The complex and diverse field of business travel has undergone radical changes over the past few years. If it is true that, for the most part, the services that were once exclusively provided by travel agents can now be managed online by the travellers themselves, it is also true that new needs have emerged. The ubiquitous popularity of social media added to this phenomenon, altering the way in which we experience travel and interaction in a fundamental way. Travel for business was born as an attempt to meet the modern business traveller’s needs, offering services and information that are actually relevant and constantly up to date. What does travel for business do? We discussed it with founder Rosemarie Caglia.
What’s the concept behind Travel for business?
It is a simple and yet articulate concept: we wanted to get business travellers involved, help them share travel experiences and professional opportunities and discuss not only business travel per se, but also tips to make one more productive when travelling for business. Professional travellers have very specific, unique needs and they need information that is relevant to their particular way of travelling. Travelforbusiness.it allows them to find everything they need in one place: a wide range of worldwide destinations, with a variety of precious tips by those who have already visited them. And the added values is that it all comes from other professional travellers, which therefore have visited those places coming from a similar perspective as the website visitor and sharing their needs. This year we resolved to turn the portal into an actual social network, because we realised there was more to it than simply collecting and sharing experiences and information. It was rapidly becoming a platform where professionals could meet and discuss, for instance, the development of new markets or specific business-related topics. There are several cases already of export managers, companies and professionals that have met through our portal and started talking, eventually creating new business opportunities.
What are the current trends in this field? Which aspect of the professional travel business are growing?
It’s all about meeting and networking: these might seem like recent needs, but they are actually as old as humanity. Social media and a dedicated platform such as Travel for business constitute excellent responses to such needs: quick, potentially boundless and constantly up to date, constantly connected . What makes Travelforbusiness.it different from its competitors is its “independence” and inclusiveness. Everyone can take part in the exchange. The communication is genuine and authentic, there is no broadcasted teaching to compress the message. Those who take part in the public discourse about business travel are for the most part very knowledgeable, they travel frequently and, on average, for longer than 100 days a year, to a variety of places, including developing Countries with emerging economies. The more experienced travellers know exactly what they need to pack, how to get through the paperwork quickly in order to travel to certain Countries, how to use the local public transport and how to deal with certain markets. A crowd of practiced travellers, that are often more knowledgeable than travel agents themselves and more than happy to share their expertise with others. It is all about sharing one’s own personally acquired knowledge, in order to ensure successful business trips, but also boosting our national brand.
The rapid spreading of online travel services, the role of travel agents has changed dramatically: what services does a modern business traveller require?
I worked for important travel management companies for over twenty years and I went through the several phases of this change: from the elimination of commissions to the first electronic tickets, from the introduction of new technology into the business to the arrival of the internet and the new “program management” services, culminating in what were once travel agents becoming travel consultants. I do believe one needs to have proper experience and training to be a competent consultant in this field. To this day, the only training I have seen agency personnel receive has been strictly technical, relating to the use of management systems or booking systems. But a consultant has to be more than that: they do possess technical knowledge, but they can complement it with experience and managerial proficiency to find the right answers at the right time. The seasoned business travellers I mentioned earlier have acquired extraordinary knowledge and extensive travel experience, often exceeding those of the staff that sits behind the desk, attempting to provide information on things they have no direct knowledge of. Those who require the services of a travel consultant are usually motivated by the fact that they feel they don’t know enough about a certain topic or, as is often the case, they have encountered a serious problem they are unable to solve. This is a frequent trend among SMBs in Italy that now book trips online, but it is also not uncommon – many travel for business users report – among business travellers working for large companies. Most of them collect information online, but will complete the actual booking by means of an agency as part of their travel policy or budget guidelines
Is the Internet a threat or a competitor for the traditional travel agent?
I don’t think the web is the travel professionals’ true enemy, nor are the countless websites that are constantly born and that often specialise in business travel, so much as the inadequacy of many travel agents that fail to provide useful and reliable consultancy services. This lack of skills, I think, has brought serious damage to the whole professional category of travel managers, that in Italy is still lacking opportunities to gather and compare notes, as is often the case abroad. Another goal we were aiming for, when we started Travel for business, was contributing to the definition of the knowledge and training tools needed to come to a working definition of the professional field of Travel & Mobility Management. Those who took part in our training course expecting to be taught to use technical tools was actually introduced to the very real world of travel management, specifically from a managerial rather than operative perspective. This was a radical change of route and it paid off, as we are still in touch with our former students and we see them growing in their own business, effectively owning their new professional role.
What are the main challenges that business travel operators will have to face in the immediate future? And what are the most interesting opportunities?
In the near future, Travel Managers will be expecting a level interaction that will inevitably leave the untrained consultants behind, as they fail to keep up with the evolution of their own companies. This could be an opportunity to rid the field of those who lack the needed skills to face up to the job’s tasks. In turn, this will make room to new, eager and competent professionals that will be able to make the best use of both online tools and their own unique skills.
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