8 questions with AstraZeneca’s APAC Travel Manager

AstraZeneca Regional Travel Manager Sonya Lowry is paving her path to business travel’s recovery with adaptability, creativity, and new ways of thinking about strategic program management.

How has the AstraZeneca travel team responded to the challenges of the last few years?

Sonya Lowry, Regional Travel Manager, Asia Pacific, AstraZeneca

Sonya: 2020 was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before and hopefully never will again. None of us were trained to handle a situation like that. Countries were enacting changes all around the world; everything was evolving at different times, and it was all happening rapidly. The No. 1 priority for AstraZeneca in 2020 was to get our people home as safely as possible. It wasn’t about credits or costs, it was about ensuring our most valuable assets, our people, were safe.

We spent 2021 wondering when this thing was going to end while also managing the essential travel that needed to continue. We worked hard maintaining a level of care, service, and support so our essential workers could perform their jobs. The travel team remained in full swing, we just had to be fluid and adaptable in how we worked.

Have priorities shifted a little, from strategic objectives to more traveler care?

Sonya: Yes, prior to the pandemic we were focused on savings, delivering a strategic program, sustainability, etc. These things all remained priorities, but we moved into crisis management quite quickly as the situation developed. Typically, crises impact a few markets or a region. The interesting thing about the pandemic was that it affected every single market we operate in and travel to. It was new ground for us.

Is there now a sense of returning to more strategic program management, perhaps with an element of ongoing crisis management?

Sonya: I think the initial crisis management phase is over, but we have moved into a kind of business-as-usual crisis management mode. We still have people moving about and we know more about testing policies and safety practices. The challenge is ensuring all this information is accurately and globally distributed to those who need it, while continuing to pursue AstraZeneca’s strategic objectives. We’ve learned to be a little more flexible and adjust priorities in response to whatever changes we face. Travel savings have always been a top priority for the travel program, and will always be a procurement focus, but the need to keep people safe and healthy really shares that focus now. Duty of care and risk management remain driving factors in our program.

Does that change the discussions you have with your suppliers?

Sonya: It does. I stress to all our major chains that their cleanliness programs are a real priority. Contactless check in, touchless entry, etc. These things are becoming a significant part of our assessment process. I feel comfortable that the major chains have the policies and processes in place to keep our travelers safe, and that’s something I can relay to my travelers.

Beyond ensuring the preferred suppliers are meeting requirements around duty of care, what do you think is the ask of the travel teams as we head into 2022?

Sonya: We’ll remain an operationally focused team for some time yet. In some markets where travel is resuming, we’ve seen a lack of confidence in traveling and booking travel. So, there’s an element of anxiety for business travelers, at least until they take their first trip.

What about TMCs? Do you see your needs and those of your travelers fundamentally changing?

Sonya: Yes, the role of the TMC has become much more important to our business. The pandemic was a double-edged sword. On one hand, it was horrific to see the workforce upheaval, the furloughs and staff reductions. On the other, we were reassured by our relationship with BCD. We see you as our single source of information. We don’t want our people researching different websites, and not knowing whether the details are up to date or accurate. We want them to be using BCD’s Covid-19 information hub to research the information they need.

Do you feel ready for travel to resume?

Sonya: I do. I’m excited to get back to our business moving and our people re-connecting. Human contact is irreplaceable, and we do better when we are in the same room collaborating. As much as we’ve adapted technology to help us stay connected, and that will certainly continue where appropriate, I think it’s time to re-connect and re-energize. That comes from getting people together.

We have spent the last two years redefining ourselves. With the help of BCD, we have been able to develop a tailored and targeted travel communications project that has resulted in over 10,000 followers on our Workplace groups. Our travel posts get over 1,000 views each. That indicates a level of readiness, that people are interested in educating themselves about travel again.

A final question: Why are you in travel?

Sonya: I think my European father probably has a lot to do with it. It’s in my blood. I love people, different cultures and places. This is the perfect job for me, and after seven years at AstraZeneca, I still wake up looking forward to each day and knowing it’s going to be different from the day before.

In case you missed it: 8 questions with Halliburton’s APAC Travel Manager

Find out how how Halliburton’s APAC Travel Manager Sherry Mansor is managing the business travel industry’s current challenges and what’s on her business plan as travel recovers.

Sharifa (Sherry) Mazura Syed Mansor, Travel Manager, APAC Region, Halliburton

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