CWT Exchange shines a light on the path ahead at a time of massive political and technological upheaval, reports Karen Bamford
‘Be prepared’ was the underlying message at CWT’s Exchange 2016 where experts shared their knowledge and advice following the turbulent months since the previous annual client conference. All the speakers aimed to help attendees face the future at a time of great change impacting the travel industry.
Held in November at the InterContinental hotel at the O2, London, the event theme was Navigating Changing Landscapes. Event host and BBC reporter Steph McGovern commented that the business landscape seemed to be changing minute by minute. In the past year since she last spoke at Exchange there had been a referendum, a new prime minister and “general mayhem”.
The conference room buzzed with excitement as Steph announced breaking news that the High Court had ruled the Government required parliamentary approval to trigger article 50 to leave the EU. Attendees became ever more eager to hear our keynote speaker, ITV business and economics editor Robert Peston, explain the implications of this on Brexit.
However, Peston disappointed some hopefuls with his opinion that parliamentarians were unlikely to thwart Britain’s exit from the EU, although they would have a debate about what people really wanted. He correctly advised attendees: “We should all plan with the assumption that we are on the way out.”
He also predicted that Donald Trump would win the US presidential election, and touted the likelihood that China’s economy would slow down significantly, probably in 2017, and that there would be a general election this year.
Peston added: “We are leaving the EU at a time of massive uncertainties and the stakes are high.”
To keep abreast of the changing landscape, CWT has appointed a Brexit Monitor. CWT country director Johan Wilson told delegates the monitor would analyse developments from a travel perspective.
Traveller safety was addressed by Tim Willis, security director of northern Europe for International SOS, who urged travel managers to prepare for real risks rather than perceived dangers.
“It’s been a tumultuous 12 months,” said Tim, but the reality is that travellers are at far higher risk of malaria, car accidents and petty crime than they are of terrorism or the Zika virus.
He shared an analogy based on the surprising fact that last year 300 people were killed by hippos, compared with eight killed by sharks. “We have to look out for hippos while remaining aware of sharks,” he said.
Most risks are easily mitigated with good policy. For example, a traveller had all her luggage, including passport and money, stolen from a car at the start of a four-day business trip in China. She spent the whole trip sorting out this loss rather than attending to business. This could have been mitigated with the right advice before travel – do not put valuables in a car boot.
Tim pointed out that CWT Traveller Tracking was an important tool in strategic planning.
Delegates were gripped by the behind-the-scenes stories told by Rich Davis, managing director of global security at United Airlines. He revealed the extraordinary collaboration between by airlines and governments globally in the face of ever changing methods of destruction employed by dangerous people. He reminded us of a series of attacks against airlines and cited the example of a man in 2001 who hid a bomb in his shoe, as a result of which we often have to remove our shoes at airport security.
“Historic incidents affect all of you every time you travel,” said Rich. “With 400,000 people carried by us every day, safety and security is a primary responsibility.
Geraldine Valenti, from CWT Solutions Group, also talked about how history can better inform the future. Data generated by customers’ journeys can be used to deliver great experiences tailored to different traveller needs.
“Travel is personal,” she said, advocating the use of data to understand what is important to travellers and adapting programmes to better suit them. She advised: “If you make their overall experience more positive, they are more likely to follow your guidance.”
After 30 years in the travel industry, Lorraine Jacobs, VP corporate sales & development at Travelport, is no stranger to change. “Our industry continues to drive change and invest,” she said. “More customers are looking for consumer-style experiences when they travel. CWT and Travelport are investing in new technology to achieve this.”
With the new booking platform, the aim is to ensure technology is scaleable and future proof. Lorraine pointed out that disrupters, such as Uber, can be positive for travellers but “cause havoc” for travel managers by encouraging out-of-programme behaviour. Having everything on one platform ensures that policy is adhered to and duty of care is optimised.
She added: “Change continues to significantly impact on our business. We can follow blithely or take control.”
Delegates had the opportunity to delve deeper into their preferred subjects at a choice of workshops:
Creating the best service offering
SMM and driving engagement through personalisation
Unlocking the value of personalisation for businesses
Everyone came together again for ‘The Big Question’, a debate moderated by Steph McGovern. Our panellists shared their opinions on major industry topics, and answered questions posed by delegates using the bespoke event app created by CrowdCompass.
Attendees left CWT Exchange 2016 better prepared to travel the road ahead, wherever it may lead.
What drives traveller decision making?
Businesses benefit from technology that focuses on traveller behaviour because it helps them understand what drives the travellers’ decisions. “It’s great knowing what decision was made, but knowing why is much more valuable,” points out Aman