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.
The British are preparing to welcome around 380,000 visitors
during the Olympic period, and thousands more from the Olympic family and
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.
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.
originally appeared in the Dec. 12, 2011, edition of Business Travel News.