A Corp. Agent`s Outlook On Business Travel For 2001

The year 2000 saw corporate agencies “grow up.”
Cuts in travel agency commissions and the advance of airline-owned Web sites forced agencies that handle millions of dollars in corporate business to upgrade the way they do business.
Value became very important to corporate buyers. As long as we can provide value to our corporate customers, they will stay with us. Most airlines don`t want to set foot in our day-to-day business and don`t have the sales personnel to provide the hands-on attention that we do.
2000 was a year of stark changes, and 2001 is going to see more of the same. With all the changes, corporate buyers are getting bombarded with new ways to save money and good buyers know they have a fiscal responsibility to save money for their companies.
What`s ahead in 2001? Will there be a recession or a “soft landing?” Will business travelers cut back to save money? Will the problems at New York LaGuardia deter people from traveling? There is a lot of confusion in the industry these days and that`s worked in our favor, as most corporations want us to have all the headaches.
Will 5,000 or more smaller agencies close down this year? Will the Internet drive “bricks-and-mortar” out of the business? Will customers try to book their trip over the Internet and get so discouraged, they return to their dependable travel agent? These are just some of the questions facing us this year.
How much is technology changing business travel? Five years ago, whoever heard of electronic ticketing? Three years ago, people were using e-ticketing, but still were uncomfortable without a paper ticket. These days, more than 78 percent of our business travelers are using e-tickets without a problem.
The business of business travel has become much more professional, as companies recognize that compliance with policy can save them thousands of dollars without impacting the traveler to any great degree. What they now want is the power of technology, combined with the human factor, resulting in a better-run travel management program with happier travelers who concentrate on the goals rather than the logistics of the trip.
All of this now has a foundation of immediate, ongoing information that allows the company to control the spending when it happens, not 60 days later when it`s too late to do anything about it.
2001 is going to be another year of changes, and proper travel management is going to play a key role more than ever before. More online booking systems will be implemented and the companies that work closely with their agency partners will benefit greatly—to the tune of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Business, in general, is going to be watching the “soft landing” and one major spending area that has to be carefully monitored is business travel. Kiplinger`s wrote recently, “people still want eye contact when they do business.” Culturally, organizations must take a stronger role in mandating and controlling travel. We see a year of many changes in the frustrating world of business travel, but we also see a good year for travel agencies that provide their corporate customers with the tools to help them do business properly.
The airlines are well aware of their costs of distribution. It`s nice telling travelers to book directly on the airlines own Web site, and it works well at times, but doesn`t always provide the service needed and a business traveler often needs help and/or information. There are some costs the airlines can control, and some, like fuel, they can`t. Reducing travel agency commissions is easy to do because no one, not ASTA, not ARTA, not DOT, not our government will do anything to stop them. The big question now is how do you measure value? It`s easy to measure savings, but how do you measure an onsite travel department that does a good job moving people and getting them back with a minimum of inconvenience.