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Corporate and leisure travelers may be on the same flight, but in many ways, they have always existed in separate, orbiting travel worlds. Purpose of travel drives the travel experience, both in terms of the choices made by the traveler and the airline alike, for example, a corporate traveler may not purchase auxiliary items like checked luggage for a brief business trip and may need WiFi to work, even only a short-haul flight; the airline will prioritize corporate contract customers, when it comes to upgrades and avoiding involuntary bumping.

Purpose of travel, specifically whether a trip is essential or nonessential, has been the focus of corporate travel throughout this past year of 2020. While leisure travelers make their own decisions on travel, corporate travel decisions occurred on the company level—and as prior to 2020, essentiality was typically not defined in corporate policy, general announcements that ‘nonessential’ travel would stop left many in need of more clarity. During the initial lockdown months of Q2 2020 in particular, most companies stopped all but physically-necessary travel.

But as the pandemic has stretched on, travel resumption began, even as cases worldwide continue to go up. Companies have been in the position of deciding whether to put salespeople back on the road, reopening and re-closing offices, providing PPE to their travelers, determining whether they will or will not pay for COVID tests – particularly as negative COVID tests become an increasing requirement for travel.

On the airline end, providing rapid testing on certain routes, providing- and mandating – PPE, and keeping up, or ahead, of the competition in terms of cleaning and public perception, have been some of the years’ new challenges. While some routes have stopped due to decreased volumes, airlines continue to expand into new airports and markets as well. These decisions have been made with a weather eye on where their corporate clients’ ongoing, essential volume remains a drive. Corporate travel has long been the travel industry’s bread-and-butter, and with the cultural shift of ‘nonessential’ travel to remote, when, and how much of, that portion of travel will resume remains an open question for the year to come.

One aspect is certain: an increase to travel is coming, whether via increased rapid-testing and/or as vaccinations become more widespread. It may still be a fraction of 2019 corporate volume – or the demand may outstrip supply, before routes restart and hotels reopen, potentially skyrocketing late 2021 pricing. When that travel hike hits: is your company ready?  And equally as important, is your TMC ready?

While no one in the travel industry has a set timeframe, the months of May through July 2021 are currently being widely targeted by corporations for office re-openings, which will likely coincide with that travel increase. Travel management companies (TMCs), along with their clients, are keeping reopening dates in mind as they prepare – while bearing in mind the reality expectations have already been pushed back, several times.

As an independent consulting firm, KesselRun works with TMCs of all types and sizes. As we employ our eighteen years of travel-specific consulting experience to help our clients navigate these unprecedented times, here are the top steps the best-prepared TMCs are taking to brace for the unknowns of travel’s return:

Top 5 Things Best in Class TMCs Are Doing to Prepare for a Full Return to Travel

1. Better Reporting

It seems that all crises shine a light on the gaps in TMC reporting – from how real-time the data is, to how accessible it is, to how intuitive it is, to how accurate it is – corporations always seem to have to scramble to find the right data for their needs.  Early on in the pandemic, all of our clients and all of the TMCs that we work with, had a difficult time finding the right report and finding the answer to the question “why is this person showing up in the data when I know for a fact that she is not traveling?”  Further, TMCs need to ensure that the data shown in the reporting system is complete.  Whether this requires a client-TMC effort to clean up profiles or updated QC prompts, reporting that has blanks or inconsistencies lead everyone to question their veracity.  The TMCs that are best-positioned for post-COVID success have looked at their reporting systems and spent time optimizing their functionality and ease-of-use.  Customers are not going to tolerate inaccurate, inconsistent and clunky systems in the future.

2. Enhanced Duty of Care

There are a lot of organizations that rely on their TMC for Travel Risk Management support.  Throughout the Pandemic we’ve seen some incredible new services being developed by TMCs to offer their customers who continue to travel a greater level of support both as it relates to COVID concerns and standard Risk management related issues.  Risk doesn’t stop just because the world is focusing on a Pandemic.  Hurricanes, Medical Emergencies, Geo-Political Issues, still persist.  These TMCs who have had the forethought to partner with leading risk and intelligence providers to offer such services have established themselves as future leaders in the corporate travel industry.

3. More Traveler Services

There is no reason to believe that travelers will be more compliant to using a TMC coming out of a Pandemic.  Direct Vendor Mobile Apps are incredibly user-friendly… vendors want to “own” the customer – know everything about each of us.  And they make the booking and en-route support process so easy.  Added to that, the traveling workforce is becoming more and more DIY Millennials.

That’s not to say TMCs don’t offer a value, but TMCs now more than ever need to prove their value not just to senior management but also to the traveling population.  Why should a traveler use your mobile app?  What products and services do you have in place that are attractive to very savvy and technology engaged individuals?  TMCs who have focused on the end user experience throughout the last ten months will be well-positioned ahead of competitors.

4. More Nimble Technology and Programming

Some organizations are changing their travel policies or SOPs weekly as the Pandemic unfolds.  A TMC’s technology and systems need to be able to be programmed quickly to meet an organization’s changing needs.  The ability for a TMC to not only adapt policy components and workflow, reportable elements, or overall travel program configurations will become more and more important as organizations begin to ramp up travel.

5. Continued Focus on the Long Term Future and New Distribution Capabilities.

While the Pandemic has taken so much of everyone’s focus, we know that NDC has really not been pushed to the back burner.  Airlines need to make up for lost revenue in any way that they possibly can.  Distributing ancillary products and services through their single largest channel will facilitate their return.  TMCs that have been able to spend the last ten months building their NDC strategies and capabilities with multi-channel content sources will be able to come out of the Pandemic much stronger than their counterparts who may only be relying on a single GDS content source.

Travelers want choices.  Travelers expect full content.  Travelers don’t accept excuses for TMCs not being a “one-stop-shop” for all of their travel needs.  TMCs will need to support travelers in this way in order to have a place in Corporate Travel in the future.

KesselRun is an independent consulting firm that works with TMCs of all types and sizes. Learn more about how KesselRun can help your organization’s corporate travel program. Contact us online now.