Bringing Back Business Travel

The speculation is rampant for business travel: What will corporate travel look like going forward? How high will volumes reach and how have technologies like Teams and Zoom changed the way businesses approach travel? In this presentation Tomi Maaniemi discusses the business travel landscape and why having the right foundations for a seamless sales process is so important.

About the Speakers

Glenn Hollister is an Airline executive, recovering consultant and former soldier. Currently serving as VP, Sales Strategy & Effectiveness at United Airlines, Hollister is a B2B marketing and sales leader with deep experience in a range of travel and transportation markets. He has first-hand experience building and executing a range of go-to-market strategies, including field and inside sales, indirect channels, and online channels, and is also skilled at new offer development and communication. Hollister is a highly capable people leader with a strong focus on building teams and individual careers.

Tomi Maaniemi serves as Principal, Travel Division at PROS focusing on strategic consulting in the fields of Commercial, Digital, and Customer Experience supporting PROS travel industry customers and prospects as a trusted advisor, and giving his guidance to PROS product strategy and vision. Maaniemi has held a wide range of leadership roles that provide the breadth of experience and understanding of how to drive innovation, customer success, and growth in global markets. In his series of increasingly responsible roles, he has led initiatives and teams within digital products and product management, global sales, eCommerce, pre-and after market sales, and research and development.

Full Transcript

Tomi Maaniemi: Welcome and thank you for participating in PROS fireside chat to hear about the innovations that are taking place at airline, global, corporate and travel agency sales. I'm Tomi Maaniemi at PROS and today we have a special guest who is B2B marketing and sales leader with deep experience in range of travel and transportation markets from United Airlines, Vice President Sales Strategy and Effectiveness, Glenn Hollister. We are very excited to have you here with us today, Glenn....

Glenn Hollister: Thank you, Tony. And it's great to be back at Outperform. You know, I've been to Outperform a number of times. I have to say as much as it's great to connect with people this way, I can't wait to get back to when we're all in the same venue together.

Tomi Maaniemi: Yeah, tell me about it next year then.

Glenn Hollister: Yes.

Tomi Maaniemi: First, let's talk about business travel outlook. While the increase in travel is good news. Vacation travel, which is picking up now first, it doesn't provide the same revenue than a business travel does. Business travelers purchase higher cabin and refundable fares so they can drive major share of profit for especially network carriers, while accounting for only 10% of global passengers. So the importance of business travelers for airline industry is undeniable. Recent Deloitte survey revealed that technology alternatives such as Zoom or Webex in place of in-person meetings are quite effective and can replace face to face meetings in some instances. But at the same time, global business Travel Association says that business travelers are still ready to go. In their survey, consistent across the past months, corporate travel buyers feel that their employees are willing or very willing to travel for business. So, Glenn, what will business travel look like now and going forward? Will it make a comeback? Yeah, so I think that's a question that's on everyone's minds, of course, Tomi.

Glenn Hollister: Right and I guess I have a few thoughts and first of all, actually touch on leisure travel and some of the intersection has with business travel. So one thing that's undeniable is that the pandemic has really changed travel patterns, both on the leisure side and will be changing them on the business side. I think we all know that. One of the really interesting things we've seen on the leisure side is a shift towards premium cabin. Something, and it's an undeniable shift. And it's something that we've seen here. Not only at United, but a number of our competitors have even remarked on it recently. There's been a shift towards a more premium product on the leisure side, and that has certainly been, doesn't make up entirely for the lack of business travel, but it helps a bit. On the business travel side we're still, I think, in the early stages of understanding how business travel will change. But one thing that's really clear is there is a huge pent-up demand for business travel and every time that we have travel routes open up, meaning that restrictions are lowered or removed. We see an immediate surge in business bookings, and we're actually seeing that type of thing right now on transatlantic markets with the recent announcement that the US will open up to vaccinated travelers on November 8. Right so every time we have that sort of announcement, we see a surge. At the same time, it's undeniable that business travel patterns are going to change, right? It's a great article this morning talking about how a quarter of all remote workers have taken extended trips where they are combining their work from maybe some nice beach or mountain location with some personal time and often bringing family members or friends with them. Right, so there's definitely new travel patterns emerging. I think it's too early to understand what all those travel patterns are, but we're certainly watching and have our eye out for these things as they emerge.

Tomi Maaniemi: So, business travel will return?

Glenn Hollister: Yeah, I think we're highly confident that business travel will return. I would say it's unmistakable that within domestic U.S., it's returning quite quickly. And even on the international routes, which have been much more suppressed because of all the restrictions, we're seeing really positive signs that it's coming back. And I think we're quite confident that over the next few years, we'll see a full return to the 2019 levels.

Tomi Maaniemi: That's great to hear, but to grow back the corporate and travel agency, sales profits and the revenue shares, but also to increase these market shares. We've seen airlines that are working on many aspects, often as part of their digital transformation agenda. They're improving their B2B offering, they're automating the negotiation processes or building overall better customer experience. Are these now some of the key obstacles your team has been tackling?

Glenn Hollister: So I think we've been addressing a number of things here at United. And really, when we talk about business travel, right, we have to think about both the business, the corporation we're working with the TMC that they book through, as well as the end traveler. And we're really working on things in all those areas. And some of those things require technology solutions such as you alluded to and trying to make things more seamless in a lot of it honestly has been more about policies and fair rules and trying to make things easier to happen and really unexpected circumstances. So there's been a lot of work around not just technology, but just how do we make the processes easier and faster by removing steps and taking out rules that maybe don't add a lot of value in this kind of situation. So for things around moving around flight credits, for refunds, for moving flight credits to a UATP card, things like that, we've done a lot of work on the processes as well as on the automation side.

Tomi Maaniemi: So how does technology then enable United to streamline the global sales contract process? And at the same time, change the way of working with corporate and travel agency clients to have a more focus on and time to actually create that better relationship with your clients?

Glenn Hollister: Yeah, thank you. That's really the number one thing we've been focused on. We actually started the journey before the pandemic started. But I think the pandemic honestly gave us a window of opportunity where we weren't doing a lot of new corporate deals, and we could really focus the majority of our attention on how do we work with corporations better. I think at the highest level when we step back and we talked to a lot of our customers, what became clear was that we had been going to our customers for close to 20 years and basically saying, oh, you want an airline deal? Here's the kind of deal you get. And that kind of deal didn't necessarily meet the needs of many of our customers, and they felt like we have a travel problem is trying to accomplish a number of things. But the deal I can strike with United. There's only one kind of deal and only works one way, so it only meets a fraction of my needs. And so we're really trying to kind of flip that script right and say, rather than the airline going to the customer and saying, here's the kind of deal we will give you. We want to be able to go to our customers and say, tell us about your travel program. Tell us what kind of deal you need to make your travel program work. And let's figure out how to construct that program.

Tomi Maaniemi: Exactly, so PROS Platform, it does eliminate the manual touchpoints, and it will automate the B2B contract pricing quoting approval processes, but about the deal value that you talked about, the airlines do still have these fixed unimaginative conception of what a deal should look like. Regardless whether it works for the client, and airlines often seem to work on an assumption that the deal will buy loyalty from the customer. So we see this exactly the same pattern than what your customers saw. So can you tell us a little bit more what you just started? What will the corporate and travel agency sales look like going forward then?

Glenn Hollister: Sure ande so, you know, first of all, I'll describe the deals that not only us, but many of our competitors have done for years, right? And it's what I call the discount for share deal where as an airline, I give discounts off of published fares to a corporation, which they access through their agency. In return, the corporation promises. The airline, a certain percentage of their business. And there's really a couple of issues with that. The first is on the discount side, while that provides clear savings. The total travel journey includes a lot more than just how much do I pay for the ticket? Right, there's a lot of experience elements that are important to the travelers. There's a lot of data and management elements that are important to the TMC and to the corporation. And really, none of those things are included in the deals that we or most of our competitors have been doing. Right, so we need to be able to deal, as I say, we need to be able to work with corporations on the full breadth of what United does and what we sell. And I think conversely, on the flip side, most corporations are not actually set up to deliver share to an airline, right? Their programs are not set up and travel managers don't have the levers to pull to deliver a specific share to an airline. And so they really need to have on their side a contract that. Whatever they're promising the airline, they have the ability and the confidence that they can deliver it, and so that's really what we're headed to.

Tomi Maaniemi: Yeah, clearly for both PROS and United, this partnership is about enabling your sales team to create and offer these personalized deals and to build those long lasting relationships with your clients, with the personalization understanding the customer better. Now, United can contribute towards the customer overall loyalty to the carrier, so it is much more than just automation project making processes cheaper, faster and productive, right?

Glenn Hollister: It is much more than just, you know, as I say, you can always buy new automation, and if you don't change the business process, you'll get the same result you got before faster. Right and we're trying to get to the same result. We're trying to get to a better result. And we're really trying to get to a result that is unique to United. And I think one of the issues that this industry has had is because we've all done deals the same way it commoditized us as providers of airline services and United as an airline we have a lot of unique features, whether that is our onboard products or our network, our hub locations. And there are things that we do that other airlines don't do, and we need to be able to capitalize on those. And honestly, I think the best thing for the industry would be is if every airline kind of took this approach and said, what makes us as an airline unique in that we need to capitalize on and kind of stop this what I call the follow the first mover right, where one airline does something and every other airline copies it right. That's we're trying to get out of that paradigm and say, what really is unique to United? What's unique to our customers? And create something that works well for us. And something that honestly might not work very well for other airlines. So my message wouldn't necessarily be, hey, we're doing this great thing you should follow. It's something like step away from doing the same thing we've all done unless we are what works for. I'm working what works for our business, and that's what we're doing. And it's not necessarily going to look like what other airlines do today or what we'll do in the future.

Tomi Maaniemi: Yeah, truly, United you are innovating and leading the industry and putting the customer first, which is great, and PROS is happy to be part of that success story with you. Now that I'm back in traveling. The biggest change for me as a business traveler is really those all new country specific documents that I must have with me and, you know, I'm bringing those out just to feel safe. But this is now far away from the peace of mind type of customer experience that airlines have been focusing to deliver the past years. Actually, it's more like packing '90s again with all the paper tickets. Have you noticed the same unease? Is United working on helping corporate customers to figure out and take into account all these new requirements?

Glenn Hollister: It is something. It's very hard on radar and has been really since the start of the pandemic, and it has been really the number one priority for both our IT team and for our operations team is to help guide our customers through all these steps and regulations. And so we built something that launched last year called The Travel Ready Center. Actually, I should back up. The first thing we created was before you even book travel. We created a map and display that makes it really clear if I want to go to this location. Here's what the requirements and restrictions are. Then once I book a ticket, that's when I have access to the Travel Ready Center. It guides me through the whole process. So if I'm going to a foreign country, it will tell me what kind of tests I need. If I need a test, it will tell me where to get the test. It will, in many cases, allow me to schedule the test. The provider can upload the test results directly to United, so we have them and we can confirm it. I can buy tests that I carry with me so I won't come back to the US I can just do that from wherever I'm staying, rather than trying to find a test provider locally. So, we take care of all that. And we're also in the process of building out a number of solutions for vaccination passports for lack of a better term. And we have several solutions we've rolled out there. So far, it's still one of the things we're dealing with in this area is it's very much a patchwork of changing regulations, right? What country A accepts is often different than what country B accepts and country C as something else, and countries may change in two weeks to what country has or something entirely new. So it's a very dynamic situation right now, but we're doing our best to stay on top of it. So that would be my what I would say is trying to, at the end of the day, we're trying to hold our customers hand through this really complex, ever changing process. Each step of the way.

Tomi Maaniemi: Yeah, that sounds good for me. I mean, I'm doing anything I can just to be able to travel, but certainly, there is a customer segment for you who is not that eager or at least not eager if they feel that this is getting way too difficult for them. So good. Good to hear that you are again showing the way, how to support customers. There is another very important topic for our aviation industry and your clients, too, and it's to decrease emissions. Just months ago, IATA announced with the voice of its 290 airline members that the aviation industry wants to become a net zero emitter of carbon by 2050. So new aircrafts with modern and efficient jet engines, as well as sustainable aviation fuels are one but very important element of the basket of measures to reduce these aviation emissions. I've actually heard that United is working on both of these areas and also that sustainable aviation fuels can be part of the corporate deal with United. Is this something that your clients are demanding to minimize their business travel carbon footprint?

Glenn Hollister: It is something a number of our clients are asking for, and I think the first thing that's important to say is that when at United, we talk about becoming 100% green by 2050. That path is not achieved through offsets. We decided several years ago that offsets were not either a realistic path to get to true carbon neutrality. Nor is it a, in many cases, they don't really even deliver what they promise. Right, so we are focused on a few avenues. One is absolutely sustainable aviation fuels, and we have been buying sustainable aviation fuel larger for a longer time than any other airline. And we have by far the largest amount of SAF commitments in the airline industry, and that is absolutely a path we will continue on. We are also looking at carbon sequestration because the reality is that even if we had all the SAF supply, we wanted today, which doesn't exist. Most of our fleet is limited to burning no more than 50% SAF because of environmental or because of maintenance limitations. So we are looking at both carbon offsets is how do we offset the rest of our carbon emissions and by offsetting actually recapture the carbon. And we're also working on getting that 50% limit relaxed. In fact, we flew a test flight just a few weeks ago out of Houston, running 100% sustainable aviation fuel to further that process and get certified to run at higher levels of on our fleet.

Tomi Maaniemi: Hey, it's time for my last question today to you, Glenn. And it is why did United Airlines pick PROS as its partner?

Glenn Hollister: Yeah, I think there's a number of reasons. The first is obviously the depth of knowledge that PROS has around the airline industry. You've been working in the airline industry. You understand the way this industry works. And by that, I mean, you understand what ticket pricing is and what all these fare classes are. And, you know, ticketing rules and designators and all these sorts of things. Right, all this like very unique ideas and quite a complexity we have in the airline industry. But at the same time, there's this side of PROS that works with many other businesses and industries to really help those businesses create the right kind of relationship with their business customers. And so what PROS uniquely had was both the B2B expertise as well as the airline industry expertise, and that really is what stood out to us about PROS and I think now that we've been working with PROS for some time. The other thing that's really stood out is just PROS ability to be very clear about what they're going to deliver and live up to that commitment, which honestly is not always the experience with all technology vendors. So it's been a great not just set of capabilities we bought, but a great partnership in a partner that we can really trust and rely on.

Tomi Maaniemi: Thank you so much for the kind words. United is truly leading the industry in technology innovations and enabling your sales team to perform in new levels. Thank you so much again, Glenn, for joining us and sharing how United is reinventing the corporate and travel agency sales. PROS is extremely excited and proud to begin our new partnership together in the airline B2B sales.

Glenn Hollister: Thank you, Tomi. It's great to be here.

Tomi Maaniemi: And thank you, everyone joining us today. Remember to share our fireside chat with plan to your colleagues and enjoy the rest of the day.

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