Tripism CEO Kerr Assesses Travel Management Evolution

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Business travel booking and planning platform Tripism this month reported activity levels on its platform are now 250 percent higher than their previous pre-Covid-19 high point. The booming demand, however, is also adding to the stress on travel suppliers that still have not returned staffing levels to what they were prior to the pandemic, Tripism CEO Adam Kerr said. Kerr spoke recently to BTN executive editor Michael B. Baker about changes he is seeing to travel management patterns and priorities amid the recovery as well as key challenges faced by travel buyers.

BTN: What are the key challenges your clients are asking you to solve at the moment?

Adam Kerr: Things have changed. Some travelers have forgotten some of the basics about travel, so there's an education about their travel program and what travelers need to remember when they're planning their trips. Companies have progressed their travel programs. They probably have new partnerships they want to communicate, things like new car service companies, or they've brought on board food-delivery companies, and they want to communicate those to the travelers.

At the same time, travel teams are dealing with some of the challenges around car rental shortages and then driver shortages with some of the limousine services, and they need to manage that and really get engaged with travelers and set expectations and provide alternate means of ground transportation.

Then, there's a lot of focus around sustainability, so some companies are looking at increasing the visibility of rail services. On domestic short trips, they'd rather you take the rail than take the flight, even if the cost is slightly higher. Then, some of the [travel management companies] have been struggling with staff shortages, so the support that they get there can vary and provide challenges.

With sustainability, there's a lot of work. Some companies are more advanced than others. We're looking at different ways of doing that, in terms of standardization and terms, displaying it to travelers in a better way, communicating it to travelers in a different way. We've put in a lot of work in rather than just presenting the high-level marketing. We've started providing information to the travelers so they can make choices about sustainable properties and different things they are able to do. One or two of our companies have asked us to prioritize sustainable content first, and it works in two ways. It means that travelers will see information firsthand [and] therefore [will be] more likely to make a sustainable choice, but also it adds an increased incentive to those suppliers who are now presented further down the page to up their game and achieve whatever benchmarks that the customers expect in terms of a sustainable partner.

BTN: How did your business hold up throughout the pandemic?

Kerr: We were fortunate during Covid. We've had 100 percent customer retention. Some of our companies were still doing some travel, so we did some work around Covid safety and so on. Probably 18 months ago, we started to see that people were getting ready for the return to travel and some of the complexities around that, and our platform helps travel teams to communicate that information, so we started to see an increase of new customers coming through. In the last six to 12 months, we've seen a big uptick in new customers and the activity from the users within those corporations, so it's exciting times.

I don't think the value travel teams have historically brought is around that negotiation and contracting. I think there's a much bigger impact.”

BTN: Do you expect large companies will continue to be your main focus going forward?

Kerr: We have looked at doing an SME product. That's something we were looking at pre-Covid, and we might come back to it at some point. Today, we focus just on those large enterprise customers.

BTN: Where does information related to Covid-19 rate in terms of priorities right now?

Kerr: We've noticed the Covid information we presented is still around, but customers have asked us to move down the priority of the information. Now, it's still there and you can find it if you want to, but it's further down the page, with things like sustainability taking priority over that information. Hopefully, it stays down there for some time.

BTN: Are you seeing a high level of confidence from business travelers?

Kerr: When planning a trip, a traveler sometimes will go straight to a booking tool. But for a lot of people, they have to plan their trip, and historically they've done that by adding and leveraging tools for leisure. They go to Google or TripAdvisor to piece them together, and the last place they go to is the booking tool to complete that transaction. With Tripism, we put everything in one place. You have to find preferred hotels, visa information and Covid information, and it's scattered all over the place. With Tripism, if you're planning a trip, we'll bring in all the information that you as a traveler for a company needs to know: preferred hotel, city rate caps, risks, International SOS information, the limousine service that you use, visa information, so everything is in one place. It makes people have confidence in the information. It's highly specific and personalized to you as an employee for that company. Sometimes we find travelers using the Tripism platform have better access than the actual agent does to things like benefits and accessing information in a single place.

There are some things we can't help with. For the foreseeable future, you need to speak to an agent if something has gone wrong and you're stuck in Chicago, for example, and there's not flights out.

BTN: Have you seen priorities change in light of the pandemic?

Kerr: It's really evolving the role of the travel team. I'm relatively new to travel, but a lot of travel team work historically seems to be focused around procurement and having those contracts in place. There's been a gradual shift, and with the pandemic, it's a tectonic shift. If you think of the things the HR team would do because somebody was in the office, now that there is the hybrid setup where people aren't in a company office, just a meeting and event location … they have to create these spaces where people can meet. The travel team has become responsible for that, making sure that's a successful event, so it's not so much about heads on beds and bums on seats. It's a much more human aspect to it now. We're interested to see where that travel function lands, we wonder if there will be more for a shift of companies bringing it into HR or people and experience. It's an exciting time for travel teams.

BTN: What does this mean in terms of how travel managers are valued within their organization?

Kerr: Travel teams do a really fantastic job, but the problem they have had in the past is that people don't understand how great these programs are. I don't think the value travel teams have historically brought is around that negotiation and contracting. I think there's a much bigger impact. The evidence that shows the quality of your trip impacts the effectiveness of that trip but also your productivity when you return form that trip. We know that some of the banks we work with, they benchmark that travel program against other banks, because it's super important in terms of retention and recruitment. The value that the travel team is bringing in those aspects is far greater than the dollar savings through the procurement process.