It's Travel, Jim, But Not As We Know It

I think the corporate travel market is a bit like Star Trek at the moment, boldly, but somewhat reluctantly going where no self-respecting businessperson has gone before. Only troubles is that I am not sure all our industry leading Captain Kirks know what they are doing, and the poor old airship Global Enterprise seems to be going round in circles and disappearing up its own self-created black hole! [more]

OK, I agree that the owners, passengers and crew are all in danger from the Death Star global recession created by those Klingons in Wall Street, London and all those other dens of iniquity in ego/bonus land, but are we dealing with it in a way that ensures everyone's survival? I have already seen signs of mutiny, supply chain 'cleansing' and self-flagellation and, if some of the players don't lift their heads out of the sand, soon they are bound to end up on Doctor Bone's operating couch.

So what will be the fall-out of this particular recessionary Death Star, and is there much we can do about it in travel terms? We know it is one of the biggest in living memory and we have seen what happened during the last one in 2000/2001 when travel budgets and behaviour changed dramatically. Admittedly, then we had the horror of 9/11 which acted as a catalyst to make some of these behavioural changes stick for a very long time which, God willing, will never happen again.

This raises the big question with me, which is will corporations use this slump opportunity to tidy up their policy and its compliance whilst they have a reasonably understanding and pliable work force? If they do, it will take a long time past the end of recession before travel returns to the levels where it started from. I estimate that after 2000/2001 it took just over three years, which is a long time for a supplier to manage.

I am becoming more optimistic that this time all players in the industry will adapt quicker than they have done in the past. In a perfect world, this period will allow time for corporates to evaluate what they really need and what they can truly deliver, and then actually do something about it. For example, I have seen companies demand and pay for services that, due to the culture and control of their organisations, never get used. Airlines might think of recognising sales and yield opportunities before simply deciding to cut out cost without recognising value opportunity such cost might bring. I cannot see them having achieved anything from their current approach over the past years, so maybe now is the opportunity for a change.

To me, I hope that value becomes the true measure and people realise that you get what you pay for and that most things that are in place were put there for a purpose. I do not advocate no change, but equally I challenge the need to change something for the sake of it. Mind you, if TMCs, consultants, travel executives and the like continue to find it so hard to explain their value to key stakeholders--like their employers and customers--they are in real trouble post recession.

Finally, I hope the recession will encourage clarity rather than transparency. The current obsession about transparency is flawed in my opinion as, once you have ploughed your way through the costs and confusion, what you finally end up with is something rather opaque. Clarity on the other hand is much, well ... clearer! You are clear in what you want, you are clear on what you are prepared to pay and you are clear about what you will give in return. I believe this is much better than becoming an expert in someone else's business for little or mainly no gain. After all, don't you have something more important to do?

I started this blog with my homage to Star Trek as its prequel opens in London very soon. I have never been a Trekkie myself but it always reminds me of earnest people talking mainly rubbish, travelling around the place "phasing" people ... which links it exactly to business travel. Fortunately good always prevails, so fingers crossed for what is a great industry to be involved with. Mind you, I am not sure how Uhuru and the rest of crew will feel when they hear their new travel policy tells them they have to go cargo hold class!

Beam me up Jay.