Welcome to the first episode of Explore The Future of Corporate Travel, a video series that dives into the main challenges business travel consultants are facing today and how TMC technology can address them.

While there is little doubt about the ongoing recovery of corporate travel, the industry has become more dynamic and complex than ever. To stay relevant and grow, Travel Management Companies (TMCs) need to think differently, embrace change, and innovate with new solutions and strategies. ​Sabre’s Robbie Thomas, Senior Director of Product Strategy, and Sarah Sheppard, Senior Director of Product Management, explore the future of corporate travel with Andrew Clarke, Commercial Director of the Business Travel Association. 

Watch the video below to hear their conversation or read on for the highlights.

Interview highlights 

Andrew Clarke: Great to meet you for the first time. It’s always strange when we get together for the first time over a screen and not over a desk, but we are where we are. Robbie, I’m going to come to you to start the conversation today. What does Sabre see as the top priority for TMCs in your view?

Robbie Thomas: Great question. Thanks for the opportunity to chat today, Andrew. I like how you’re posing the question, because you’re not asking me ‘what are the top priorities for Sabre?’ but you’re asking, ‘how are we thinking about the top priorities of our customers?’ 

As the resident strategy guy, I’m always pushing our product leaders to really take a customer perspective. One of the things I like to do is the executive wake up test, asking ‘If you were the leader of a TMC, when you wake up in the morning, what’s that thing you’re thinking about? What’s the thing you’re worried about or excited about?’ For me that helps to couch today’s urgent priorities. From conversations I’ve had, the use and deployment of technology is clearly one of the top priorities for TMCs.  

A global survey done by GBTA and FCM earlier this year asked a number of corporate travel managers what their main criteria were in selecting a TMC, and the number one answer was around technology – it was ahead of costs and of account management quality. So, if it’s about technology and that’s what we’re talking about today, I should lean into some of the most top-of-mind things around technology that are on our TMC leaders’ minds.  

I think chief amongst those are talent recruitment and staff productivity because we’ve got those two challenges right now. You’ve got staffing shortages. I think that’s everywhere, certainly by region it varies. Then you’ve got this increasing demand for travel or servicing disruption and all that’s being lifted up by the ever-increasing volume of business travel that’s going on. I think that’s a huge priority, and our TMC leaders are then asking ‘how do I do more with less? How do I manage this?’ On the technology side, of course that means we’re thinking about the automation of service tasks, that enables our TMC partners to elevate their customer experience and of course to do that at scale. 

Andrew Clarke: I want to come back to staffing and productivity a bit later, but aside from that, are there any other key topics you want to call out around what you’re hearing from TMCs when you’re having some of these key discussions on that investment of future? 

Robbie Thomas: I would say there are probably two more things. One is on content sourcing, and the other is the use of data intelligence and intelligent offers.  

With content sourcing, suppliers are thinking about how to create and capture new value for the traveler. That means different offers, different content, and different channels. Airline partners in particular are thinking about how to deploy different content regimes and technologies, such as NDC. TMC leaders are waking up in the morning thinking about how they will manage this content fragmentation. What we know for sure, especially based on the conversation on not having enough resource to manage everything, is that you don’t want to run a TMC or an agency of any kind where you’re getting some content from a website, some content from an aggregator, some content from a GDS and some content from 1,000 other sources. It’s just not manageable, it’s not effective and it’s hard to get all of that in one place.  

Our customers, corporations and corporate travelers, don’t want to doubt that they’re getting the best deal nor learn that they can’t put in place policies, apply profiles, have the reporting in place to track budgets, etc. I think all of those are moving pieces around content sourcing.  

Our perspective at Sabre is that the GDS can help extend choice though a single efficient connection. We do that by thinking about all the places where content is – New Distribution Capability (NDC), Low Cost Carriers (LCC), third party content – and trying to think more as a platform provider. So how do we establish those efficient connections that enable our TMC partners to have the content they need and also to integrate it into workflows and manage it effectively?  

Then the final piece, just briefly, is around intelligence and intelligent offers. There’s a ton of data and our TMC partners are asking for help to think through how to better use the data they have, especially through Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). So how do we apply AI and ML? Everybody knows it’s out there and capabilities are increasing, but what I’m hearing are still a lot of questions on how to deploy that effectively and in ways that are specific to each customer’s needs.   

Many thanks to Andrew Clarke and the Business Travel Association for this exciting conversation. The full video podcast can be viewed on BTA website.

If your TMC is looking to grow in these areas, contact us today so we can discuss how our solutions can best serve you. Learn how Sabre is creating new paths to profitability in corporate travel here.