BTN Blueprint: How To Plan For The 2012 Olympics' Impact On Business Travel - Business Travel News

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BTN Blueprint: How To Plan For The 2012 Olympics' Impact On Business Travel

December 15, 2011 - 11:00 AM ET

By Jonathan Green, Partner, 3Sixty Global

With an estimated 12 million tickets sold, spectators in Olympic venues and television viewers from across the globe will experience the skill and witness the emotion of more than 10,000 athletes from 200 nations trying to fulfill their dream of achieving Olympic gold.

The Olympic Stadium in Stratford, East London, has been built on time and below budget, and a rolling program of test events have been held in many of the 20 Olympic venues in the British capital. Londoners are benefitting from a raft of transport improvements with further game-changing enhancements on the way before the start of 2012.

Jonathan GreenThe British are preparing to welcome around 380,000 visitors during the Olympic period, and thousands more from the Olympic family and worldwide media.

For the business travel professional the Olympics presents an interesting dynamic. At a time when cost minimization and scrutiny of T&E budgets is at the front of financial directors' minds, travel buyers will be tasked with sourcing travel, accommodation and meeting venues at a time of unprecedented demand.

For some companies, not traveling to or within London during the Games may be an option. For many however, the need to operate as close to business as usual and take advantage of the commercial opportunities means universal travel bans will not be an option.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to deliver a resilient program. Every organization is different. Doing nothing however, is not a sensible option.

Identify Who Is Responsible For Assessing The Olympics' Effect 

The potential for travel disruption during the Olympics is one of the greatest risks to companies. Travel managers have a pivotal role to play advising their companies of the risks and providing guidance to travelers on the actions they should take. Companies should bring together expert insight from human resources, facilities and estates, IT and travel departments to ensure their business continuity plans are resilient.

A June 2011 report by Deloitte found that "42 percent of companies surveyed had already examined the opportunities and challenges facing their business as a result of the Olympics, and 53 percent plan to carry out an assessment but have yet to do so."

That companies are concerned about disruption is a good sign. It means they are actively engaged, assessing the risks and devising strategies to minimize disruption. Kathryn Hurt, strategic space planner for U.K. office space provider MWB Business Exchange said, "We're seeing an increase in businesses thinking about travel disruption and business continuity during the Olympics, in addition to ensuring they have a revised temporary infrastructure that ensures they are able to communicate effectively. We recognize the challenges as a business ourselves, and we're taking steps to ensure our people and suppliers can get to the right place at the right time to service the needs of the business."

With 227 days to go until the start of the Olympics there is limited time for those who have yet to start.

Understand The Issues,
Prepare For Challenges

Hotel availability and pricing is at the forefront of many travel buyers' minds. Companies, however, should also think about how employees travel on business during the working day, commuter travel patterns and the ability of suppliers to provide services or deliver products.

Hotel availability and pricing: London will have 120,000 bedrooms by 2012, but with occupancy rates in the Capital at 90 percent during a normal summer and around 60 percent of rooms already allocated to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, there is going to be an availability squeeze.

It is not yet clear whether LOCOG will need its entire allocation, but rooms will not be handed back to hoteliers until early 2012. Companies adopting a wait-and-see approach are likely to be forced to pre-pay high non-negotiable rates and specify minimum stays.

Pauline Houston, Carlson Wagonlit Travel meetings and events and hotel program director for the U.K. and Ireland, advised, "If you don't have your hotel or meetings space booked in London during the Olympics, then the time to act is now. Ensure that all offers and commitments are agreed in writing. While key hotel suppliers are vowing to reward the loyalty of their corporate customers, the reality of this concentrated demand is increased rates and strict terms."

Understanding your requirement over the Olympic period is essential. Houston said, "You can improve your negotiating ability by having a full picture of your needs for that period and channel your spend with your preferred hotels."

Hotels are not the only solution. The British Hospitality Association estimates there are 75,000 serviced apartments in commuting distance of the capital. Savvy buyers are also being creative and looking at alternative types of accommodation. For example, university accommodation is one route some buyers have already headed down.

Transport: In the best of times, London, as with many global cities, suffers congestion and overcrowding on its public transport and road network. In the run-up to the Olympics, there have been huge improvements to the transport network, and more is to come before the Games. However, certain transport hubs and stations at certain times will be extremely busy.

The success of the Olympic Transport Plan is dependent upon action by businesses to reduce the number of journeys during the Olympic Games. Otherwise, LOCOG warned of possible "significant additional delays."

It is estimated that the London Underground network will carry an additional 20 million passengers during the Olympic period. The tube will be used for an additional 3 million journeys on its busiest day. Also, the public will be denied access to 109 miles of roads that form the Olympic Route Network during the entire Olympic period. The ORN is reserved for athletes, the Olympic Family and members of the broadcast and media network.

The Olympics will not simply affect tube and rail lines leading to the Olympic Village in Stratford. The Olympics is a capital-wide event. LOCOG has identified The West End, Westminster, Bank, the South Bank, Canary Wharf, Stratford and Canning Town, Liverpool Street and King's Cross St. Pancras as transport hotspots. There are also some very warm spots too.

Given public transport pressures and road closures, companies need to think about how their staff are going to travel to and from work. With over half of businesses yet to appraise the Olympic effect on their organization, the success of the Olympic Transport Plan could be in the balance. This, in turn, means disruption for the capital's businesses.

LOCOG advises businesses to consider a range of actions to manage and mitigate potential travel impacts. This includes encouraging staff to work from home, promoting annual leave, temporary relocation and altering working hours and arrangements.

For some this may be feasible, but in the travel and hospitality sector encouraging annual leave and altering working hours at a time of extraordinary demand is not realistic. For some companies, encouraging staff to work from home may be an option, but will IT infrastructure be able to service additional demand? To what extent can annual leave be promoted whilst maintaining business effectiveness? If relocation is an option, where is it best to relocate to? Will staff find commuting pressures impacting their ability to get to work? Determining the answer to these and similar questions takes time, research and planning.

Identify Who Will Be Affected And How 

By identifying business-critical functions and individuals, and then assessing how they may be affected by the Olympics, companies can develop a risk profile. Ensuring business continuity is about more than considering the impacts on senior staff members. An operational or junior member of staff may be more critical than a senior director, depending on the function they fulfill and the location where they work.

The solutions available to mitigate risk will vary depending on the job performed. By segmenting employees by role, function and risk of disruption, companies can help to ensure they are prepared and, in turn, that the Olympics is a sporting and business success.

This report originally appeared in the Dec. 12, 2011, edition of Business Travel News 

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