Planning ahead is no easy task in a rapidly evolving world. The corporate travel community has been at the sharp end of business evolution since the turn of the millennium. It was predicted that the Internet would sound the death knell for business travel agencies and call centres. But the industry pivoted, and introduced the benefits of online booking to managed travel.
In the early noughties British Airways scrapped agency commission. The decision forced intermediaries to tear up their business models. However, companies exited the mini-crisis in a much stronger position. The result: the birth of travel management companies (TMCs).
There are now bigger forces at play: A shift in economic power, demographic change, rapid urbanisation, climate change and resource scarcity. And all underpinned by one revolutionising trend: the advancement of technology.
The rise of the Eastern economies may have the broadest impact (technology aside) on the UK business travel sector. Engaging with new cultures, languages and suppliers will become the norm for global travel managers based in the UK.
The demand for airport slots heading to emerging markets will burgeon. Capacity at UK airports to destinations in Europe and the US may dry up faster than demand. Similarly, many global hotel programmes are based on contracts in the West. But if the key suppliers of the future are Asian brands, priorities will have to be reassessed. All of which means travel managers will soon be compelled to make sure policies and programmes remain relevant to a new generation of stakeholders.
Suppliers from the sharing economy are already disrupting the tradition business travel supply chain. Overpopulated urban centres and the consequent scarcity of resources mean young consumers are keener on value for many than value for money. The big question for travel managers is how to cope with demand for sharing economy brands while fulfilling duty of care obligations.
The pace of change and its global nature is daunting. Keeping up is a challenge for everyone. But it is necessary for travel managers and business leaders if they are to prosper in the coming years.