programs. As a result, we saw great promise for an innovative technology that could potentially change the way the industry thinks about procurement, preferred supplier deals, and capturing program leakage.
Capture All Corporate Travel-Related Bookings
It had occurred to us, albeit as a bit of an after-thought, that if we had the ability to capture all corporate travel related bookings no matter the booking source including suppliers not captured by the TMC at all (Airbnb, VRBO, Uber, Lyft), that we’d have the data we’d need to supplement risk management programs. After all, risk programs rely on TMC data feeds for traveler tracking and its hard not to remember the problems we ran into after 9/11, the Boston bombing, the volcano, et cetera. As we considered this a bit further it also occurred to us that the biggest shortcoming of traditional risk programs is lodging. Whereas travelers may spend a few hours on an airplane, she spends 5 times that in the hotel, and hotel leakage is rampant which means if your traveler books outside of the TMC, her company has no way to find her. Even worse if she books Airbnb or VRBO, the TMC has no ability to capture these as PNR segments. Our current situation has made this painfully clear to so many of us.
Duty of Care and What It Means
So, we sit quarantined, hoping to go back to work and travel soon. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over but by most accounts, lawsuits from stranded employees are starting to roll in. Companies have a legal responsibility to ensure they provide a duty of care to its traveling employees. And by most expert accounts, COVID-19 will be back in the Fall and we may find ourselves in the same place. What do we do? TMC’s will no doubt push compliance – they should and must. Many companies will most likely do everything possible to take this advice – they should and must. But we’ve seen this movie before. Corporate travel compliance as an industry is no better now than before 9/11, for example and we have no reason to believe this will be any different over the long term.
Perhaps, quite the opposite. When we consider external factors getting in the way of better compliance – middle managers in corporations today are millennials who do not like to be told what to do, our shopping options are getting more robust not less, NDC creates the likelihood that our colleague in the cubicle down the hall really might “find it cheaper” somewhere else, and our Human Resources departments are using corporate travel as a company perk more and more making it impossible to tell a traveler how to procure their business trip.
It’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Kind of makes sense??
While we will certainly find ourselves focused on cost savings and supplier leverage again, our sole focus right now is on risk management. This week, industry consultants and travel risk experts including John Rose (Chief Risk Officer at Altour and former COO at iJet), Bruce McIndoe (President and Founder of WorldAware), Krissy Herman (VP, KesselRun Consulting), and Duane Futch (CEO Global Travel and Aviation Solutions) essentially coalesced around strategic thinking as a result of COVID-19 in a great Company Dime article. Issues around data normalization, capturing off channel bookings (particularly hotel), and a necessity for companies to have a complete view of their travelers whereabouts are all items that must be addressed. Based on my conversations with risk experts and general counsel within organizations, we find ourselves in a “must have” situation given that tools such as CapTrav are readily available in the marketplace. Business as usual would be enough but for the fact that the problems posed and legal risks that stem from these issues can be now be addressed. In other words, organizations have a responsibility to solve this problem.
What Should You Do Now?
Here’s the good news which at least partially answers the riddle. Implementing a tool (CapTrav or otherwise) that captures “off-channel” bookings not only helps organizations take the right steps toward better risk management but it also helps optimize the corporate travel program in general. No matter what spend category within an organization you consider, having more and better data is always beneficial. Given changes to the corporate travel industry and the sobering wake up call we all share at the moment, we can see that risk and corporate travel are symbiotic. Not only are we positioned to be better prepared next time but also can be set up to better optimize what is typically one of the largest and manageable spend categories in companies today.