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TMCs have a real opportunity to become invaluable partners to their customers - not just suppliers.
The Session was moderated by Steve Dunne, Digital Drums leading the discussion with
In setting the topic of whether the role of the TMC needs re-evaluating Advantage were asking a question that struck at the heart of the main – yet almost unspoken - question on everyone’s lips at the moment – will the TMC still be relevant in a post-covid world?
Throughout this conversation it was clear that there are many deeply intertwined factors at play. It was refreshing to hear Audrey Muir (Co-chair of ITM & Travel Manager for Baillie Gifford) state unequivocally that in her “temperature test” of her traveller community, the desire for travel was readily apparent. The nature of this may well change in terms of internal vs external travel, with perhaps more internal meetings happening online, but that the nuance of face-to-face meetings is still as important than ever, if not more so. Heartening stuff for an industry so desperately in need of good news.
The same is true, it seems, of agent and booker/traveller relationships, with online adoption falling in the panel TMC, Gray Dawes Group, from 50% online to just 10% during the pandemic, all of which seems to hinge around the complexity and uncertainty of making travel bookings in a volatile world. When facts are fast-changing and myriad, there really is no replacement for the expert guidance provided by the TMC and the personal touch of having that information processed and delivered by an actual person – the need for a human touch is back, perhaps.
One thing is clear however - the confidence of a corporate in booking and travellers themselves in travelling needs to be built upon the TMC’s ability to provide relevant and accurate information, both around destination risk factors and volatility. In a market still so susceptible to shocks from governmental policy, it is evident that a TMC has a critical role to play here in navigating this ever-changing datascape.
The enablement of this relies on two things – good, new-world technology to both access information and free up agent time into trip management activities, and in the TMC investing the time and energy to rework its priorities towards risk and trip management. Where in the past processing the booking as fast as possible may have been the goal to maximise fee revenue and booking turnover – now there must be a shift towards a collaborative, partnership based TMC- Corporate model, where the TMC is deeply linked to the corporate in a way that sees them as a critical part of the Corporate’s own risk assessment & travel provision architecture. This is a true opportunity for a TMC to really embed themselves with their customers and to be able to re-articulate their value proposition in a way that makes them indispensable.
This requires a pivot on the priorities towards things that may have been smaller parts of the TMC’s service provision but that have now been thrust front-and-centre by Covid-19. Services such as risk assessment at the point of sale, data provision to risk providers pre and during trip, and even helping corporate customer attain Risk ISOs are areas of key focus for TMCs that in turn offer the possibility to forge long-lasting relationships with their customers. Priorities such as sustainability are rising quickly too, when perhaps technologies such as Zoom have placed ever greater emphasis on the need to evaluate if travel, or which mode of travel is the right choice – particularly on internal trips.
Perhaps this, then, is the silver lining of such a terrible thing as Covid-19, if there is to be one. For some time now the TMC community has struggled with its own existence, after years of slowly eroding revenues, the removal of commissions by airlines, downward pressure on fees, the dot.com boom and rise of DIY booking & travel programme leakage. There was, and still is perhaps, an existential lethargy of a market almost apologetically afraid to charge for the significant value it provides. Now, TMCs have a very clear opportunity to be able not only justify their worth in a way that is instantly relevant and recognisable to this changed market, but also to make themselves less a supplier to their customers and more a partner. That, surely, can only be a good thing.
Not so much a re-evaluation of the TMC value proposition then, more an evolution.