60 seconds with … James McIlvenna, Head of Account Management, Corporate Traveller
Apart from the obvious, or perhaps including the obvious, what’s the biggest challenge facing the business travel industry and why?
I think the biggest challenge is to be able to stay on top of and understand all of the changing restrictions and entry requirements. This will have an impact on not just a single trip but could also have a knock-on effect on travel plans further in the future. For example, if a business traveller from the UK is permitted to enter France but then has another trip to the US 10 days later, they will have to ensure that the US is accepting visitors from both France and UK. Factor in how quickly individual country restrictions can change, certain schedules could become somewhat of a game of snakes and ladders at times.
Do you think business travel activity will ever resume to pre-pandemic levels? If yes, when? If no, why not?
I think we won’t see activity quite return to pre-pandemic levels for around five years or so based on a number of factors. Firstly, due to the rise (and varying degrees of success) of virtual meetings, most organisations will question whether a traveller that would ordinarily have jumped on a plane can achieve the same outcome through a virtual meeting. Secondly, sustainability was high on agendas pre-pandemic and has only continued to grow in importance over the last 18 months or so meaning that individuals and organisations will question the need for travel with a closer lens than before. Finally, the pandemic has split the playing field in terms of appetite for travel; some travellers are raring to get going and have felt like caged animals during the pandemic whilst others have taken being grounded as a welcome respite from a hectic schedule that has allowed them to spend more time with families and loved ones. The compound effect of these 3 factors will mean that travel doesn’t return to the growth levels of years gone by but I do think that on the flip side, the resilience of both those that enjoy travel and those who are steadfast in their belief that it is essential for their organisations to perform at optimum levels will mean that the recovery is not as bleak as some may predict.
What support would you like to see from government(s) to get us all back on the road?
Clarity and consistency. I think we can all appreciate that this is uncharted territory for all involved but the one thing that the industry and travellers need to feel confident is a methodical and consistent approach. We understand that the road my not always be pretty, but the key is to have clear guidelines and explanations as to the rationale behind certain decisions so that industry experts can channel this information to help others understand and feel more confident around topic of travel in the future rather than seeing it as having rules and regulations that are almost undecipherable in the current climate.
How can the travel industry become more sustainable and why is this so important?
The ultimate responsibility is to question the need for travel - this lies with both the individual traveller and organisations to weigh up. There are some situations that undoubtedly require travel whether it be for personal reasons to visit family or business reasons to conduct activities that have to be done in person. What we can do to improve sustainability is to educate so that travellers and corporates can make informed choices as to the most sustainable way to travel and help set targets so that companies are progressively working to limit their environmental impact.
Why are you looking forward to attending Business Travel Show Europe?
For me, it is a big step back to normality. For our industry Business Travel Show Europe is one of the landmark events in the calendar and its return is hopefully symbolic of an improvement in circumstances for our industry. I’m looking forward to seeing all the usual faces and everyone supporting each other to help pull through what has been a challenging period for all businesses in our industry.
What's the one thing that you've missed most from meeting in-person?
Not having technical difficulties: Wi-Fi issues, Zoom/Teams playing up, doorbells going! I think we have all adapted well to the challenges of the virtual world, but I certainly won’t miss temperamental Wi-Fi connections making me go into robot mode!
What one thing would you give up right now to get back travelling?
My Zoom account.
Tell us in 20 words or fewer why buyers should attend your session at the show?
To ensure policies are fit for purpose whether reflecting company culture, providing reassurance or driving objectives such as sustainability/wellbeing.
James McIlvenna is taking part in a panel session at Business Travel Show Europe on Thursday 30 September called ‘Travel policy – Your key to balancing maximum compliance with traveller experience.’ To register for free access, please visit this link.