A dozen senior corporate travel executives, representing all sectors of the industry, attended the Chatham House rules event, meaning all comments made are reported anonymously and unattributable not only to an individual but also the organization they represent.
A number of topics were covered, many of which looked beyond the current economic crisis and considered the medium-term future for business travel. The comment that unmanaged business travel would become prevalent over the next five years came as part of the discussion about technology.
Unmanaged business travel would allow corporate travelers to book trips within a defined budget, rather than restrict them to using preferred suppliers. One delegate observed that the federal government in the US was starting to adopt this approach with others agreeing many blue-chip organizations were looking into this.
Meridian Club member guests agreed travelers have so much choice and access to fares that it is unrealistic to restrict their choice. Furthermore, negotiated corporate rates for hotels, cars, and airlines were often more expensive than the spot rates available online.
However, it was felt travel budgets could increase as a result, as business travelers would be tempted to spend the maximum permitted and fund any overspend themselves in return for a better on-the-road experience.
Social media within a corporate travel context was also raised, with the consensus being that it was more useful for aggregating data rather than for sales or marketing.
Concerns were raised about how business travelers were using social media. Guests knew of businesses disciplining staff for comments made on social media about suppliers. An “IT policy,” which outlined how staff could engage with social media as part of their employment contract, could address this issue, although some felt that potential employees might consider this as too invasive into their personal life.
Away from technology, many guests were critical of the government’s steadfast refusal to rethink APD, arguing that the net result of the tax was negative in the long-run by impacting the competitiveness of UK plc. Coupled with ongoing concerns about airport capacity and poor internal transport infrastructure, many guests knew of big multinationals which had or were planning to quit the UK, with the Netherlands emerging as the relocation destination of choice.
With 2012 shaping up to be even more challenging, one supplier told peers to hold their nerve and not price themselves out of what little profit there is. Adding value through service delivery and product innovations would help maintain current price levels.