Despite the enthusiasm you may have about traveling again, the experience might not go quite as planned because of what’s happening across the industry.
We spoke to Mark Rude, senior vice president of Traveler Care at American Express Global Business Travel (GBT), about what travelers and travel managers can expect and how our customer service team is assisting clients with the return to travel.
Q. What are some challenges travelers may face as they hit the road again?
A. We are seeing an increase in bookings faster than anticipated. Because of the sudden demand, the travel industry is a bit challenged now. Some airlines are having difficulty getting enough planes and service support to manage this surge, which is leading to some disruptions.
Not all routes have opened back up yet either. This can be a challenge for a consultant, say, who was used to flying the same route every week to have it no longer available.
The other thing is the airlines are working hard to optimize their schedules. So even when you book a particular schedule and itinerary, the airline may communicate quite a few changes after the booking.
Q. How about GBT? Any challenges it is facing?
A. We are experiencing very high customer demand. When we look at what is driving this, in addition to the increased bookings, more clients are calling in to understand the new world of travel before they’re ready to book – which is understandable.
Because travelers have been out of the travel space for so long, we see that they’re asking about basic things that they would not have normally asked us about.
People are also calling in to apply the airline travel credits they received at the beginning of the pandemic when flights were canceled, so this can be a contributing factor to why call and wait times can take a bit longer.
Q. What has GBT done to address these issues?
A. Across the world, we’ve kept a lot of our employees employed so that when travel did come back, we would be able to ramp up more quickly than if we were just hiring people outright. It’s an investment that GBT made to make sure that when business travel came back, we could move quickly.
For individuals that, unfortunately, were displaced, we kept in touch with them throughout the pandemic to keep them informed of what was happening with the return to travel so we could welcome them back when we needed additional resources. In fact, that’s what we’re doing right now – bringing back hundreds of employees who were with us before the pandemic.
These travel counselors are now going through a retraining process. It’s both refresher training and training on some of the technology investments we’ve made during the pandemic to make their jobs easier, such as our new Travel Vitals™ search platform.
Q. What are some tools travelers might find helpful during the transition back?
A. We’ve built Travel Vitals to help travelers answer, “What does it require to travel during the pandemic?” With Travel Vitals, travelers can find pertinent information related to quarantine measures, mask requirements, safety changes, travel changes, etc., in a single location.
Many travelers are finding it even more beneficial to use the Amex GBT Mobile app as a self-service tool for booking simple trips. Through it, travelers can access Travel Vitals and receive itinerary-specific information, which is extremely convenient if you are on the road. Travelers are also contacting travel counselors through the mobile app chat function, receiving support wherever they may be. In some cases, travelers engage us through the mobile app when they were flying and needed help on the other end.
Q. When do you suggest a traveler call a counselor vs. making a reservation through the online booking tool?
A. Most travel that is happening at this point is domestic travel. For these simple domestic trips, we encourage people to book online and take advantage of Travel Vitals to understand the requirements for travel, which are different depending on the country in which they reside. Now, if for whatever reason they’re not able to book online or they can’t find the information they need in Travel Vitals, then, of course, our travel counselors are there to support them.
Q. Is there anything clients should know or do to make this a smoother transition
A. One of the best things they can do is to give us as much indication of what the return to travel will look like and any new requirements.
During the pandemic, many clients put into place approval processes that were new and unique. As travel comes back, many of those processes are being lifted, but some are not. So just understanding what the nature of their return to travel will look like is important for us to be prepared.
Q. Any last tip travelers should consider as they hit the road again?
A. I would suggest that a little patience goes a long way. From a customer support perspective, we’re doing everything possible to create that exceptional travel experience that we’re known for, but it can be a little bit of a bumpy road back. The entire travel industry is faced with escalating customer demand, new requirements from clients, and new health protocols, all of which create new challenges. However, GBT is equipped and prepared to come alongside our clients to help them navigate through this new world and give them the confidence they need to travel again safely.
Find out more about the latest enhancements GBT has made to help make the return to travel less turbulent for travelers and travel managers.