May 24, 2022

Pandemic legacy leaves travel management companies expertise in high demand

With sporting and music events returning with a vengeance in 2022, Travel Places Managing Director, Matt Warren, shares how everyday operations have changed for travel management companies (TMC) in these sectors, with duty of care, welfare, contingency planning and sustainability now high on the agenda for the clients we work with.

“In our 45-year history of managing travel plans for a range of groups that include international athletes and media, it is fair to say that we’ve seen a lot. But none of us had experienced anything like the events of 2020, with sporting and entertainment calendars wiped clean, Olympic and Paralympic Games postponed, and travel to many countries entirely off limits.

Our years of experience in complex group travel arrangements mean we are well versed in the importance of contingency planning and disruption management – something we were grateful for in March 2020. However, those early days and weeks of the pandemic were an experience like no other, as we worked 24/7 to bring home the teams and media crew from an Australian GP that was not to be, whilst also managing the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. We are immensely proud of how we handled these extraordinary circumstances for our clients, but it is an experience we hope not to have to repeat.

Two years on and debates about the long-term impact on the industry continue. Whilst we are fully optimistic that our sector is returning to a sense of normality, we are acutely aware of the emergence of a new version of business travel that has reinforced the value and expanded the role of travel management companies.

High demand for our expertise can, in part, be attributed to the continued risks of disruption. Travel may have resumed, and borders have reopened, but rapidly changing travel restrictions and testing requirements mean that crossing those borders continues to be more complicated than it was in the pre-covid era. Meanwhile, cancellations and delays continue to impact many travellers. Between 28 March and 3 April this year, more than 1,100 flights to and from the UK were cancelled due to staff absences, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium.

At the very least, these incidents are an inconvenience, but for the sectors we work in they can be disastrous and costly. Travel arrangements for entertainment and sports events are complex, involving hectic multi-date and multi-venue schedules, alongside high-profile individuals and event logistics. Delivering big events like these is in itself a big event and getting the travel arrangements right minimises resources and administration time, and saves on incidental costs. Most importantly, getting it right leaves all stakeholders – from athletes, managers, sponsors, and media – free to focus on their performance and feel confident that the event has been a success. If travel goes badly, this can reflect significantly on the overall experience of the event and the lasting brand value associated with it.

What does the new business travel world mean for TMCs?

With so many risks, requirements and considerations, it is perhaps no surprise that we are seeing increasing numbers of businesses choosing to utilise the expertise of travel management companies to navigate the complexities on their behalf. The result is that TMCs must be more service-driven than ever before, with access to accurate and up-to-date insight on new and emerging risks, and the know-how to manage last minute changes and cancellations with limited impact.

In addition, business travellers are also relying on travel management companies to guide them through more conscious and sustainable choices, as well as providing data on the impact of their decisions. This shift has underlined the importance of Travel Places being accountable for our own impact while we take on a bigger role in facilitating sustainable solutions for our clients. We also recognise the need to further develop our supplier partnerships in order to deliver on it all, taking a joint approach to respond to these new expectations from clients.

Alongside a huge appetite for a return to live music and a full sporting calendar, this new level of service means we are busier than ever. A positive sign for the future of our industry, there are also some significant internal challenges being raised for businesses like ours. Costs remain a key factor for clients, but as a TMC we need to ensure we get the balance of our service fees right when the amount of time and expertise we must now deploy has increased so significantly. And while the expertise we pride ourselves on has risen in value, it is also true that experienced staff are in short supply, so we are now identifying innovative solutions to bring new talent into the industry, ensuring our teams can expand in line with the demands of the business.

One benefit of reduced travel activity during covid was the chance to place sustainability at the centre of our strategy going forward. We’re proud to be a carbon neutral business and we have worked hard to gain certification to the ISO standard for Sustainable Event Management, which gives a structured approach to our ongoing sustainability journey, both internally and with clients. This includes the provision of enhanced carbon reporting tools, pre and post trip, and we are now working collaboratively with suppliers to bring more sustainable solutions to the sports and entertainment sector.

It is clear that the experience of the pandemic will leave a legacy for the industry for some time yet, with travel management companies facing significant challenges and new responsibilities, alongside exciting new demands. Working alongside our staff, clients and suppliers, we will continue to learn from all that we experienced at that time whilst looking firmly ahead to carve out a vision for future success and growth.”

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With over 45 years’ experience of delivering high profile events and group travel movements for leading sports, media and entertainment organisations, we have both the expertise and the credibility needed to secure clients the very best value from their travel budgets. Find out more here.

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