GBTA Day Two Suggests Prioritizing Traveler Experience is Key

GBTA Day Two Suggests Prioritizing Traveler Experience is Key

CHICAGO - GBTA - August, 7th – About 7,000 business travel professionals and suppliers are attending the annual Global Business Travel Association convention and trade show at the sprawling McCormick Center here, hoping to grapple with a wobbling economy amid indications that growth in business travel spending is slowing. This comes even as business travelers themselves are asking for a better experience on the road.

The GBTA said in its forecast released Tuesday that current “economic headwinds” suggest that 2019 will stack up as “the worst year for business travel growth since the Great Recession.” Growth is slowing particularly in advanced economies, the trade group reported.

There’s a lot of money involved. Overall spending on business travel accounted for about $1.2 trillion worldwide last year, while leisure travel spending was about $4.5 billion, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. In 2018, global business travel spending grew nearly 6 percent over the previous year, but the slowing means that earlier predictions of 3 percent growth in 2019 may be too high.

The GBTA represents a wide array of buyers and sellers of business-travel services, from corporate travel managers to airlines, hotels, travel management firms and agencies, worldwide travel safety and security companies and ground transportation sellers like car rental agencies and – in strong force this year – ride-share companies.

Competition for the business-travel dollar is robust, at a time when business travelers themselves are increasingly making it clear to companies that at least some measure of comfort and convenience on the road are critical in the way they view their jobs.

“Research shows a strong push to accommodate the business traveler, rather than just scheduling her at the very lowest price,” said Peter Abzug, the communications director for ARC, a major outlet for processing ticket transactions between airlines and travel agencies. Last year, ARC handled about $95 billion in airline ticket transactions for both leisure and business travel.

A survey conducted for ARC found strong agreement among travel buyers that frequent business travelers are increasingly making it known that the “quality” of travel is crucial to job satisfaction and retention for employees who are on the road a lot – who often are among the most valued employees in many companies.

Overwhelmingly (80 percent) the possibility of various forms upgrades are cited as very important by frequent business travelers. The same percentage wanted better quality technology to support them on traveling and travel planning, and nearly as many wanted “more traveler-centric policies,” rather than a relentless focus on the lowest achievable costs. The term “trip friction” comes up regularly to describe the push for cost-cutting on one hand, and for a better travel experience on the other.

One strong theme in business travel management is the need to better accommodate a wide range of traveler needs and even personalities, from the hard-core traveler who is on the road three or four days a week to the occasional business traveler.

“Not every business traveler is the same,” said Megan Leader, a brand strategist for ARC. She cited studies showing that the high-volume business traveler tends to be very expensive for a company to replace. Accommodating travelers preferences and needs is increasingly critical, given the rigors of life on the road, and better travel management is a key.

“Do you want to put your traveler on that 5.30 a.m. flight – when there are other options even within your budget?” Abzug said.

Reflecting the importance of the business-travel dollar, Southwest Airlines said at the convention that it will by the middle of next year provide full booking capabilities in global distribution systems in a new program is called Southwest Business. Southwest Business brings travel managers and travel management companies new capabilities within Travelport's global distribution systems and the Amadeus Travel Platform, the expanded reporting and settlement capabilities with the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC).

The announcement offers “travel managers and business travelers new capabilities when booking Southwest travel in the channel of their choice. We're also making it easy and smooth for travel management companies to do business with Southwest Business through expanded partnerships and the addition of more content within GDS channels,” said Tom Nealon, the airline’s president.

About the Author: Joe Sharkey
Joe Sharkey’s work appears in major national and international publications. For 19 years, until 2015, he was a columnist for the New York Times — for 16 years doing the weekly “On the Road” column on business travel, and before that the weekly “Jersey” column for three years. He is currently a columnist with Business Jet Traveler magazine, and an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Arizona. A Vietnam veteran, he has written five books, four non-fiction and a novel. One of his nonfiction books, “Above Suspicion,” has been adapted as a major motion picture starring Emilia Clarke, Jack Huston, Thora Birch and Johnny Knoxville (and directed by Phillip Noyce), to be released soon. In January 2017, a new, revised edition of his book “Above Suspicion” was published in print and as an e-book by Open Road Media. Penguin Random House also released an audio book version in January. Open Road also published revised editions in e-book format of his true-crime books “Death Sentence” and “Deadly Greed.” In January 2018, the revised edition of “Death Sentence” was published in print by Open Road Media. In his newspaper career before the New York Times, he was an assistant national editor at the Wall Street Journal; the executive city editor of the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union; and a reporter and columnist with the Philadelphia Inquirer. On Sept. 29, 2006, while on assignment, he was one of seven people on a business jet who survived a mid-air collision with a 737 at 37,000 feet over the Amazon in Brazil. All 154 on the commercial airliner died. His reports on the crash appeared on the front page of the New York Times and later in the Sunday Times of London Magazine. He and his wife Nancy (who is a professor of journalism at the University of Arizona) live in Tucson — where he is also working on a new novel about the exploits of an international travel writer who hates to travel. .