5 key takeaways from Th!nk

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5 key takeaways from Th!nk

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At FCM and GBTA’s inaugural Th!nk event, everyone was challenged to take a fresh look at business travel. With many countries rebounding from pandemic shutdowns (and faster than we all thought), it was a pivotal moment to hear about trends and insights from around the world, and what the industry is focused on in the coming years.

Here are our takeaways from the kick-off event in Athens, Greece, and a few that are closer to home.

1. Post-COVID, it’s very people-driven.

Melissa Elf, General Manager, Australia at FCM explained there are two factors driving this:

  1. The Great Resignation: retaining talent as a core strategy in a travel program.
  2. Travelers are not used to being on the road or away from families, so they need the best experience.

Steve Norris, Managing Director EMEA at Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) hopes for a momentum similar to what he noticed after The Great Recession. Back then, the appetite for change was focused on spend visibility. He believes this crisis can be used as momentum to pay more attention to duty of care, travelers, and the planet.

It’s about service and answering all those questions that travelers have. And it’s also about how travel buyers can use data and technology to make trips easier. As Stephen Pitcher, FCM’s Chief Data Science Officer described: imagine knowing five minutes before everyone else in the airport that your flight is delayed. Those precious minutes make all the difference.  

2. Trips are changing

Initially, conferences appeared to be driving business travel’s recovery. Melissa shared that FCM Meetings & Events is very busy. “It’s all about creating culture and connections,” she added. This presents its challenges, as Andy Cassidy of AMC Networks explained, because conference locations mean travelers are not booking preferred hotels in the company’s travel program, and airline capacity is limited.

Bertrand Saillet, Managing Director, FCM Asia, revealed the length of trips has drastically changed. Where the average trip was five days previously, it’s now an average of 14. Trips are extended for vacation or for visiting family and friends, or there are more legs crammed into one trip.

Which was supported by Chris Galanty, Global CEO of FCTG Corporate, who increasingly hears customers say they want to travel less, but at the same time, travel better.

3. Priorities are shifting away from cost.

In a live poll at Th!nk, the audience was asked to choose their top priority from the following:

  1. Sustainability
  2. Cost/Savings
  3. Traveler wellness 

The results were close, but it was sustainability that edged the vote with 39% vs. cost/savings at 32%. Whether that’s a sign of the post-COVID landscape or a longer-term vision we will see, but the shift away from a cost-centric focus is clearly underway. FCM leaders also spoke of sustainability popping up more in RFPs. With priorities clearly changing, it’s a reminder for buyers to keep checking in with their teams on how to balance it all.

4. Communication is more important than ever.

Billy McDonough, President of FCM Americas, first mentioned the trend of increased demand for streamlined communication technology, and to deliver information to travelers in a timely manner. This is especially critical in the booking phase

Throughout Th!nk, communication needs trickled back to sustainability, for example, serving up notifications and nudges to book more eco-friendly trips. But there were also some words of warning. Ben Park, Senior Director of Procurement & Travel at Parexel, reminded buyers not to get caught up in the hype and to understand the full technology experience as a part of their travel programs. Futurist Shivvy Jervis also urged the audience to look at digital transformation as not just a challenge for IT...all departments need a voice.

5. Companies need to move to prescriptive data.

Many companies work in a descriptive or dynamic way with their data, but Stephen Pitcher said they need to move toward a predictive and prescriptive mindset. For example, knowing that you’ve lost a sale is descriptive, whereas seeing a lost sale coming and preventing it is a more prescriptive way to use data.

There’s also no harm in slowing down “real-time” data. Stephen believes there’s more value in quality data from a 15-minute period vs data coming in every minute.

Plus, we exclusively previewed some technology trends with GBTA. Look out for more later this year!

It’s hard to break down a full conference into a few words, and there is plenty more to uncover in Th!nk’s on-demand library. The library remains open to explore.