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WHY TRAVELER HAPPINESS SHOULD BE YOUR BOTTOM LINE

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Going forward, expect more thought provoking (well hopefully) – at times blunt – musings on the opportunities for business travel. But in the meantime here is my very first post. Feedback will always be welcome!

A few weeks ago I was in New York and I needed a cab. I whipped out my iPhone and at the flick of a button an Uber cab had pulled up to rescue me from the biting spring wind. No more standing at a crossroads waiting to hail a cab, no more stress. Thank you Uber! Thank you! You made me a happy traveler.

Anybody who has navigated an unknown city will know just how stressful it can be getting from A to B. Uber changes all that with its digital-on-demand experience. What makes this sexy little app so successful is that it makes the journey less stressful – In short, it makes life easier!

This notion of putting the user fully in control of his journey with a simple app is a big and fundamental shift. And to put it bluntly – sorry I’m Dutch – it is also one that the travel industry hasn’t fully grasped. For the most part, we’ve been focusing on the digital ‘booking’ experience and not the digital ‘travel’ experience. It’s a subtle but important shift because while the money may be in bookings, the value is not.

The money may be in bookings, but the value is not To put this in perspective, most major leisure travel systems today were built to automate an offline supply process – the paper trail as it were. So the travel brochure that landed on your doormat was digitized, the high-street travel agent or airline call centre went online and middlemen – the big bad OTAs – appeared everywhere. And the list goes on. More recently, a growing desire for more freedom of choice and greater transparency in pricing have led to new business models – the meteoric rise of metasearch is one example. And now, of course, the inventory of all these players is shifting to a mobile device. What is interesting about this is that most investments to date have still been in distribution technology, and the winners are those that have been able to capture the audience rather than the customer at the point of booking. The booking is little more than a commodity and once the transaction is complete it is, let’s face it, more often than not a case of ‘bye-bye booker’. For most brands, the traveler’s happiness while on the road has been irrelevant.

This top down approach seems increasingly dated, given the rapid pace of change that we are seeing in society.

Firms like Uber, for one, buck this trend by thinking first and foremost about the user’s digital experience while blending it flawlessly with physical needs throughout the customer journey. No need, for example, to dig into your pocket for payment at the end of the journey – that just happens automatically via the app. And Uber even goes a step further by considering your next journey. If the driver stinks, you rate him, and you never have to ride with him again!

TIME TO SPEED UP

So why has innovation, to make the on-trip experience a happier one, been so slow in coming? Aside from the inevitable tug on a corporate’s purse strings, this could be down to the fact that most people only go on holiday 1.8x a year. Perhaps the investment isn’t worth it – why build an app that somebody is only going to use once a year?

But that reasoning doesn’t apply in the world of business travel, where frequent travel is more common and it’s growing. No doubt, you’ll have seen the headlines from GBTA that in the US spending is expected to top $310bn in 2015, while in Europe’s five main travel markets a rise of 6.6% to $198.4bn is forecast.

Come on! Keeping your best, brightest, most talented employees happy while on trip is a no brainer. After all, these are the people who see the inside of a plane several times a year in the name of helping your company to retain valued customers, build exciting prospects and forge new markets – and their efforts drop directly to the bottom line!

Yet to all intents and purposes, business travel is still stuck in a rut; very little has changed in the past 30 years. Dare I say that this could be because many travel managers are a different generation to the always on, connected travelers they are serving?

Indeed, the vast majority of business travel bookings are still done by agencies; the booker is not the traveler and travel management programs are rigid and exist primarily to control costs. What’s more, it is fair to say that there has been very little of the disintermediation that we have seen in leisure travel. Sure, a few players have experimented with the notion of ‘open booking’ and/or Managed Travel 2.0, whereby the business traveler takes control of his own booking but in many cases it’s still very much theory.

SOCIAL SHIFTS AND YOUR SPREADSHEETS

Having said that, behavior in wider society is starting to impact the business world, where the connected travelers of today are voting with their feet. They want to be in control of their trip, they crave fresh experiences and resist strict policies. For conservative travel managers, this shift in behavior might be a big headache but it’s going to become an even bigger one – and especially for HR managers – if it isn’t addressed!

Why? Because Gen Y just doesn’t do boring business travel! And why should they? Why on earth should a traveler stay in a cookie-cutter hotel if a boutique hotel through a discount site like, for example, Stayful.com, costs less and more importantly makes him or her happier? Post-business your employee may even treat the wife to a recuperating weekend break – a trend I’m hearing more and more about.

Now, I don’t in any way wish to trivialize the importance of policies that ensure the safety of your employees but security, like all management practices, is not just about control, it’s also about trust.

Bottom line: the world has changed and we will have to strike a new balance between meeting traveler needs, while keeping costs in check and ensuring that your employees are safe. Because if your frequent travelers – often your most talented and valued knowledge workers – aren’t happy while on the road, chances it will show in their performance; and they may even take the exit! Let’s get that on the spreadsheet.

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