Five years ago I read an article in a travel industry publication that resonated with me then and still does today. The article highlighted the need for suppliers to better understand the broader industry and the objectives, opportunities and challenges of the customer they serve in order to deliver greater service to their customers and the end traveller.
The comments came from a travel buyer, and a friend, who had previously worked for a TMC and who was in the process of moving to an executive role at an airline. Was he just trying to find his place in the travel industry? No, he later told me his career decisions were founded on a strong personal belief that to be effective in his role, he had to experience being a customer, a supplier and an intermediary. These comments held extra resonance for me at the time as I too was in the middle of a career move, shifting from Eurostar to lead GetThere in Europe. His comments filled me with confidence that I was making a wise career decision.
It’s been three years since, and I’ve come to realise I can achieve what my friend set out to do in each role, simply by being more ‘connected’ with each constituent in the very vast travel industry we work in. Connected on a relationship level, connected from a knowledge perspective, and connected by a mutual awareness of what we all do. I needn’t change roles to achieve all this.
For an industry that ultimately works together to serve just one customer - the end traveller – we suffer from a severe lack of collaboration and connectedness. In fact, we often go to extreme and creative lengths to avoid collaborating. In many ways, we are like a broken Humpty – each part still operates in isolation but the sum of these parts would be far greater and more effective if Humpty was whole again.
I’ve seen both the good and the bad in the business travel sector. I’ve seen buyers proactively engage their supplier network and those that don’t. Those that do promote collaboration and ‘connection’ between each constituent by providing clarity on what the objectives are of a corporate programme, the challenges that exist and what role each supplier plays in successfully delivering towards this common goal. This approach ensures that the entire supplier network or the “team” knows exactly what is expected of them and how to achieve that. This does not just happen – it requires hard work. Corporations need to provide an environment conducive for the supply chain to formulate their understanding and collaborate with each other. It also requires suppliers to encourage an active understanding of the program goals, and a willingness to learn about the broader supply chain beyond the part they are directly responsible for.
Having a connectedness and clarity around roles, responsibilities and overall objectives serve as key foundations for both successful businesses and individuals. They also provide the platform for people to learn and engage in new areas and ideas. Not everybody will have the breadth of experience and level of exposure my friend enjoyed across the industry, nor do they need to. As an industry, we all have a responsibility for developing our knowledge, gaining a better understanding of our partners and suppliers, and collaborating together for mutual success.
Corporate programmes that adopt this approach will win, along with the suppliers, partners and individuals who accept the challenge of being truly connected as one.