Uncertainty amplifies need to plan for security and prosperity

Recruiting travelers as allies in improving corporate programs.

Keeping travelers safe—At BCD Travel, our primary business is helping companies manage the safety, efficiency and costs of employee travel. To accomplish this, we operate from offices around the world, sending our own employees on the road every day. And when events like the recent attacks in Paris happen, we rely on the same kind of robust travel risk management plan we help clients create.

When the attacks began on Nov. 13, we went into action. We activated our European emergency center to serve clients, verified the safety of our Paris-based staff and contacted our employees traveling to the city on business. We reminded our employees about travel risk procedures and meticulously followed our travel risk management plan, designed to keep them safe. At the same time, we helped hundreds of clients manage their own travel risks and disruptions. In the first 48 hours, we handled about 400 cancellations by business travelers who had planned trips from North America, Asia and other parts of Europe to Paris. Once the worst was over, we talked to companies about how they can be better prepared for the next disruption. Many are true believers. They understand what real readiness means because they’ve taken our advice and worked alongside our experts to put solid travel risk management plans in place. For others, the attacks in Paris served as a wake-up call, and we’re guiding them through how to get prepared.

That’s always the biggest takeaway from any travel disruption—whether it’s an earthquake or an ash cloud or a terrorist attack: Those who learn from the last crisis will be best prepared for the next one.

Review and preview—Even before the Paris attacks, 2015 was an uncertain year for the global economy in general, and business travel in particular. Looking ahead, we’re expecting slow improvement in 2016. In the U.S., we see low-single-digit growth—nothing stellar, but better year over year. In Asia Pacific, the forecast is for high-single-digit growth, a stronger showing than other regions. Growth in Europe has been flat and consumer and corporate spending fell further after the Paris attacks. Nonetheless, we believe the gains we’ve seen in the U.S. will expand to other markets next year, overcoming eurozone risks and the sluggish Chinese economy. And we’re not the only optimists. The Global Business Travel Association recently projected business travel spending in Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Italy will grow at more than 6% in 2016.

Our updated Advito Industry Forecast for 2016 anticipates flat pricing for air travel because cheaper oil has prompted airlines to increase capacity. We see hotel rates rising 3% to 5%, on average, on strengthening demand and a lack of new supply in North America, Latin America and Europe. But a spike in new hotel openings in China and India should mean lower average rates in Asia. So, what does this mean for travel buyers? There are bargains to be had, especially on intercontinental travel, as long as companies are vigilant about understanding what they’re spending—and with whom. Business intelligence is essential.

Valuing TMCs—That brings me to an important point—one I discussed a few weeks ago with CNN Business Traveller host Richard Quest. In today’s business travel environment, with more self-service and teleconferencing options than ever, what’s the true value of a travel management company? At BCD Travel, we’re building on our value by giving clients more and better solutions related to business intelligence and showing them how to influence travelers so they spend smarter on the road. We’re also using consumer-grade technologies like our TripSource mobile app to make it easy for travelers to stay in policy.

How we meet the needs of our clients and their travelers continues to evolve, but the fundamentals of whyour clients rely on us hasn’t changed. Companies must send employees on the road to conduct business. Business trips must result in a return on investment. Travelers must be kept safe and productive. Business travel isn’t going away because human beings are wired for look-you-in-the-eye interaction. For our clients, travel is how they get business done; it’s not their business. But it is ours, and that expertise—that role as trusted adviser—is where our true value lies.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you about what you’ve read here or would like to read in future segments of Inside View. Send me an email at [email protected].

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