ENGAGE webinar: Travel buyers v travel sellers, who wins?

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The first in a fortnightly series of ENGAGE webinars for travel buyers and suppliers of accommodation to corporate travellers was hosted today, by Mark Harris of the Travel Intelligence Network.

Like the curated ENGAGE event itself, the webinars bring together the very best from across the travel-buying industry and provide a no-cost digital platform for industry leaders to engage, look to the future and challenge the status quo with their peers, through the sharing of knowledge, live debates and Q&As. The topics offer a snapshot of what’s to come at the live event, hosted as part of the Urban Living Festival 2020 on November 25 and 26 at Tobacco Dock in London.

Today's session was titled “Travel buyers v travel sellers – who wins?” Harris was joined by Steve Banks of Capita Travel & Events; Linda Anderson of Beazley Group; Tony Matharu, chairman and founder of Blue Orchid Hotels; and Youlia Ouzounova, VP business development at GHS Global Hospitality Services.

Anderson kicked off with a blunt assessment of the current situation regarding business travel at Beazley: “There has been no business travel at all since mid-March until very recently, and even then it has been two or three people from among 2,000 employees. Up until the end of September anyone who wants to travel needs executive sign-off, and for the rest of 2020 I expect there to be a minimal amount of travel. We have got used to working from home.”

Banks concurred: “Organisations are concentrating on their needs and the requirement to travel going forward. Working from home has become the norm and there has been an increase in virtual events. While there is some travel happening now, there is very little overseas travel.”

Mathuru stressed that the pandemic has presented an opportunity for the travel ecosystem to work more closely together: “It's been an extremely challenging time for everyone involved in travel and hospitality. We need to collaborate, and to be a self-supporting network. If we, in these sectors, continue to work from home it's going to be very hard to encourage others back to the office and back to travelling for business. A sustainable recovery is more important than a speedy one. If we don't collaborate it will not only be airlines but hotels and business travel-related businesses that will close down. We need London and all its rich ancillary life, such as offices, shops, restaurants and so on to come back to life to support the hotels. The government needs to send out a stronger message that we are ready to accommodate people, and to negate the atmosphere engendered by 'project fear'.”

Ouzounova pointed out the interdependence of industries, companies and individuals: “The entire supply chain has been affected by the crisis, hotels, suppliers, intermediaries, even farmers. There has been an avalanche of cancellations, and dealing with that will be difficult. If hotels in London go bust, it will reduce competition in the short term, but it will reduce the city's appeal and there will be substantial human cost. The benefit of reduced competition will not outweigh the downside in the bigger picture. In terms of a return to travel, different industries are returning at different speeds. Insurance has been one of the first but there is very little overseas travel.”

Banks pointed out that the crisis has “alerted buyers to serviced apartments as a long-term sustainable option. We have seen very high customer satisfaction levels from clients who have used serviced apartments”.

Asked if there were likely to be changes to the travel buying process as a result of the pandemic, Anderson said: “During lockdown we have seen a move to more use of online booking tools, but only for domestic and rail travel where a TMC hasn't been part of the process. That may be rolled out further in the future.”

Ouzounova acknowledged the role travel professionals have been doing in trying to ease the fears: “Travel managers have done a great job in educating and reassuring their travellers about the situation and how it is changing, and we are very grateful for that.”

Amid all the recognition that we are in a dire situation, there were some causes for optimism from the speakers.

Anderson said: “Initially people will be anxious to resume travelling, they will have reservations, particularly about international travel. I think it will come back quickly when it starts, but the first trip will be a difficult one for many people.”

Mathuru concluded: “Reassurance and confidence is what's needed. I can see business travel picking up in September when people have had enough of being stuck at home, and they realise that the actual risk from Covid is much lower than most people perceive. One of our clients, one of the 'Big Four', has an average employee age of 27. These people are really struggling with having to work from their bedrooms, and a lot of them want to get back to work. That will be a catalyst for the wider economy to pick up.”

Click here to watch a recording of the webinar.

The next ENGAGE webinar takes place on Thursday 23rd July, at 11.00am BST. It is titled “Has video killed the meetings star?” and will cover:
• How corporate travellers will integrate virtual conferencing into their meetings programmes
• How to instil confidence in workers cautious of attending face-to-face meetings
• How meeting planners will decide between virtual vs physical meeting
• The role suppliers can play in maintaining that delicate balance

Click here to find out more and register.




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