Next up in our Executive Q&A series is an interview with Christopherson’s new Chief Revenue Officer, Kathleen Roberts. She shares her thoughts on what organizations really need from corporate travel management companies, the value of partnership, and the opportunities that lie ahead for the business travel industry.
Q: As we come through to the other side of the pandemic, there seems to be a shift occurring in how organizations manage their business travel. Can you share your insights on what you’re seeing as you help these organizations find solutions?
A: The majority of business trips taken during the pandemic have been business critical. As companies prepare for a broader return to travel we are seeing increased interest in traveler safety and well-being, as well as the employees’ overall disposition to traveling again. The sharp decline in 2020 travel budgets is leading to increased awareness from finance and leadership around the value of each trip. And while the industry has made significant advances in duty of care, there are new expectations emerging. These factors are leading to an increase in pre-trip authorization requirements, ease of access to planning tools and travel vendor safety information, and improved risk-management resources.
Q: What seems to be most important right now for organizations as they revamp their travel programs?
A: Travel policy. Historically, travel policy review often centered around cost-savings and reimbursement. The current environment requires a more holistic approach involving additional topics and stakeholders. HR, security, and legal teams may become involved or at least topics relating to the areas of traveler safety, risk management, and liability.
Q: What do you think is the greatest value a travel management company (TMC) brings to the table to meet these pressing needs?
A: Partnership. By using a TMC, organizations are able to consolidate travel spend, vendor negotiations, risk management, policy compliance, data, and reporting into a trusted partnership. They gain integrations with industry-leading technology, improved traveler experience, and significant cost savings. We’re able to customize travel programs that align with our customers’ culture and corporate objectives. We’re then able to quantify the value of our partnership through detailed scorecards and traveler surveys.
Q: You’ve worked in travel for a while—what are the biggest opportunities you see today in business travel?
A: Consolidation. The pandemic has organizations of every size evaluating how they purchase and manage travel. Existing customers that allowed outside booking methods are directing travelers to utilize our services to ensure program consistency, compliance, and consolidation. Prospective clients with travel budgets of various sizes and who have not previously worked with a TMC are eager to engage with us. They found themselves facing numerous challenges at the start of the pandemic and are seeking a better solution post-pandemic. Providing the benefits of a managed travel program and assisting them with developing solutions that address organizational requirements, improve the traveler experience, and help them prepare to return to travel is absolutely rewarding for both parties.
Q: Not only have you worked in travel for a while, but you’ve been with Christopherson for 15 years now. How has the company changed or evolved?
A: Growth. I joined the Christopherson team in 2006 as they became the largest travel company in the state of Utah with $125 million in annual bookings. We ended 2019 at nearly $700 million and in the top 15 travel firms nationally. While 2020 was a detour from our revenue growth, we successfully implemented 96 new accounts last year, most of which have yet to resume traveling. With a solid financial plan in place, we have maintained our momentum and growth strategy.
Q: As a sales executive, you traveled frequently before COVID. Why do you think travel is so important for doing business?
A: Relationships. Virtual meetings have provided valuable connection throughout the pandemic, but they’re not a substitute for in-person interaction. The following scenario may be overused, but it’s a valid point: “Once the person who presents over webinar loses a deal to the competitor who presented in person, they’ll get back out on the road.” This applies beyond sales to include most business interactions. The Global Business Travel Association reported in their January 2021 survey results that 49 percent of business travelers are currently “somewhat willing or very willing” to travel for business. As the vaccine rollout continues, I expect that percentage to increase.
Q: And finally, just for fun, what are your favorite business and leisure travel destinations?
A: Business travel has taken me to exciting places that I may not have otherwise experienced. Memorable business trips in recent years included traveling to interact with Christopherson team members in Colorado and Alabama. I’ve also enjoyed amazing leisure travel experiences. Some of my highlights include Africa, Australia, and Europe. But I think my first post-pandemic, international vacation might be my most appreciated. I’m ready to travel again!