Why Travel Managers Should Care About Change Management Strategy

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By Emilie Van Arendonk, Senior Consultant

Change is unavoidable, and that’s just as true in travel as in other industries. In the air travel sector, there are seemingly never-ending bankruptcies and mergers, as well as constant changes in route capacity, frequency and ticket price. The hotels aren’t immune either, particularly in the wake of the rise of gig economy style rental websites like Airbnb and VRBO. When providers and services change, that makes a huge difference to corporate travel managers.

In addition, in the last few years, there’s been a huge shift in traveler demographics, with millennials making up an increasing proportion of both the global workforce and business travelers. This change, coupled with growing mobile and internet penetration rates worldwide, has influenced what travelers expect from the booking process.

Not only are there multiple sources of information, but it’s also easier than ever to use mobile or online booking tools to find and book instantly. It’s no wonder that 78% of travelers look off-program when planning business travel. This is a major headache for travel managers trying to steer their programs the right way to meet corporate goals.

This rapid rate of change in the travel industry means that corporate travel programs can’t afford to be static. In order to drive both cost savings and traveler satisfaction, travel programs need to be agile and have a robust change management strategy put in place.

Why Change Management Gets a Bad Rap

Change management is often seen as difficult. That’s usually because of issues like imposing change rather taking a collaborative approach with all the involved stakeholders, failing to engage employees, an unhelpful organizational culture, fear of change, and not having the right mechanisms in place to make change easy and painless.

For travel managers, resistance to change makes it difficult to achieve compliance and meet program goals. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right approach, change can be a win-win for everyone.

Creating a Win-Win

In the ever-evolving travel marketplace, successful travel management means constantly tweaking programs. Some of these are big changes, like swapping one online booking tool for another, but more often, it’s about small changes, like getting travelers to use a certain hotel when taking a trip or improving market share with a particular airline. Travelers want to book and travel the way they want, while travel managers have a more holistic view of what’s needed to make their program work. How can they both win? By steering travelers to the right choices. When choices are attractive, reasonable, and easy, it’s a no-brainer for travelers to stay on-plan.

To make this work, travel managers have to fight traveler decision fatigue, communicate change effectively, and prime their program for success with the right data.

Fighting Decision Fatigue

According to some studies, people make around 35,000 decisions a day. Some of those are tiny, like whether to have that third cup of coffee. But the point is that making all those decisions can lead to decision fatigue, and that means at some point people don’t feel like making any more choices.

How does that affect a corporate travel program? It means that travelers will often take what seems like the easiest option in the online booking tool. Unfortunately, this might not be the right choice for the success of the overall program. Travel managers are waging a constant fight against decision fatigue and searching for ways to make it easy for travelers to make the right choice. That’s where communication comes in.

Communicating Change

To help travelers make the right choices, travel managers need to get the right messages in front of them at the time when they’re researching and booking. This is more complex than it sounds, because travelers have a lot of sources of information, both internal and external.

When travel managers make changes to preferred suppliers, or negotiate benefits for travelers, communicating these at the right time and in the right places makes a huge difference to program compliance. But to make that happen travel managers have to lay the groundwork for success in their travel programs.

Engineering Success

One of the best ways to develop a change management strategy is to do a full travel program assessment. Though this can be difficult, sometimes it’s the only way to truly understand the current state of the program and determine where change is necessary. In this assessment, question everything. With the rate of change in the travel industry, what was true about travelers even five years might not be true today.

Doing an assessment will shed light on who travelers and key stakeholders are today, and what their priorities are. It will also reveal where they’re getting information about travel, whether it’s the company intranet, internal communication channels, social communities, within the online booking tool, by email, or elsewhere.

The assessment will help align travel policy with program goals to ensure that messaging is coherent and consistent, and that it’s the right messages to influence traveler behavior and drive change. Location, tone of voice, and channel make a big difference to how successful messaging is.

Understanding Travelers’ Paths for Better Change Management

It’s important to realize that no two travelers have the same path. That means change can’t be accomplished in a one-time email or an intranet article. Change has to be achieved via a collection of personalized messages filtered across a variety of channels and over time.

It’s about placing messages in traveler’s paths where they can’t be ignored – their email, their apps, their intranet, their booking tool, their agents, their team meetings, their elevators, their breakrooms, and more. In fact, travel managers can even retail and ecommerce merchandising strategies, placing preferred options where they are most visible.

For best success, this messaging should mimic what travelers might see outside of the program. Leveraging message banners, infographics, videos, images, social community posts, and internal email marketing can help educate travelers about the travel program and the benefits for them.

For example, there might be different campaigns to:

  • Let employees know you have a corporate travel program
  • Inform travelers about changes to the travel policy
  • Educate travelers about safety when they travel

Here’s how this could work. Say a traveler needs to go from Des Moines to Chicago. When they type that into the online booking tool, a popup message shows the preferred hotel for that destination. And that message highlights benefits like free breakfast or free WiFi. It even offers social proof, like citing the percentage of other travelers that choose that option. All of this makes it more likely that travelers will make the right decision and book the preferred hotel.

Change Management Case Studies

Here are a few examples of change management strategy in action:

  • LinkedIn surveyed their travelers to find out more about their travel preferences and behavior. They then used this information to improve messaging about travel policy, driving increased program compliance and a 20 point increase in traveler satisfaction.
  • A biotechnology company wanted to maintain traveler compliance when switching to a new online booking tool. Since the company had an email culture, Advito created an email series to educate travelers about the change. In addition, there were social community posts, a quick start guide, a video guide and FAQs to support the change. The result: traveler compliance remained the same, at 85%, which the company considered a win.
  • An entertainment industry company wanted to move away from individuals handling their own travel to a managed and consolidated travel program. But they also wanted to retain the company culture of individual choice and responsibility. That required creative messaging within the online booking tool to increase compliance without upsetting the company culture.

These examples show that a strategic approach to traveler engagement makes change management easy and effective – and that’s a win-win for everyone.

Get in Touch

To learn more about developing an effective change management strategy for your travel program, reach out to our Traveler Engagement team today.

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