When I became president of SAP Concur in July 2019, the business travel sector was roaring, generating well over a trillion dollars in annual global economic activity. Just six months later, the coronavirus had thrown us all into a very different and difficult time during which the travel sector has been hit harder than most other industries. My leadership team and I quickly realized that we have a responsibility to do all we could to help our employees, customers, and partners – as well as the travel industry as a whole – navigate this new reality.
One of the many ways in which we have done that is by utilizing our convening power to provide opportunities for our fellow industry participants of all sizes to connect and learn from each other. We conceived of the SAP Concur Travel Industry Summit to facilitate the sharing of ideas to help bring back travel safely, responsibly, and sustainably at the appropriate time. And, as a part of one of the world’s leading technology companies, we are fortunate to have the resources to ensure that price was not a barrier to participation. We are thrilled that more than 2,000 people attended the event, which wrapped up last week and is now available on demand.
Among the highlights for me were conversations about gaining travelers’ trust as they start to return to the road and take to the skies. “We took the opportunity to examine every aspect of the journey on Delta to make certain that customers feel that we're putting their health at the same level that we take their flight safety,” Ed Bastian, chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines, told me in a virtual fireside chat. Those steps include electrostatically wiping down every single surface within each plane before each flight, keeping middle seats empty through at least the end of the year, requiring masks for both customers and employees, and HEPA filters that make the planes’ air cleaner than the air we typically breathe.
Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson spoke about the collective need to earn the confidence of workers and travelers in order to get the economy moving. “We won't earn that confidence unless people feel like they can travel safely,” he explained. “Our view is that a traveler can control the level of interaction they have in a hotel quite a bit. They can simply get a key and go to their room if they want to be the most cautious. If they want to go sit at a restaurant, they're certainly permitted to do that, too, albeit at a greater distance than before.” Marriott has assembled a team of health experts to advise the company on new best practices and is using advanced technologies to shield the health of their guests like never before.
SAP Concur President Jim Lucier (left) and Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson.
Corporate travel managers, who play such an important role in business travel, also played a leadership role at our event, by providing both insights and inspiration. Mark Cuschieri, executive director and global head of travel for UBS, talked about the opportunity to reach a wider number of travelers within each travel manager’s organization, as there is now broad interest in how to travel safely. Dorian Stonie, senior director of global travel for Salesforce, pointed out that to engage that larger audience, online booking tools (OBTs) infused with more AI – and travel management companies – “are going to be more important than ever.”
Many of the participating travel managers discussed using the COVID-19 pause to improve their programs, in order to be ready to offer a new level of service when travel resumes. "We've all been talking about, for such a long time, the end-to-end process from the time someone decides they want to take a trip until the time they've actually come back and have been reimbursed,” said Kim Hamer, Visa’s global sourcing director of travel, meetings and events (pictured above). She challenged participants “to think about what else we can do to improve that end-to-end experience. And bring on the technology. And bring on the innovation!”
I couldn’t agree more!
My thanks go out to all of those who participated in the SAP Concur Travel Industry Summit. Your perspectives - from the small businesses that are so vital to our economy to the world’s biggest brands - contributed to the rich conversation and made for a unique event. Although we’re still dealing with the on-going challenges of COVID-19, we will get through this difficult time through collaboration, empathy and determination.
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