In our last edition of “Bow-Tie Briefing” two weeks ago, our CTC Asia Council Chairman shared some interesting stories from his early travel career. The in-depth dialogue continues in this edition and focuses on his professional corporate travel career.
Benson: Let’s shift the topic a bit to our bread and butter “Corporate Travel”. As a long-time veteran and leader in our industry, what do you think are the major new risks and challenges?
Michael: Unequivocally, I’m broadly optimistic about the corporate travel industry. Humankind’s desire to meet others, to explore other cultures and to trade will forever fuel this industry. Sure, hurdles will be thrown up from time to time, like COVID-19, and these can and will be significantly disrupting, perhaps even pausing the inevitable growth for a while. Similarly, the traditional way of doing things may change, sometimes radically. I recall reading that in the late 1940s, there were over 350,000 people, mainly women, employed by AT&T in the US as switchboard operators. The telephone had become a major industry and the single largest employer in the country. Fast forward only a decade and all the jobs were replaced by automation. Today, any of us can call anyone else in the world instantly, for free! But things are not worse off for the switchboard industry, it has just evolved … That said, the biggest threats that I see are: trade disputes and tariffs as well as visa restrictions. Those countries that are the freest in these areas, tend to be the richest as well. I’ve always been a proponent of free borders and free flow of people and capital.
Benson: Based on your comment, what support do you think travel managers need to help navigate in this unprecedented time?
Michael: Duty of care and traveller confidence will continue to be the most important elements of the industry I believe. I anticipate technologies that can know where you are going and access all the risks in real-time and alert you proactively. Something like a meta-search tool that will look at weather, political risks, health as well as entry and other requirements then alert you or your company as needed. We have a long way to go in this regard. Similarly, on the corporate travel management and buying side, I think we will continue to see more self-service and more complexity of options but anticipate that valuable tools will be those that can navigate the complex landscape of fares, deals and restrictions and lead the buyer on the right path. It should be an interesting decade ahead.
Benson: And do you think the suppliers are catering for all the needs that we want? How do you think the suppliers should act in order to attain win-win?
Michael: I believe suppliers will fill required needs. Those that provide value and make corporate travellers’ lives safer, easier or cheaper will succeed. Those that are stuck in the old way of doing things and just try to do them faster or try to build a better mousetrap, will perish. Suppliers that truly understand the needs of the market or of their customers and who consult with them to create scalable solutions that deliver genuine value, they will attain the clichéd “win-win.”
Benson: Your view of ‘work from home’ overall? What do you think the percentage of work from home in the workforce will be in Asia?
Michael: COVID-19 forced the entire world into a ‘working from home’ experiment. Without question, there will be a greater proportion of all workforces, not just in the Travel industry, working either ‘from home’ or ‘remotely’. I quite like the idea of remote work and digital nomads as an enabler to greater freedom of travel and mobility for individuals and families. I’ve long been a proponent of trusting people to get the job done on their own terms, and I believe the WFH experiment has validated this. At the same time, with more people working in isolation, I believe the need for physical human contact and interaction will also grow. Meetings, conferences and exhibitions may, in fact, gain importance and ultimately become more broadly attended. These may become the method in which company teams, industry professionals or even seller and buyer now come together more regularly. ‘Work from home’ won’t be applicable for all jobs and industries, but COVID-19 has proved it is possible for more than we originally thought.
As a preview of the next “Bow-tie Briefing”, we will continue to learn the phenomenal views from our CTC Asia Chairman. Please stay tuned for the conclusion! 😊