How Travel Managers Can Reboot their Program and Re-Engage Travelers post COVID-19

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By Shelley Fletcher-Bryant,  Director of Sales and Client Management

This is a time like no other. Never before have we seen our industry affected on a global scale with no clear end in sight. It’s challenging but we will get through it. Things will be different, but we will get through it. COVID-19 has changed, and will change, the way we travel and do business.

During this time, while travel is not an option for the vast majority, it’s the perfect time for travel managers to review and re-evaluate travel programs and build strategies to re-engage travelers to be ready for when travel resumes.

It is important to consider how both your air and hotel strategy might change, along with how best to ensure your travelers have access to essential information and feel engaged in your program.

Step 1: Air Strategy Review (ASR)

 An Air Strategy Review provides a clear picture of where you stand today to help you reshape your air program to align with your changing business needs. Thorough analysis of your historic carrier activity in multiple areas, including top and key markets; spend; segments; market/revenue share; fare category; and more, will enable you to understand your travel footprint and identify the carriers that are the best fit for your program.

In light of the impact COVID-19 is having on the airline industry, it is important to fully understand where your suppliers stand today:

  • Understand the impact of the crisis on the airline industry (per region, carrier groups, risk of groundings, consolidation)
  • Forecast for upcoming months (networks, inventory management, pricing)
  • Conduct a risk assessment of your preferred carriers (financial exposure on preferred carriers at risk)

And how the changes in the airline industry will impact your program:

  • Analyze the evolution of your activity per country, geographic travel sector, market and per airline group
  • Develop an overview of airline competition changes (before/after crisis) on the overall program and key markets
  • Understand the impact of competition evolution on leverages with airlines. How has your negotiation power has evolved, which alternative carriers can be used?

Once travel resumes you will be in a stronger position to design negotiation strategies that will maximize your leverage, either via a full RFP, re-negotiation or extension effort, or with the on-going management and improvement of your program.

Step 2: Hotel Assessment and Strategy

The hotel industry will change as a result of COVID-19, but goals remain the same for travel and procurement managers – and savings are at the top of the list.

Whilst chains are ensuring support and coverage during this time for travel-related special needs and emergencies, many individual properties are opting to temporarily close for an indefinite period of time. And employees, including national account teams, are being furloughed, working reduced hours or being permanently laid off.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t work on your program. Monitoring market trends, creating a go-to market strategy for rate negotiations when travel resumes, and developing contingency plans for the strategy will set you up best for the future.

There are several aspects of your hotel program that we think it’s important to address:

  • Evaluate year-over-year rate changes at the market and property level
  • Evaluate rate type – is now the optimal time to shift to more dynamic rates?
  • Consider the implementation of rate targets to influence travelers into making smart buying decisions regardless of what preferred rates you are able to secure

Incorporating these strategies means you can revise your program to fit your needs and the new emerging travel landscape.

Step 3: Traveler Engagement

It’s important to start readying your travel program and communications for when your travelers need to start planning, booking and traveling again.

We know the travel landscape will change, so now is the ideal time to review your travel assets, refresh the content and tone, and ensure travelers know where to find information and what to do before they start traveling.

There are several essential areas to consider:

Travel program branding

Does your travel program have a strong identity that your travelers know and trust? Create an identity, aligned to your corporate brand, to build brand recognition and authority. This makes your communications more impactful and more likely to grab attention and resonate with your travelers.

Travel policy benchmark and rewrite

Is your policy easy to access and understand? Is it up to date? Take some time now to fully review your policy. With benchmarking you can assess how your policy stacks up to travel policies of companies in similar sectors. Recommended enhancements and a policy rewrite ensures it is modern, engaging, effective and best in class.

Policy one pager or video

To help your travelers digest your policy, create a visual one-page infographic or 60 second animated video to highlight the key points of the policy and what they need to know to get started in travel. Include a link from the infographic and details in the video to the full policy, hosted on your intranet.

Intranet refresh

Review the content on your site and site navigation and simplify your site. Add enhanced content, updated documents, like your travel policy and ensure ease of navigation to essential information.

OBT refresh

Place impactful, targeted dynamic and static messaging throughout the booking process to help educate and nudge travelers towards the right booking decisions at point of purchase. Use merchandising techniques and behavioral economics theory to help travelers make right decisions and to enhance your booking tool, creating a consumer friendly experience, using your travel  program branding.

App customisation & messaging

If you use a mobile app, such as TripSource, make sure your refreshed travel policy is adapted to make a mobile-friendly policy, giving your travelers all your policy information at their fingertips. Add targeted custom messaging, specific to your program and ensure your safety features are fully enabled.

App and OBT adoption campaign

Encourage your travelers to use the tools you have made available to them. Promote the benefits of using your OBT and mobile app. Focus on the benefit to the individual and the added value and enhanced features that make their booking process and trip management seamless. The more people using your tools, the more impactful your messaging will be.

Email announcements and social posts

Prepare emails and social posts to promote and link to your updated content and to direct travelers to where to find the information and documents they need.

We understand and recognize how challenging these times are. Every travel manager, airline, hotel, ground transport provider and travel management consultancy is feeling the impact of COVID-19. We firmly believe our industry will get through this and when we do, it will be important for travel programs and traveler communications to be ready for a changed landscape and brave new world of travel.

Stay tuned for part 2 and part 3 of this blog series, where we’ll take a deeper look into both the Air and Hotel categories.

To see an overview of recent updates and links to reliable sources and reports surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit here.

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