Business travel is global. We asked FCTG USA Corporate Brands head Charlene Leiss if that meant there were no regional differences.
We consulted Boston-based Charlene Leiss to discover what if anything was different in the world of travel management in the US.
It’s easy to see why Leiss is Flight Centre Travel Group’s President, Corporate Brands in the US. She exudes authority and her market knowledge is impressive. Her thoughts on business travel make her a living and breathing example of her view that corporate clients believe that it’s important for their TMC to be the experts and forward-thinking.
According to Charlene, because business travel is a truly global industry the main topics of interest are similar across the regions – distribution and access to content and the ascent of NDC, data privacy and GDPR, risk management and the importance of technology and data. The concerns may be the same but different market contexts mean that Europe and North America can be at different points of a development’s cycle and the specific effects can vary hugely.
“No one has taken any steps to move content away from the GDS” says Charlene when asked if US airlines are introducing any initiatives to disincentivise GDS bookings comparable to Lufthansa’s DCC. “We think it’s coming but airlines are beholden to the full content agreements that are still in effect. When the GDS agreements expire, it will follow. It’s just a matter of time.” Large corporates in North America have already seen the rise of open booking and actively aggregate non-GDS bookings given the popularity of low-cost carriers and sharing economy suppliers such as Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.
It’s probably coming, but no major US carrier has taken steps yet to move content away from the GDS.
Data privacy is also a big issue. Although privacy laws in the US are nowhere near as stringent as those in Europe, including the UK, and Canada, GDPR is still a concern for many corporates because numerous companies based in the US have employees, either there or abroad, on European passports and therefore covered by GDPR.
In the past the US would never have been considered a high-risk location yet, on the day we speak, there has been an explosion at the New York Port Authority. As Charlene observes, “Terrorism hits somewhere in the world every day so you have to know where everyone is. “We have to make sure we’re forward thinking with everything to do with risk management.” American clients both want a volume of data and they want targeted, personalised data.
According to Charlene, data is especially sought in some specific ways:
The use of data which highlights how different travellers rank in areas such as how far in advance they book, how much they’re saving, etc. to drive traveller behaviour.
2. TRAVELLER WELFARE
Reporting and predictive data can highlight issues such as whether companies are asking travellers to make unnecessary connections when they fly. Improving the travel experience can help to retain staff, an especially important business objective in locations such as Boston, New York and Silicon Valley where high-tech industries are concentrated and skilled individuals.
3. PREDICTIVE DATA
According to Charlene, “there is a movement not to look back to see what has happened in the past” but instead focus on what is or will be happening. Predictive data allows customers to make live changes – and savings. One of the more popular predictive tools is one that can identify to 95% accuracy flights that are likely to be delayed. Predictive data is especially valuable for people who have air agreements and want to meet targets. For example, new routes are being launched regularly in the US – JetBlue for one is starting a whole new set of routes in direct competition to the US’s Big 3 - and other airlines can consequently be potentially very generous in offering discounts to maintain market share.
There will be new tools and different emphases but many issues, such as air agreements, remain the same. Supply and demand still affect price. Changing behaviour can still drive savings.