“Where should I go?” – Alice. “That depends on where you want to end up.” – The Cheshire Cat.
― Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass
We currently find ourselves in unchartered waters trying to establish a way forward – for many of us it is a waiting game whilst for others, the recovery phase is on our doorstop. From a business travel point of view, this crisis period has presented many challenges – from Government guidelines, some of which have been unclear, through to separating responsible from irresponsible journalism.
Everyone is asking the question ‘who is to blame?’ – I generally think people are committed to finding a workable solution, however we are seeing cases of people getting it wrong whilst trying to get it right! What is abundantly clear is that this crisis does not discriminate within our industry. We are ultimately faced with the same dilemma; how do we begin to return to some sense of normality and as the quote above says – where do you want to end up?
The challenges that lie ahead are real and ever evolving – from controversial directives to complex travel policies that will no doubt test us in the future. Therefore, you can’t help but think: what does our supply chain look like coming out of this, what will our own organisation look like when we get to the other side and ultimately what will we, as individuals, look like as we emerge out of this dreadful period?
I believe the criteria for building back business travel to some sense of normality must include the following:
1. Collaboration – in creating a solutions-based approach to recovery, we must come together to apply an achievable and workable solution that will afford us the advantage of bouncing back swiftly and effectively.
2. Community – embrace this community and keep alive that sense of belonging to something bigger. Partnerships and associations have come together to provide intel, tech suppliers have collaborated to provide solutions designed to support the industry whilst airlines, TMCs, ground transportation and hotels have all connected with the same resolve – a return to some sense of normality! This level of connectivity has allowed the community that we are all members of, to strengthen during this period of crisis with lessons being learned and relationships redefined, and it would be negligent to let this slip to the way side after the crisis has subsided.
3. Support – plan a strategy for your own roadmap to recovery using the fact that we know our own businesses and we know our own clients but what we do not fully know is the extent of change that is around the corner. Support comes in many forms but the value of being connected to a partnership or association has never been greater or more important than it is now. Connecting with your peers during unprecedent times provides more than just common ground, it provides that sense of security that strength in numbers delivers. The hashtag #inthistogether has become more than just a strapline, it is a reality for those seeking assistance. At Focus, we have seen, week on week, our partners coming together on mass to debate, discuss and share experiences. This togetherness has been a binding force that has been much needed in the last ten weeks.
I think that over the last ten weeks we have all learned to roll with the tidal wave of change that Covid-19 has delivered, The Focus Travel Partnership wasn’t immune to this and also asked itself the question: where do you want to end up?
Rapid responses and solutions to areas identified as business critical
For those of you unfamiliar with the Partnership, we are a consortium of 60 TMCs, all of whom are shareholders in the business. We are a ‘not for profit’ organisation, solely created and run for the benefit of our Partners. There are strict criteria to join the Partnership with a rigorous interview process to ensure that our integrity, both inside and outside of the industry, is not compromised. The central team who run the day-to-day business are really an extension of our Partners’ own businesses, so it was our priority from day one of the crisis to identify the immediate needs of our own community. By creating a digital platform to engage and connect as a group, we were able to provide rapid responses and solutions to the areas identified as business critical including the following:
1. We quickly identified that there was an opportunity to utilise our Partners to deploy a crisis team to assist in repatriating UK citizens who were trapped abroad, and within 36 hours, this service was active and resulted in an influx of enquiries. These included parents wanting their children who were backpacking to get home as well as business travellers isolated and unsupported around the world. We provided connectivity to highly trained and skilled agents who know how to circumnavigate around complex travel enquiries and this 24/7 service bought immense benefit to those travellers caught abroad as borders rapidly closed.
2. We worked with our tech partner Travelogix to create a Covid-19 tracker; this amazing collaboration has delivered a solution to the Partnership which will greatly assist in managing responsible travel for the foreseeable future.
3. When the Chancellor announced the roll-out of the Job Retention Scheme, we immediately shared HR intel and resources through our partnership via PS Human Resources. This provided our Partners with information about the furlough scheme as well as supplying relevant templates that could be used by them, which has delivered huge benefits and time savings to our Partners’ business owners.
4. As we all started looking at contracts and where liability might lie, we provided legal advice through Kemp Little via webinars and Q&A sessions.
5. The Focus Travel Partnership is a member of the BTA as well as the Federation of Small Businesses who have both provided relevant and invaluable intel from an Industry perspective and specifically aimed to support SME businesses.
6. Each week we are analysing current concerns and hosting panel sessions where we invite industry specialists to come and debate as well as offer advice to our Partners, all of which have been hugely successful and beneficial.
7. We send out a daily update containing consolidated news items which has helped identify in one document the many changes taking place not only in the travel industry but also in relevant government departments. There are so many updates and notification being received from all sources, that we decided from the beginning to analyse and compile information relevant to our TMCs and send this in one single communication on a daily basis making it easier for our Partners to digest the changes. In addition, we launched through our social media channels the #knowledgeshare where we are encouraging our industry friends to share articles of interest amongst their peers.
8. Our Board of Directors have met fortnightly to ensure that the organisational strategy supports the current needs of the Partnership. This Board, aside from myself and our Chairman, are made up of partnership representation.
9. Being mindful that the way we book could change significantly as we edge towards recovery from the present crisis, we have provided specialist fares training to both the working and furloughed staff of our Partners and will continue to do so (although from recent trainings, we may have to use a different solution to conduct these as we almost exceed the 100-attendee allowance through Zoom which we take as a good problem to have!)
10. Our own furloughed staff have been undertaking tactical training to ensure that we can continue to serve our Partners in the new norm and the skillsets within our Central team will ensure we are stronger on the other side.
Service value of a responsible TMC has just become priceless
The TMCs within the Focus Partnership have built successful relationships with their corporates based on the responsible management of their travel policies. They have created their own communities where they deliver a duty of care to every enquiry coming into their businesses. The service value of a responsible TMC has just become priceless considering that travel policies will now become more complex with global directives and restrictions constantly changing – surely the only responsible decision from a corporate’s perspective is to embrace the TMC, especially a trusted and responsible one!
Throughout all of this, for us it has still been business as usual. Maintaining our great relationships with our airline partners, tech providers and support service teams has never been more important, especially as we continue this journey together.
In answer to the Cheshire Cat’s question “Where do you want to end up?”, as the CEO of The Focus Travel Partnership the answer is simple – right here by your side!