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New York Hilton Midtown - December 6, 2021
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Anthem director of travel and events and 2016 Business
Travel Hall of Fame inductee Cindy Heston is a veteran travel management
practitioner renowned for her innovations with data and her penchant for
forging partner relationships that bring new solutions to the industry. These
days, her focus is on travel program customization and loyalty and on making sure
Anthem travelers feel the value of the travel program—not just for the company,
but also personally.
BTN: How did you get started
with travel management? It seems like you have been making appearances on the front
page of BTN since the beginning of your career.
I didn't want to go into travel management at all. I worked in airline sales
and I loved it. It was what I believed was the best job in the world. It was so
fun working with travel agents, working with corporates. It was the beginning
of working with corporate accounts from a travel management standpoint. One of
my corporate accounts was very enthusiastic about me interviewing to come to
work for them. I continually said, "No, I really am happy, I love
airlines.” It took convincing from my own father to [go on the interview]. So I did talk to them, I'd do whatever my father told me.
BTN: Data has always been
a strong suit for you, and you consistently have led the industry innovating
with data. How did you find that niche and develop it to benefit your travel
used data a lot on the agency side with MIDT reports the global
distribution systems sold to the airline. We had a lot of data on each account
as to how they were performing compared to [how] we felt they should be
performing. Coming onto the corporate side, I had a great handle on the agency
side of [the] business and then the airline side of business as far as what
could be done on a corporate side as far as agency sales, support and service.
That's immediately where I focused, looking at how [I could] bring the best value
back to the organization and then very slowly but surely picking up all the
other pieces of travel management.
the data in the beginning was important as far as understanding how to improve
the servicing from an airline to a customer. When I [got] on the
customer side, I understood the importance of revenue share and goals and
market statistics as far as origination and destination markets. I immediately
went to the agency and said, "I want to see every top market, I want to
know what is the percentage of share, how can I shift that share based on
volume, what is the average ticket price?"
BTN: That wasn’t easy information to get to at that point. It must have been a
really manual process.
then in the GDS, our negotiated rates were not loaded by ATPCO. I wanted to
shift travel behavior and yet it wasn't easy for the travel agency to see that
information on their screen unless they put in a format that was exclusive to
our account with our pseudo city code. It was a very long format back in the
day. [So] we basically ran data spreadsheets for every agent every morning that
would run through every class and service. Instead of saying, "Oh, you can
have a 30 percent discount," it would be, "No, your fare is $500
versus $800 on carrier B." I encouraged and enforced to the travel agency
that I wanted to shift share to the partners that [were] providing a good value
back to—at the time, Technicolor—and I wanted to make sure that [agents were] at
least giving our travelers the opportunity to buy that.
known to suppliers for your control of your program, and this has enabled you
to negotiate and partner with suppliers in a way that is, often, a level above
what your volume alone might “earn.” How do you continue to manage at that
have] to be transparent to partners that are very open, and listen. Part of
my solution is to find partners that have the leadership from a CEO level, from
an executive leadership standpoint, where they have that kind of hunger, where
they want to meet and work with corporates and better understand what [they]
can do to better partner with you as a company. Through the RFP process,
talking to references, understanding how they perform after the deal is signed,
[I’m looking for] that beyond contract value from a partner. [I want to know] how
we can not only benefit the company but provide them the understanding of a
corporate need [for which] they could provide [a solution] that would not only
help us but help multiple businesses across the industry.
a shared objective for me. I look at our organization, and I'll always say,
“This is unique to Anthem. Nobody else is going to want this but us,” and maybe
it's something we have to have. [But] we'll [also] partner on things that are
industry level [that] every company wants. I always make that distinction with
[suppliers] so they understand and can choose whether or not they want to engage or
not. If it's something that the industry needs, then it's full-on, let's go and
we will work together. Again, through a very painstaking RFP and reference
review, [I want to find] the suppliers that are nimble, who are agile, who are
hungry and really want to grow and develop a partnership.
is playing a bigger role than ever in managed travel. It’s an obvious consumer strategy,
but managed travel has been slow to adopt. How are you trying to change that?
mindset of the corporate travel manager initially was based on ROI, period. It
was all about negotiating the money and it was all about policy. We thought we
could force [travelers] to do what we [wanted] based on the money and based on
our policy. Unfortunately, we all bought into it. … It just wasn't something
that we ever felt the ability to go beyond. [We needed to ask] what we could do
to add value that will help either my customer or bring more value to the
first saw [this] way back in the beginning when I had negotiated a great [transpacific]
contract for our company. Everybody, 90 percent of our business, was on another
carrier. The savings were a great differential [but it] wasn't pushing enough [volume
to the new contract]. I worked with the carrier to provide a special value: If
you went 10 times a year, one of your trips… could be first class. All of a
sudden we were over performing on the KPI for that market with that supplier.
We went from a 10 percent share to over an 80 percent share just by saying, “Maybe
this isn't working just with the money; what can we do for the traveler?" It
was this ah-ha moment: If I look at it as a full-scale project, where did we
ever get it in our mind that we could forget about our clients?
this transactional mindset had repercussions for managed travel as an industry?
an industry we forgot long enough that other businesses came in and started to
say, "Well come over here, it's a better value if you come here. Don't
stay in your program." Then we had to deal with that from a reactionary
standpoint. Now [travel managers are] fighting [for their travelers] to even
stay in [the program] because they keep saying, "Well all you've ever
played in is money, so I can get better money over here. Now what? Now what,
travel manager?" If you play in that I-can-beat-you-by-a-nickel kind of
mentality you're never going to win. If you look at it from a fully-fledged,
end-to-end travel program [that ensures] you're vetted correctly when you first
come on, that you understand the program, that you have the right payment, the
platform and that you understand the value of the organization beyond just the
money, then you're going to win.