For those of us, working in the industry, corporate travel is what we live and breathe each and every day. It’s hard to imagine anyone with little understanding of business travel. But ask any friend or acquaintance and they immediately conjure up images of business (class) travel and luxury hotels, late drinks at the bar, a morning swim in the roof terrace pool and a conversation over coffee or lunch. They’ve clearly never done much business travel!
Those that have will see it differently: the headache of booking trips and searching for better options than the booking tool, long flights in crammed spaces, hurrying from airport to meetings, hoping for a bite to eat in between, sleeping in clean but frugal accommodation and getting back to the office to do expense reports.
And while both assumptions have some truth to them, there’s a lot more to corporate travel than meets the eye. Probably the easiest way to understand this is by looking at a travel manager’s job description. The scope is endless: As well as running the day-to-day operations, they’re expected to strategically align the travel programme to the company mission. And then they have to negotiate deals with suppliers across the globe, understand local differences and stay alert of new trends and how they might improve one’s programme.
Why is there such a disconnect? And why does it even matter?
The invisibility of corporate travel traces its roots to history: in the good old days when flying wasn’t something you did daily; when traveling for business was synonymous with importance and wealth. The service was different for business travellers and stewards would speak in hushed voices so as not to disturb anyone.
This carried on to the agents: being a corporate travel agent meant you’d progressed beyond the world of tourism. You were perceived as a tad better than the mere leisure travel agents. Suppliers, too, would give you more importance, believing you’d fill business class for them – which you did.
But times have changed: corporate travel is not exclusive anymore. It’s not only for the wealthy owners or CEO to travel; everyone is traveling for business: to secure deals, to maintain relationships, to progress development and to share knowledge. Business class is now often frequented by leisure travellers looking for more comfort; and economy class is often packed with business people.
Yet what we should have retained is not the exclusivity, the hushed voices and general invisibility and mystique about corporate travel, but the much more important reason for traveling: growing business.
It’s time for the world to realize there’s an industry here. An industry that contributes about 1/3 towards overall tourism spend. It’s time for us, within the industry, to shout about what we do and make people aware of all those supporting functions, technologies, travel programmes and policy.
Why? Because we don’t have the understanding, funding, education and our rightful place in the business world. And it’s time we changed that!