Interview with Bertrand Saillet: Travel managers' changing priorities post-COVID

INSIGHT

Travel managers' changing priorities post-covid

From the need to rethink business travel policies to an overhaul of airline policies to the demand of touchless alternatives, travel managers must adapt to new ways of doing their jobs as their organisations resume travel. 

Bertrand Saillet, Managing Director at FCM Asia spoke with the ITB community to explore some of the ways we see travel managers’ priorities shifting after 2020.

 

Watch the recording of the 'Travel Managers’ New Priorities' session, first broadcast on 9 June 2021 at ITB's Travel Meet Asia: MICE & Corporate event. Features Bertrand Saillet, Managing Director Asia at FCM Travel Asia & Simone Seiler, General Manager at FCM Meetings & Events.

What are the most significant changes you have observed in corporate travel since the start of the pandemic?

I would say COVID-19 has had far-reaching consequences on the corporate travel sector, changing fundamental behaviours of travellers and subsequently how business travel managers will handle the travel programmes.

These changes can be observed in the following three areas:

  1. Remote working, which has caused re-evaluation in the true value of meetings and travel, and re-defined what is truly essential travel;

  2. Travel policy changes, which include increase in Safety and Risk (Duty of Care) requirements, approval procedures, requirements to work with suppliers (airlines, accommodation providers, land transfer operators) that have their own safety and sanitation standards or certifications;

  3. Sustainability rising on corporate and government agendas – companies and their travellers will increasingly factor a trip’s impact on the environment into their business travel decisions.

Much is spoken and written about ‘the new normal’. What is it for you and the business travel managers in your network? 

What the past year has taught us is that companies and their travellers require more support than ever. — This includes Duty of Care to enable accurate traveller tracking, ensuring there are no gaps on supplier safety or even simplifying the end-to-end process. There may be more procedures and tests to get through when preparing for a trip, but this is where a business travel manager can really see value in a travel management company (TMC) that fully supports them.

With business travel slowly returning, it needs to be fully adaptable as the needs and wants of corporate travellers will be different. Travel managers’ requirements will have evolved, with many wanting information, support, insights at their fingertips. In the new normal, situations can change or turnaround extremely quickly, so we have to be prepared at all times.

Many companies would have already adapted to the new normal, whether that is more video-conferencing and less face-to-face meetings, or finding out that they really need their people to get back on the road to close more deals. It will be different for every company depending on the industry they are in, but what is certain is that every trip will be evaluated and taken more mindfully. With more precise evaluation, preparation and planning for every trip, companies will be able to get a better ROI on every trip and an improved work-life balance for employees.

With business travel slowly returning, it needs to be fully adaptable as the needs and wants of corporate travellers will be different. Travel managers’ requirements will have evolved, with many wanting information, support, insights at their fingertips.

In the new normal, situations can change or turnaround extremely quickly, so we have to be prepared at all times. Singapore has managed effective containment for over nine months; the recent spike may be a slight setback with the Singapore – Hong Kong air travel bubble postponed a second time. However, it is clear that both Singapore and Hong Kong remain very committed to opening the travel bubble as both cities are key international business hubs. Hence I am confident that the Singapore – Hong Kong air travel bubble will come through sooner, rather than later.

Pre-departure and arrival health screening may become a permanent feature according to some industry observers. How can business travel managers best make arrangements to handle that requirement in the long run?

Information, information, information – travellers will only feel more confident about their travels when they have timely and accurate information. Travel managers need to ensure they can provide real-time information to travellers when they need it most.

Business travel managers need to always have access to the latest immigration and visa policy updates as government regulations keep changing due to the uncertain travel environment caused by the pandemic.

Besides using travel technology to help keep you up to date on latest information, travel managers need to be increasingly adaptable to the ever-changing travel landscape or ensure your travel management company is able to meet your needs through a flexible mindset.

Other actions needed include working with a reliable healthcare institution or ensuring your TMC works with one to take care of all COVID-related necessary tests and screenings. Also, you need to ensure travellers have all their necessary health certifications and vaccinations in one place, such as a health wallet or passport. You can also use your TMC’s health wallet or passport if they have one.

What can business travel managers do to support a renewed emphasis on environmental sustainability?

I would say, build sustainable processes and practices intro your business travel policy while developing buy-in from employees/travellers, through engagement to make them feel like they are a part of the process or agenda.

You can work with your travel management company to put sustainability at the heart of the booking process. This will help employees make better decisions regarding their carbon footprint, at the same time help organisations to meet their global sustainability goals.

Numbers speak for themselves. Hence I would suggest travel managers to translate their sustainable focus into tangible goals. More companies are seeking dashboards that show corporate travel statistics in terms of carbon emissions and CO2 savings. Through carbon credit reporting, travel managers will be able validate how their emissions translate into offsetting credits and projects which they seek to support.

 

This article is also featured on ITB Community.