Technology is becoming increasingly important to managed travel in the energy sector. Travel & Meetings Buyer asks Shaun Lovett, head of Business Development: Oil & Gas Division – AME, Wings Travel Management, how companies can remain relevant in this regard.
The energy industry is highly advanced in the way it implements technology to overcome the challenges of doing business in some of the harshest conditions in the world. It is no surprise, then, that those who provide support services to this sector are expected to implement technologically advanced solutions within their own businesses.
“This is especially true of the levels of service and technology expected from TMCs,” says Shaun Lovett. “The majority of the companies operating in this field are accustomed to receiving the best technology-driven services, therefore operating in a remote location is no excuse for delivering sub-standard results.”
Indeed, the value of a TMC is measured by its ability to apply the latest technology to address its clients’ key challenges, argues Lovett. Technology is important because communication is key for business travellers – especially for energy industry travellers in Africa who sometimes visit areas with unreliable infrastructure, he explains.
Historically, energy industry travel in Africa has been an ‘offline’ business model through which TMCs provide skilled and specialised travel consultants to manage what is recognised as complex and demanding travel, says Lovett. He adds that this model leans towards the ‘people’ aspect of travel management – which sees TMCs using their skills sets and knowledge about the oil and gas industry in terms of offshore fares, geographical knowledge, and the best ways to get in and out of a country.
“This model is still used today but we are slowly seeing increased interest in the online procurement space, looking at integrated end-to-end total cost of ownership solutions,” he maintains.
Which technologies are important?
At the very least, travellers want to be able to get in touch with their TMC, either via phone or email, if anything is amiss, comments Lovett, noting that this service needs to be available 24/7 to cater for emergencies and unplanned requests. He goes on to say that mobile applications are becoming increasingly important to travellers to ensure they know whether their flights are on time, their preferred seats are booked and their loyalty points have been captured. “All of this requires mobile connectivity via local networks or mobile data solutions, which vary by country.”
Lovett maintains that equally important is the need for TMCs to understand the pressures under which energy companies are currently operating. He says due to the massively lower oil price, reducing costs is top of mind. “Therefore, travel managers need a wealth of data, presented in easily consumable formats, to make mutually informed decisions together with their TMC, which are aligned to their cost-reduction strategies,” he says.
However, many TMCs struggle to consolidate data holistically. “This might be for a number of reasons but let’s use non-GDS carriers as an example, as these are frequently used to transport clients to remote locations in Africa. This is a manual process and therefore not as transparent as TMCs would like. It’s a situation that sometimes frustrates TMCs when it comes to gathering data to evolve and improve their travel programmes. It is also a concern for travel managers who demand transparent First-World reporting to enable their decision-making process,” comments Lovett. He says, for this very reason, Wings has implemented a system that allows data to be consolidated from both GDS and non-GDS carriers, to provide clients with a holistic picture in terms of travel data, down to the finest detail. “Wings provides all this data to the client through the goData tool, an intuitive, mobile-enabled self-service business intelligence tool that assists in the measurement and improvement of companies’ travel programmes.”
What’s more, harnessing big data is as important for the TMC as it is for the travel manager. “We use data to learn more about the behaviour of our clients’ travellers and to measure supplier effectiveness, which allows us to put plans in place to address future needs with increasing efficiency,” says Lovett. “TMCs that do not dig deeper into big data to unlock cost-saving opportunities for their clients will become irrelevant,” he maintains.
A particular challenge for the African continent is that many TMCs fall flat in this regard because they are franchised outlets instead of wholly owned entities with a globally standardised platform, argues Lovett. For example, the WIngs system includes a unified platform that consolidates all traveller information in a central data accessing point, which allows for data to be captured from different offices globally and then reported in a single currency of choice to the travel manager.
How companies embrace technology will determine the future success of true, integrated online travel procurement. Lovett believes that the energy industry in Africa is taking notice of this trend due to the potential of total travel cost savings, but that it’s still not quite there yet. “It is our duty as travel professionals to educate companies to embrace this change. If they do so, we’ll have a very different conversation this time next year,” he concludes.