With travel volumes being reduced dramatically now is the best time ever to introduce a green travel policy and make it an integral part of the travel programme before volumes start growing again

Many argue that the deep collapse in travel due to the travel restrictions imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19 means that there is no better time than now to readdress travel policies and make sure they support sustainability and environmental needs. Travel technology evangelist Johnny Thorsen, VP strategy and innovation at American Express Digital Labs is among these and he highlights creating and launching a green travel policy as one of the three focus areas for travel buyers.

Mr Thorsen was a recent guest on the latest Corporate Travel Community (CTC) Masterclass, entitled ‘Understanding the new business travel journey‘, where he was joined by Karen Hutchings, global head of travel, meetings and events at Ernst & Young Global and Teresa Matheson, senior director account management at Egencia.

You can read more about their observations and find a link to the on-demand video recording of the session hosted by CTC’s global director Catherine Craig and moderated by CTC’s executive director Benson Tang in the article below.

Many questions were asked by the audience but time restrictions did not permit them all to be answered by the panellists. We have subsequently shared some of them and received written responses from the relevant presenters. Among these, Mr Thorsen highlights the need to seriously look at green credentials as businesses readjust to the ‘new normal’.

He says that a green travel policy should consist of two elements: “a reliable and accurate calculation of the CO2 emission generated by your program and a automated offset solution designed to support your overall ESG strategy without paying a lot of money to an external consulting firm for doing manual outdated work – the solution should be fully automated and integrated with your general booking environment and provide real time data on daily basis at minimum.”

Mr Thorsen argues that the time has come for a global travel manager to “own and control their own data warehousing without depending on the TMC for reporting and analytical services”. He believes that TMC’s “should be instructed to deliver a real time feed of any relevant travel data element as part of the booking service they provide,” and then companies can add their own third party solutions such as duty of care, time management, trip services, policy management and sustainability on top of the data platform without relying on the TMC.

This would represent a dramatic shift away from the old model of letting the TMC consolidate data globally, but Mr Thorsen acknowledges that new cloud based services are available which can provide real time integration to accounting solutions as well as standard BI tools.

Technology is a key driver of the industry adapting its practices to meet new standard requirements and business protocols. But with the development of artificial intelligence meeting tools, there remains a big question market over future levels of business travel.

Even before Covid-19 had hit companies had started to realise that there were some big opportunities for improving the way meetings and event were planned from a location perspective. Mr Thorsen notes that latest technology already allows a company to select a location based on elements such as CO2 emission, time spent travelling, number of time zone shifts, cost of travel, number of customers in a location, or any other element.

“These can find the best place to meet for any group of people based on their location and travel policy framework – including management of so-called virtual meetings where smaller groups of people will drive to multiple locations while others will stay at home and connect virtually,” explains Mr Thorsen.

“They are fully data driven which means they deliver a detailed analysis and result in a few minutes rather than the old fashioned model, of having a human agent trying to find out the best place to meet,” he adds.

Similarly, Teresa Matheson acknowledges that digital conferencing tools have had their place in the business world for many years now and “we have not seen a correlated decline in business travel”. She believes that the workplace will “evolve into a place to meet for internal meetings,” meaning employees will primarily work from home and travelling into the office for internal meetings only, but that companies will “still see the value of in meeting face to face as a critical component to how they do business”.

Despite this value, Mr Thorsen has no doubt that we will see less travel for meetings in the future compared to 2019 as travellers around the world are “getting used to meeting virtually, and are realising how much private time they are saving by doing so – as well as protecting the environment by travelling less”.

But, he agrees that at “some point we will see business and meeting/event travel happening again,” but that this will be “probably driven by new rules such as ensuring a maximum number of meetings can be included in a single trip, or trying to gather multiple relevant people in the same location at the same time to reduce the total number of trips” – all to a “travel efficiency value” managed by a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning services.

This technology would be “capable of analysing all active upcoming trips and then making suggestion for changes which can reduce the total number of trips and maximise number of meetings at the same time,” according to Mr Thorsen. “Perhaps it will be used to measure the value of a trip – and become part of the travel policy framework in the future – where a CFO can say that travel only is allowed when the travel efficiency value is higher than X,” he adds.

Here’s some further questions that were asked and the responses from the Masterclass experts.

Q) The world of travel has changed because of Covid-19. When travelling is back, how should/do companies encourage travellers when there is a hesitation or a real fear to travel?

“Companies need to redefine what is ‘essential’ corporate trips – Government restrictions + Company goals + employees willingness to travel. They will need to understand what the destination countries regulations around borders are. Lastly, travel managers need to focus on managing travel risk such as having more pre-trip approvals, consolidating travel with a single TMC so they can track and locate all their travellers in case of emergency.”
Teresa Matheson, senior director account management, Egencia

“There should be a single standard for health and safety protocols across airports, airlines, hotels and other travel suppliers. Adopting the same requirements, regardless of the stage of the journey, would help us ensure our employees know what to expect when travelling and give them more confidence to potentially start.”
Karen Hutchings, global head of travel, meetings and events, Ernst & Young Global

Q) What medium do you suggest would be the best for the hotel cleaning data to be delivered? Mobile App?…Is there one out there?

“There is no single app today capable of showing the cleaning standard of many different hotels in a standard format, but there is a new service called Clean Hotel (developed by Smart Hotel Rate) which makes it possible to import the digital data showing the cleaning performance of the hotel at room level and then monitor the performance from an SLA perspective – say each room must be cleaned for at least 12 minutes, and also provide the individual traveller with real time info about the cleaning history of their room via their mobile device. The Clean Hotel service allow any hotel to send a raw data set either via real time API transfer or via an hourly / daily file transfer so a travel buyer can start asking the hotel if they are prepared to share their cleaning performance digitally and avoid having a new app for each hotel chain.”
Jonny Thorsen, VP strategy and innovation, American Express Digital Labs

Q) What is the industry’s trend for suppliers RFPs in 2021?

“On 17-Jun-2020, CTC hosted a travel manager roundtable discussion in Shanghai with the travel managers based in China. According to the travel buyers with supplier agreements coming to an end in the second half of 2020, there was an equal split between new RFP/tender launches and those seeking short period extensions.”
Benson Tang, executive director, Corporate Travel Community (CTC)

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