Flight Centre Business Travel (FCBT) has spent the past year laying a solid foundation to deliver a customer-centric approach to travel management. These hold the key to long-term sustainability, better business performance and greater ROI from business travel.
A strong focus for companies in 2018 should be to seek ways to make your own employees more productive, implement safety and security measures and use travel as an enabler for business growth.
The business performance of the organisation, achieved by sound travel practices and a strong travel policy, is not only the goal of that corporate, but also of the TMC, whose staff KPIs are linked to the success of the travel programme.
Here’s our top predictions for business travel in 2018…
1. Further Evolution of the Travel Agent to Consultant
Today’s travel agent is in fact a travel consultant or travel professional with the expertise and knowledge to go beyond the booking transaction and add value to the rest of the travel journey, from planning a business trip to shaping a company’s travel policy and strategy.
Customers expect that travel consultants, at the bare minimum, should be able to provide basic operational travel requirements such as planning, booking and managing issues.
Where the travel consultant adds real value in 2018 is by meeting more strategic needs such as delivering cost-savings, introducing business efficiencies, interpreting travel-related data and ensuring the safety and security of the end traveller, as much as possible, during the business trip. This requires different a skillset than that which travel agents were equipped with in the past.
According to a GBTA-Concur Study, travel buyers want access to a dedicated team of “highly qualified customer service consultants” who are specifically assigned to work with their company to provide round-the-clock support. This ensures a personal, established relationship and helps the travel consultants to be more familiar with travellers and their needs.
When considering your travel options such as an Online Booking Tool (OBT) versus booking online or using a TMC, you will find no matter the options available at your fingertips, each option is only optimal with the support of a reliable TMC. Another consideration is the various generations of business travellers and their unique preferences in terms of the technology they use for travel planning and booking. While millennials may prefer booking their travel on an OBT on the run, a Baby Boomer may want to deal with a person. One needs to balance the preferences of the traveller, with the needs of the organisation, however. It would, for example, not make sense to spend time and money configuring an OBT if there’s only one eager millennial in the company who will make use of it.
2. Traveller Safety
Airport security in South Africa is in the spotlight and will continue to be top of mind in 2018, unless the influx of incidences of rampant crime we have recently seen at OR Tambo International Airport come to an end.
In the case of the largest airport hub in South Africa, enhanced security measures are now being implemented to safeguard passengers using the airport.
“OR Tambo International Airport is the gateway to Africa’s largest economy and if we want to grow the tourism and travel sectors we need to ensure that passengers who travel through this airport feel safe,” says Andrew Stark, MD Middle East and Africa, Flight Centre Travel Group.
“Some basic things like security, lighting, dealing with hawkers and enhanced security checkpoints would go a long way to ensuring the safety of our passengers,” he says.
Airport security is taken very seriously elsewhere in the world and will continue to be enhanced as the threat of terror attacks continue.
The USA’s Department of Homeland Security is rolling out heightened security measures which include stricter pre-flight passenger screening through short security interviews, and more rigorous checks on electronic devices like phones, tablets and laptops. This comes after the stringent restrictions imposed on business travellers travelling with electronic devices (laptops and such) which both implemented and lifted in 2017.
Australia for its part recently tightened up its airport security, increasing screenings of hand and checked luggage and introducing random searches of workers entering and inside its airports.
“The days of getting to the airport just two hours prior to your flight and short transits are long gone,” says Ryan Potgieter, former Brand Leader Flight Centre Business Travel. “Travellers will need to account for the additional security measures and resulting queues by getting to the airport earlier and increasing the transit time between flights. We very much anticipate airport security getting even stricter in 2018.”
The knock-on effect of these regimes is the responsibility of smaller corporates to pay more attention to their duty of care programmes. It’s no longer only large conglomerates who have to consider emergency evacuation procedures for their travellers. Destinations that were once seen as safe can in an instant no longer be seen safe. It doesn’t matter where staff are travelling to, it is now every company’s duty of care responsibility to take all measures possible to ensure their safety for the duration of their business trip
Ultimately, says Ryan, duty of care is an area in which their travel professional can assist. “A dedicated travel management company like FCBT will help you define a simple and effective travel policy for your business and enforce it. So, when disaster strikes or your travellers fall ill whilst travelling, they will know where your employees are and help to get them out of harm’s way.”
And this harm need not even be as serious as a terrorist attack. Staff members could be the victim of petty crime or involved in a car accident. They’ll still require the assistance of the company while their travelling to assist with formalities.
3. Air Ticket Surcharge
Airlines are under severe pressure to keep their costs down and the price of distribution is one of their greatest expenses. Margins in the airline industry are tiny and external factors often have a great impact on their profitability, e.g. rise in oil price, foreign currency shortages and political interference from government shareholders.
“The viability of routes will continue to be assessed in 2018”, predicts Potgieter. If a route does not have a basic market, or competitors and customers are able to drive down the ticket prices on that route to unsustainable levels, the airline may choose to withdraw that route, which on a continent like Africa has serious repercussions, bearing in mind there are only 300 estimated city pairs that can sustain themselves on a point-to-point basis on the continent. It is therefore not in the best interest of the corporate and business traveller to drive price decreases continuously.
FCBT strives to offer clients the widest range of travel products for the best possible value, helping corporates maximise their travel spend and personalise the booking experience.
A growing trend, set to rise in 2018 where long haul business destinations are providing an opportunity for travellers to extend their trips for leisure purposes, adding a day or two before or after their conference or meetings to spend some time exploring the sights. It has been closely linked to employee productivity, reducing traveller friction and improving job satisfaction.
“For the effort and cost it takes to plan a business trip, it makes sense to spend a few additional days in your destination. Arriving a few days before you need to conduct your business also gives you an opportunity to relax and orientate yourself so that you ease into your surrounds and are fresh and prepared to tackle your business trip with minimal inconvenience,” explains former Flight Centre Business Travel Brand Leader Ryan Potgieter(2017).
If you’re worried about the additional expense and time, there are ways in which to enjoy bleisure in your destination without encroaching on your productivity and budget. You simply need to be smart in your travel planning and enlist the help of a travel management company to ensure you get the most benefit from your bleisure extension. Even something as obvious as booking a hotel with unlimited free WiFi can give you peace of mind when you’re away from the office.
The bottom line is corporates need to shift their focus to the well-being and safety of their travellers. You can only grow your business into Africa by improving productivity, ensuring your travellers are looked after from take-off to touch down and maximising your travel spend. Partnering with a reputable TMC like FCBT who has the right global contracts in place allows you to get back to focusing on your business while we take care of the rest. Get in touch with us for more information.