Today I had the opportunity to welcome thousands of attendees to the first SAP Concur Travel Industry Summit. I said, in part, that I am not the only one who has tried to explain to friends and family who are not in the travel business, the utter carnage wrought by Covid-19. The headlines and statistics do not begin to describe the economic and personal devastation caused when business travel is all but eliminated. The dot.com bust, 9/11, and even the Great Recession all seem like bumps in the road compared to the cataclysm we in the travel industry face today.
Those of us in the SAP Concur organization have not been immune to the economic impacts of the current recession, but we are more fortunate than some, partly because we are part of one of the largest and most diverse software companies in the world, SAP. We convened a summit to use our resources to bring the travel sector together, at no charge, to address the challenges we all face. It is one way we are giving back to a community that has been so key to our success.
In response to the disruption of the travel industry, it is almost instinctive to retreat to the past; to the comfort of what’s been done before. In the context of travel management, that usually means locking everything down and resuming a heavy-handed style of command and control. But new challenges demand new thinking. In this time of great disruption, the winners of tomorrow are asking what greater good this disruption bring and how else might we use this moment to make our industry – and the world around us – better?
Today, the very premise of corporate travel management has been turned on its head. Since its inception, it has largely been about acting as a gatekeeper, tempering employees’ natural enthusiasm for travel. We have had other objectives, like improving efficiency and traveler satisfaction, and delivering duty of care, but controlling costs and enforcing policy – gatekeeping – has always been core to the mission. Fear of Covid-19 among many travelers, however, has eliminated our need to play that role. Our role will likely evolve from travel gatekeeper to travel enabler – and maybe travel therapist.
I say that because I believe we should be travel enablers – and not just because we want our industry and livelihood to survive – but because we believe in the transformative power of travel. Travel transforms people, politics, economies and most important, relationships. That is why, even in what may be our industry’s darkest hour, those of us in the SAP Concur organization believe in travel. We are committed to responsible travel that enables those who want to travel to do it in a way that protects their health and safety -- and in a manner that is environmentally sustainable.
While the landscape of our industry will be permanently altered, there are reasons for optimism. Travel will return over time, safer and stronger than ever. History demonstrates it will come back, just as it has after past recessions, even though it is hard to fathom after what we’ve been through in 2020. But remember that before the pandemic, the business travel sector was projected to generate about $1.7 trillion for the global economy by 2022. That spending creates jobs and infuses governments with needed tax revenue. These are among the reasons that the work we do is important – and not just to us but to the world around us.
That is why, in the midst of this storm, there is no better time to pause and connect, even if we must do so virtually. There is no better time to reinvest in each other; to rediscover our strength; and to reinvent the future of our industry. And to challenge each other to use this moment – this disruption – to make our industry – and the world around us – better.
The SAP Concur Travel Industry is currently available on-demand. Watch here.