by Steve Banks, Chief Commercial Officer
With venues opening up, social distancing abandoned and workers returning to their offices, things are looking up for travel, meetings and events.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to TMCs like us that are tuned in to what our industry is about – connecting with people. We help customers to understand why their people travel and the questions to be asked pre-trip as travel gradually returns.
In many ways, the pandemic’s impact on how we work has meant that TMCs must now satisfy a different set of client needs. Remote working is here to stay.
80% of IBM employees now work in a hybrid office or a remote model whilst most workers will only spend three days a week – at most - in the office . This makes sense. After all, 87% of employees say the most important role of the office lies in facilitating collaboration with team members to build great relationships. 
The pandemic drove virtual meeting adoption to record levels but there are drawbacks. The World Health Organization cites ‘Zoom burnout’ as a major impediment to mental and physical health, whilst incremental productivity may be impossible to sustain because long-term remote working decreases opportunities for critical relationship-building.
Expertise that’s needed more than ever
Amplified by the pandemic. relationships between Travel Manager, traveller and TMC have also shifted. At management level, the desire for travel is pincered by, on one side, employers’ interest in employees’ wellbeing and, on the other, pressure from family, peers and media not to travel at all.
TMC relationships with travellers have become more personal once again. Evidence of the de-commoditisation of business travel includes TMCs online volumes falling to just 10% of bookings during lockdown.
The pandemic made travel more complex, thanks to constantly changing restrictions, so TMCs had to answer questions such as 'Is my hotel Covid-secure' and 'Do I need to allow more time at the station?' The answers had to be delivered quickly and in-person, and in doing so built trust amongst travellers.
Chosen modes of business travel are changing too. Instead of focussing primarily on-air, TMC attention is being directed to cheaper and more sustainable alternatives like rail or car hire.
And instead of simply fulfilling travel requests, TMCs are increasingly helping their customers to re-define commuting by integrating ridesharing into travel programmes. In turn, TMC technology is being re-shaped by the involvement of more stakeholders such as HR, risk, and senior management as well as Travel Managers. So, a TMC needs integrated systems that incorporate pre-trip risk assessment with traveller tracking and trip management, providing travel managers with complete visibility, 24/7.
The de-commoditisation of travel during lockdown has made TMCs ability to offer both a high and low touch service essential. It’s not just a case of travellers wanting more information. Online bookings have increasingly generated follow-up calls that need a human response.
Sustainability is another priority, with corporates turning to TMCs to help track, offset or reduce emissions. Technology will play a big part in helping client organisations achieve their environmental impact objectives, but the system is yet to be invented that offers green travel as a single click option.
How we look at the world
Whilst travel managers have used lockdown to review their programs and partners, we’ve worked alongside them to review and revamp processes to work more efficiently.
For example, as travellers are challenged to justify why Teams, WebEx or Zoom can’t achieve objectives, at Agiito we are providing our customers with consultative support in managing trip productivity and return on investment.
Business travel is becoming more collaborative – more inclusive. The demand for data insights is increasing too, so the range of trip-related information we gather goes well beyond measuring travel times and cost.
We’ve always focussed on aggregating travel; bookending the relatively simple task of booking trips, with helping our customers to understand where their travellers are, why, and the implications in terms of cost and wellbeing.
TMC revenues may have fallen during Covid-19 but the value and trust we have created with our customers are huge. By looking at policy, how companies buy, who is buying and why, we doubled down on traveller safety and wellbeing while setting the wheels in motion to return to progress.
We’ve helped our customers to design the processes to recognise what travel holds necessary and worthwhile value and empowered travellers to make informed decisions. This ethos is embedded into our booking process and all driven by powerful technology and enhanced by appropriate value-adds.
How value has shifted
Savvy TMCs recognise that the purpose of travel and meetings is to connect people. They build tools around that understanding to add value where it matters; keeping people healthy and safe when they need to connect, all while managing compliance, policy and working with the supply chain.
The role of the TMC is shifting from a smiling, nodding booking machine to an intelligent partner that helps get value from travel and meetings, questions the status quo and helps look after people and t