What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for TMCs in 2017?
I think one of the biggest growth opportunities for the business travel community will come from increased international trading and, in particular, companies tapping into emerging markets.
According to the analysis GTMC did earlier this year of 890,000 flights booked by our Travel Management Company (TMC) members, four-fifths of the cities that made up the top 20 international business travel destination cities for 2016 are in Europe. And, of the four that weren’t, two were in the United States, one was in the Middle East (Dubai) and just one, Hong Kong, was in Asia.
However, diversifying into new markets brings its own challenges. The organisations that succeed in moving into new regions will be those that work hard to truly understand the cultural differences and adapt their commercial models accordingly to account for the differing approach to doing business.
How is Brexit impacting business and how can TMCs adapt to this new environment? What advice are you giving members?
Our recent research into the UK’s business travel sector showed that the volume of flights booked by TMCs to Europe remained unaffected in 2016, despite the political change and global unrest. Even more interestingly, when we broke down the data to look at travel before and after the Brexit referendum, the destinations showed no change at all.
Whilst it’s clear that business travellers are remaining defiant despite the current socioeconomic climate, it remains to be seen whether attitudes will start to shift now that the government has confirmed that Article 50 will definitely be triggered by the end of March. That said, we believe the business travel community has much to gain from international growth opportunities and this is a message that we continue to reiterate to our members.
With this in mind, we have invited Tim Montgomerie, Washington correspondent for The Times, and global economist Gerard Lyons to join us in Monte Carlo on 5 June for the first day of our GTMC Overseas Conference. They’ll give delegates their expert insight into how business travel is faring a year on from the UK’s decision to leave the EU and lead what I’m sure will prove a passionate debate into post Brexit Britain.
What other business travel trends do you predict for 2017?
These are definitely interesting times for the world with potential for events to impact on the business travel industry.
However, when you consider that the terror attacks in Paris at the end of 2015 and those on Brussels and Nice last year had little effect on decisions to travel on business to any of the destinations, the industry does seem to remain pretty resilient to outside events so we can look forward I believe to future growth in business travel, particularly to emerging markets further afield.
Ahead of the Business Travel Show, what do you expect to be the main trends and talking points at the show?
As we prepare to leave the EU, I think we can expect a fair amount of conversation around the opportunities for international trade with a focus on how business travellers will be travelling and where they will be travelling to. For example, we know from our research with Oxford Economics last year, that just a 1% increase in air connectivity can equate to a £600 million boost to trade so one of the messages we’ll be continuing to communicate is how critical having the right infrastructure in place is to fulfil business travel’s potential and support economic growth.
What will GTMC be looking to achieve at this year’s event?
As I’m reasonably new to the team, this is set to be my first time at the Business Travel Show and from a personal perspective I’m really looking forward to discussing industry trends with potential new GTMC members and existing partners alike.
Given GTMC’s members account for 80% of the UK’s managed business travel, we know that our sector has a significant role to play in steering economic growth. To give you an example, our work with Oxford Economics revealed that the average international business travel trip adds a £34,000 contribution to GDP, which demonstrates how valuable our community is to UK plc.
So, as attendees speculate about what the future may hold, we will be continuing to communicate the message of the value of business travel to the UK’s future – whatever it may hold.
With GTMC turning 50 this year, how has the organisation changed in terms of membership and how has the industry evolved?
When GTMC was founded in 1967, travel in general was a very different beast. There’s no doubt that over the years technology and the rise of globalisation has played a key role in shaping the way all of us do business.
Five decades later, we’re proud to represent the views and requirements of 80% of the UK’s business travellers. However, to ensure we take a holistic view of the wider industry needs, we now count many of the travel industry’s most influential suppliers amongst our industry partners, from airlines, airports and hotels to car rental suppliers, rail companies and technology providers.
With our insight-driven approach, we’ve certainly evolved as an organisation to reflect the needs of our members and influence decision makers as well as policies across the wider industry, becoming the voice of business travel in the process.
What is your strategy for growing your membership over the next 50 years and what trends do you predict for the business travel segment?
At the GTMC Overseas Conference this coming June we’ll be joined by leading futurologist Rohit Talwar who will help us examine the biggest changes that are set to impact the business travel industry.
From the rise of artificial intelligence to hyper-personalisation, Talwar will encourage members to consider some of the strategies they could adopt to future-proof their organisation and improve long-term performance. As ever, our focus will be on finding constructive solutions so that the business travel community can move with the times in a positive and profitable manner.