Travel managers need greater transparency and communication from their TMC and other suppliers regarding staff shortages in the face of ongoing servicing issues, according to the Institute of Travel Management’s buyer members.
Global, EMEA and UK travel managers attending ITM’s recent Buyer Knowledge Exchange revealed that they are struggling to manage booker and traveller expectations of service levels and to explain to internal stakeholders that business travel is far from back to normal.
Buyers recognise the difficulties TMCs and suppliers have experienced over the last two years, which led to an exodus of talent from the industry, and are at pains to avoid undue criticism of poor service. However, many buyers are concerned by a lack of openness regarding current operational issues, staffing limitations, plans for recruitment and timeframes for scaling up their businesses.
Buyers are therefore urging TMCs and suppliers to work collaboratively and maintain open dialogue with them, whilst the exponential pent-up demand for travel continues to outpace the recovery of the supply chain. Meanwhile, ITM is also supporting its buyer member community through this period with a ‘State of the Industry’ resource and communication templates to share internally with their bookers and travellers.
Travel managers taking part in the ITM Buyer Exchange session represented diverse industry sectors such as financial services, energy, food, technology, telecoms, consulting, media and entertainment. Other observations and areas of concern raised by the group included:
- A consensus that staff shortages are affecting most TMCs and supplier with no ‘quick fix’ solution in the short term. Therefore, changing TMC at this stage is unlikely to improve the situation.
- Buyers working with their TMC on a management fee basis have been less impacted by servicing issues as this commercial model has enabled their TMC to retain staff more effectively.
- For those corporates whose TMC is experiencing staff resource challenges, the additional impact is that some travellers are opting to book directly with airlines, hotels and car rental companies after becoming frustrated with TMC wait times. This situation is now presenting further issues around compliance and duty of care for these buyers.
- Corporates are increasingly reliant on their OBT to make bookings, and are conducting refresher training for PAs and EAs, to plug the shortfall in offline service levels.
Kerry Douglas, Head of Programme, ITM commented: “ITM hosts regular Buyer Knowledge Exchange Sessions to help our buyer members problem solve common issues they are facing, and to provide a safe space to ask questions and benchmark their approach. The overriding concern right now is how staff shortages across the TMC community and supply chain are impacting negatively on service levels.
“Whilst buyers are empathetic to the challenges that TMCs are facing, their internal stake holders are not so accepting of disappointing service. Buyers are facing a difficult task explaining to their bookers and travellers that staff shortages are an industry wide issue and that the travel experience in 2022 is still very different from that of 2019. That’s why our buyer members are asking their TMC and other suppliers to be transparent about the challenges they are facing, which positions they need to fill and progress in recruiting relevant staff. Buyers also need support with communications within their business to manage expectations of travellers and bookers. Hence we are developing a toolkit of resources to help our buyer members with this process.”