Travel buyers are stepping up efforts to communicate with
their travelers, but those incorporating strategies without social media
elements might find themselves behind the crest.
More than 60 percent of buyers surveyed by Business Travel News said that within
the past year they had done more to communicate policies to travelers. About
half bolstered efforts to provide information about preferred suppliers and new
tools and services, while fewer increased communication about travel
[Please click here to view the digital edition of The Frequent Traveler: Finding A Balance, featuring
all charted data, downloadable as a pdf.]
Frequent travelers, meanwhile, gave their companies
passing—though not stellar—marks for the effectiveness of those communications.
Average scores on an ascending six-point scale ranged from 4.1 to 4.5, with the
highest for communicating travel policy and the lowest for providing such
location information as restaurant recommendations.
Successful communication programs follow the adage "know
your audience," according to buyers. There has been much talk, for
example, about how the generational divide determines how travelers prefer to receive
Hewlett-Packard last year conducted a massive survey of its travelers and learned that Gen-X and Millennial travelers prefer to receive
policy information in sound bites, text messages and other succinct methods
rather than the four-page newsletter the company had been producing.
Many buyers today endorse a scattershot approach to
communication, using various channels so travelers can get information about
new policies or programs in the way they choose. AstraZeneca global commercial
leader of business travel management Caroline Strachan, speaking last month at
a Global Business Travel Association Europe conference in Budapest, said she
used that strategy when the pharmaceutical company launched a new program.
"We'll do it in 10 different ways," said Strachan.
"We'll communicate through our dedicated social media for travel. We'll do
in-person sessions for the warm and fluffy types who like to be able to touch
and feel. We'll do email. We'll do the whole gamut."
During an initiative to solicit traveler feedback, the
company's travel department "took over every communication channel in
AstraZeneca for a week," she said. The team collected responses through
its social media portal, provided postcards for responses and set up in-person
meetings. Information was posted in company cafes, mailboxes, stands and just
about everywhere else to give travelers little excuse for declining to offer
At enterprise software supplier Deltek, the travel program's
communication strategy moved from a company intranet to a travel-specific blog
that allowed a more direct feed, said global travel procurement director
Karoline Mayr. Now, it is migrating to its own enterprise social network, Kona.
While Deltek's travelers might have different communication preferences,
Mayr emphasized that she tries to keep the message constant regardless of
"We aren't putting out different messages or different
types of information," she said. "What we try to do speaks to our
The Digital Natives
Although their program sizes and corporate cultures are
quite different, Strachan and Mayr agreed that social media has a growing
presence within travel programs, and travel managers ignore that at their own
showed that nearly 60 percent of travelers use social media to enhance their
traveling experience. Its most-cited use was for the communication area in
which companies scored lowest in effectiveness: location-specific
recommendations on restaurants, hotels and ground transportation.
As many might expect, the survey also showed a sharp
generational disparity in social media use. Almost 80 percent of travelers
younger than 35 said they used social media while traveling, and that age group
was far more likely than any other to use it to connect with other travelers
going to the same location. Two-thirds of travelers 55 and older said they do
not use social media during business travel at all.
Some expect that the divide will become even more
pronounced. Max Keegan, a 17-year-old U.K. student, delivered a keynote speech
at GBTA Europe's Budapest conference and gave buyers an idea of how deeply
engrained social media is in his everyday activities. "Much of my life is
highly influenced and highly improved by social media," said Keegan, identified
as a "digital native"—someone born after the introduction of digital
technology. "My social calendar is organized almost solely through
Facebook. Much of my schoolwork is influenced by the group chats each of my
classes collectively hold over the issue of our most recent homework."
The issue is more than generational, however. The
proliferation of mobile technology will change expectations of older
travelers—digital immigrants, as they were—to be more in line with their
"It isn't necessarily age-related, but it is
technology-driven, and smartphones are a huge driver of that," said
Travelport chief marketing officer Gillian Gibson. "There will be a lot of
shifts, and we need to make sure the next generation of technology that we're building
for the industry takes care of that. Between now and five to eight years' time,
there will be a bigger shift than we have seen already."
It's also a specious assumption that younger travelers will
want social media-based platforms at work to mirror what they use in their
As AstraZeneca introduced social media platforms for its
travelers, Strachan was surprised to find that many travelers in their 50s and
60s were eager to interact through social media. Some other employees who were
recent graduates, however, never used them. "I asked them why they didn't
want to interact with us," she said. "They said, 'That's for my
personal life. I don't see that as my work life.' "
Deltek's Mayr noticed resistance when she floated the idea
of moving travel communications onto a Facebook page. Her travelers saw
Facebook as a site for personal activity, she said, not work activity.
To supply a social media communications program for
travelers separate from their personal platforms, many buyers are turning to
such enterprise platforms as Microsoft's Yammer, Salesforce's Chatter and Jive
Often, travel buyers can start programs on these platforms
with a leg up; companies use them for other functions, so travelers already are
accustomed to using them.
BCD Travel senior vice president April Bridgeman last month
at The Beat Live travel business conference in Nashville said that if buyers
are not familiar with the platforms their companies use to communicate, they
"It's very important to be where your customers are
already, in terms of how you market and communicate," Bridgeman said. "It's
such a huge opportunity instead of having one-to-one conversations with people
who have issues to have one-to-many and eventually many-to-many conversations
with your travelers. You get to debunk myths, promote certain initiatives and
talk about the value proposition for the program."
AstraZeneca uses Yammer with a stream dedicated for travel.
Since its introduction, it has become one of the most-visited streams on the
site, said Strachan. While the stream is useful for delivering hard information
about the travel program and policy, it also is important to use it for softer
information, she said. For example, she'll send out tips on staying healthy
while flying, or open-ended questions soliciting humorous responses: "You
know you're traveling too much when …"
"It's a way to get engagement so they don't just see us
as the travel police telling them what to do," Strachan said.
At Unilever, procurement manager for global travel services
Yvonne Moya said the company created special groups within Yammer where
travelers can detail experiences and offer tips on cities they have visited.
Travelers also use it to convey experiences with suppliers—in addition to
comments via the company travel portal and a hotel rating system embedded in
the company's online booking tool. Unilever's travel team can follow up with
preferred hotels that receive negative reports, Moya said.
Deltek's Mayr said she had been using Yammer prior to Kona.
Traveler communication within Kona currently is in beta and open to the company's
global travel council. The next step likely will be inviting everyone with a
When tapping into such tools, travel buyers need to ensure
they are not merely adding another communication channel, said Steven
Mandelbaum, vice president of information systems for the Advisory Board Co.
"In order to make social networks work," he said, "you
need to think about a shift, as opposed to one more inbox they have to check or
one more alert popping up on their phone."
Social Media's Future
Some buyers foresee even deeper integration of social media
and travel in the next few years.
On the traveler side, although no major enterprise social
media platform has been developed specifically for corporate travel,
cooperation is emerging. About a year ago, for instance, TripIt began allowing
users to share itineraries, sans sensitive details, through Yammer and
Mayr said she is looking forward to experimenting with a
Kona feature that allows feedback from groups outside the company. She said
there may be benefits to bringing certain suppliers into certain conversations
"We could create groups within groups—let's say United
Airlines or Hertz—and could enter a landscape where people could exchange
information," she said. "We could test that with particular suppliers
who might be able to help with this."
After all, travelers already use social media to directly
communicate with suppliers. Savvy Twitter users with a significant number of
followers have learned that an acidic tweet about a perceived service failure
might draw a more meaningful response than scolding a flight attendant or hotel
desk clerk. One buyer noted to BTN
how one employee's photo of a moldy coffee filter at her hotel quickly went
viral on Chatter and ultimately elicited a response from the hotel manager.
BCD Travel's Bridgeman said a client asked about having
travelers engage with agents via its enterprise social media tool, but the
concept seems to be a little ahead of the technology, she said.
"To date, most of the tools we want to interact with
are a little bit clunky in terms of adding non-employee members to an
enterprise environment," Bridgeman explained. "The barrier is not the
willingness or interest, it's the mechanics around the user administration."
As technology evolves, Bridgeman said buyers should
brainstorm ways to take advantage of social media for their own purposes. A
buyer who needs to shave a certain amount off a hotel program budget, for
example, could launch a social media campaign, complete with a meter that keeps
tabs on how close travelers are to achieving that goal.
"How do you use your own social environment to engage differently
with that population?" Bridgeman asked. "I would try to get creative
in ways to engage them so that you can use that enthusiasm they have to help
you achieve goals that may have been a little more difficult to achieve
This report originally
appeared in the Oct. 22, 2012, edition of Business