Trends and Recent Developments Shaking Things Up For Travel Managers

It’s a whole new ballgame out there, folks. If you aren’t staying on top of the travel industry trends, adopting new tools and protocols, and responding to shifts in travel behaviors, your company’s travel program will become as obsolete as those pre-internet age airline tickets that were prepared by hand and consisted of carbon paper.

But don’t worry. We’ve got your back here. We’ll be looking at a few industry trends and developments that are impacting travel programs today. Not only that, but because some of these shifts will have a significant bearing on your duties as travel managers, in the coming weeks and months, we’ll be doing a deeper dive into a few of the topics below — so definitely check back with us here real soon.

Brexit

With the UK's Prime Minister, Theresa May, invoking Article 50 on March 30 and officially triggering the country’s separation process from the European Union (EU), it has created a lot of angst for the travel industry. We have to wait to see how it all shakes out.

As Mike McCormick, executive director and COO of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), explained in GBTA’s blog: “The potential for financial upheaval and pending changes to trade and immigration rules will raise many concerns in corporate management and travel offices — causing some postponement and even outright cancellation of business trips. It may also trigger travel budget constriction as management seeks to hedge the uncertainty.”

Uncertain it certainly is, and we wonder: Will the UK really have “no flights to and from Europe” after Brexit, as predicted in a statement by Ryanair? And what impact will the fluctuating currency have on travel budgets and the industry itself?

It’ll be a while before the dust completely settles and we understand the true impact that Brexit will have. But if you have travelers coming in and out of the UK, brace yourself for what may be a bumpy ride.

Visas required?

In early March, the EU’s Parliament voted to end visa-free travel to American citizens. Citing that the U.S. still requires citizens of five EU member nations —Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania — to obtain an entry visa, it approved a measure calling for the EU Commission to urge full visa reciprocity from the United States. If the U.S. does not comply, the EU Commission has been instructed to reinstate visa requirements for Americans who want to visit Europe.

UK passport holders also may face similar red tape to gain entry to EU countries after Brexit with another initiative it plans to roll out.

“What the European Parliament is saying about the U.S. is really just a sideshow compared with the ambitious plans for a European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS),” explained Simon Calder, senior travel reporter with The Independent.

The ETIAS, aimed at nationalities who currently don’t need visas (i.e., Americans and UK citizens after Brexit) largely will emulate the Esta scheme that the United States set up in the wake of 9/11 to evaluate prospective visitors.

It is expected that under such a system, non-EU nationals will have to go online to apply for travel authorization, where they will enter personal data and answer questions related to public health risks, criminal records and such. The data then will be compared to a range of security databases before a decision is made about whether they will be permitted to travel to any of the 26 countries in the Schengen area.

Be sure to mark your calendar. The deadline for the U.S. to extend full visa reciprocity to the EU is in early May.

Travel bans

President Donald Trump certainly has been keeping travel managers on their toes since his inauguration. Between the travel ban halting the suspension of new visas for people from Muslim-majority countries and the laptop ban affecting 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa, it seems travel managers need to stay two steps ahead in order to play this administration’s game.

The two bans also reportedly are having an averse effect on both leisure and business travel to the United States. According to a report by USA Today, the ban could cost an $18 billion drop in U.S. tourism by international visitors over the next two years.

The article also stated that Marriott International had a 25–30 percent decline in U.S. bookings in February from the Middle East and a 10 percent decline from Mexico.

And according to the GBTA, business travelers canceled $185 million in bookings because of uncertainty over traveler confidence in the week after the first travel ban. So once again, brace yourself for a bumpy ride.

Blockchain

You’re probably not using blockchain technology today, but we expect you will someday — at least it’s definitely worth investigating.

The digital ledger technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is a very powerful procurement tool, enabling a highly auditable process that documents transactions and then makes them unchangeable.

These “smart contracts” are inherently resistant to data modification. Once recorded, the data in a block cannot be altered retroactively. And since we’ll be addressing this very topic in the Atlas in a few weeks, we’ll keep you in suspense over why Johnny Thorsen, senior director of value services for SAP Mobile Services, told travel buyers to knock on their CFO’s door and ask for their permission to test-drive this new technology.

Booking behavior + personalization

OK, so there’s nothing really new about business travelers going outside the proper booking channels to make their trip arrangements, though we do understand it’s happening more frequently with the ubiquity of smartphones and mobile booking.

This shift in booking behavior has been a headache for travel managers trying to gain control of travel spend. It also makes fulfilling their duty of care obligations that much trickier.

But there’s another trend afoot that can be the solution to your problem: personalization.

As you will come to discover through a pair of Atlas articles being posted in the next few weeks, we here at American Express Global Business Travel as well as other big players in the industry are working hard to provide travelers with a more personalized experience that caters to their every whim and need.

But this is also a task travel managers should consider taking up themselves. Not only can a more customized travel program entice your travelers to comply with policy, but it also demonstrates to them just how valuable they are to the firm. Plus, it increasingly is a way to attract top-performing candidates, who these days do ask about the company’s travel policy.

Don’t know where to start with customizing your own program? That, too, is to be continued…