The ACTE Column: In Flux

The business of corporate travel is never static, and flexibility is the key to success.

IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE by Tom Peters and Robert H Waterman Jr was ranked the greatest business book of all time in a 1999 poll by UK based Bloomsbury Publishing and honoured by National Public Radio in the US as one of the top three such tomes of the century. These men know what they're talking about.

Peters has claimed the best way to keep your job is to take a ruthlessly objective look at the role you play - if you realise your position can be made redundant, you can't be worth keeping. To remain valid, you need to be a catalyst for efficiency, simplification and progress.

The evolution of industry is driven by trends influenced by the changing values of each generation. Every decade heralds a period of notable social change as the next generation makes its mark.

Throughout the 1980s, many flaunted wealth as a measure of success and, if you supported Greenpeace, you were invariably labelled a sandal-wearing hippie type. However, a couple of decades later and it's de rigueur to care about the planet, what we do to it and how we treat those we share it with. Who would have thought that the Fiat 500 Twin Air, said to be the greenest petrol-engined car on the planet, would become the epitome of cool and a measure of success? And the moral?

Change happens.

A couple of decades ago, business travel was booked in the high street travel agent's back office using a Travicom dumb terminal. Gradually, the increasing complexity of corporate travel created an entire industry, turning 180-degrees away from leisure with demands for transparency, open-book accounting and a clear fee system. Now, the quip "any more transparency and we'd be invisible" is not far off the mark.

After more than a decade focusing on price, only 9 per cent of global respondents in a recent ACTE survey thought that procurement experience would be one of the most highly desired skills over the next five years. Instead the emphasis will move towards the ability to communicate, influence, and build and maintain relationships. In other words, a high emotional intelligence quotient will be needed. High IQ is prized in academia, yet it may not translate as common sense and the ability to achieve strong financial results in business, whereas studies suggest a high emotional IQ will have a direct impact on bottom-line profit.

The lightning speed of technology development - creating divergence, not convergence of solutions - means we must rethink the way we manage corporate travel. Refined fare structures have reduced the relevance of negotiated rates, and an increase in direct connectivity provides unprecedented access to search for the best fare of the day. Add the dynamics of social change, as business moves away from a regime of carrot-and-stick mandates to an era revolving around trust and responsibility, and these factors begin to suggest we should question whether to deconstruct corporate travel management as we know it. Maybe it is time to make the business of travel a little bit simpler.

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