What trends and insights emerged from our annual conference

CWT executives, partners and industry leaders came together for the sixth annual Energy, Resources & Marine Travel & Mobility Conference, held in Houston on September 12. The theme of the day-long event centered on how to navigate business travel in the ERM space during this time of rapid change.

The conference provided insights for senior travel management and procurement executives into the key areas driving this change, namely, technology innovation, data optimization, and the critical travel trends to watch in 2019.

Time travel: Where we’re heading

CWT CEO Kurt Ekert opened the conference by taking the audience through a digital journey forward in time, outlining the macroeconomic and industry-specific trends that will shape the ERM travel sector in the coming year.

While rising consumer confidence will continue to boost the global economy, and in turn, help the travel industry, Kurt highlighted some of the factors that may impact this upward trajectory, including the uncertain outcome of Brexit and fallout from rising trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies—the US and China.

Despite these, business sentiment remains bullish with CWT ERM forecasting a rise in global airfares by 2.6% in 2019, hotel prices by 3.7%, and ground transportation showing a more modest increase of 0.5%.

Read the 2019 ERM Forecast

Drawing closer to home, Kurt told the local audience how the diversification of the Houston market is indicative of the wider changes occurring globally—as a traditional energy market is now creating more container traffic and manufacturing services that are helping to power its growth.

Uniting digital advantage with customer-first approach

When it comes to digital innovation, Sanjay Nair, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at United Airlines, main sponsor of our event, shared the company’s strategy, which is focused on providing innovative solutions for customers, while investing in digital technology that supports frontline employees. This enables them to efficiently support customers, while helping United in its goal of delivering a consistent experience across all platforms—human-to-human interaction included.

Empowering customers to self-serve and proactively resolve issues through automation, and being where customers prefer to do business by expanding into new platforms, make up the other pillars of the company’s digital strategy to remove the stress and complexity from travel.

Innovation and execution

In his opening address, CWT CEO Kurt Ekert said that being a global leader in the digital travel space comes down to “innovation and execution.”

At CWT, a chunk of that innovation comes from the Open Innovation team of which Dominique Betancourt is part of. This team brings together the best ideas from internal and external sources.

In her presentation, Dominique outlined the problems that CWT is trying to solve for clients, including securing the best air fare available for travelers no matter when they are booked, and relieving the stress of trip disruption by predicting the likelihood of a disruption and offering compensation once it occurs.

Many more outside-the-box solutions are in the works at CWT Open Innovation, including concierge services for everyday travelers, price tracking for rail, and personalized safety and security information down to the city and street levels.

Solving the data puzzle

Without data, innovation— and the efficiency it breeds—would be hard to come by.

For their presentation, CWT’s Peter Brady, Vice President, Technology & Services, Energy, Resources & Marine, and Katie Raddatz, Senior Director, Solutions Group Americas, presented a case study that centered on data, specifically, how to use data to monitor and curb spending.

A CWT-sponsored survey by the GBTA Foundation found that nearly three-quarters (73%) of travel managers experience challenges reconciling differences in reports due to data formatting.

Some 64% said they don’t trust they have enough data to calculate the total cost of a trip, while 58% said they spend too much time reconciling and cleaning what data they do have to overcome inaccuracies. Only 37% of respondents believe their data is completely accurate.

To solve the puzzle, travel managers must be able to see across all areas of spend, which data enables them to do. This can range from using tools that capture TMC data, credit card and expense spend in one accessible and consistent place or applying traveler “personas” to categorize off-channel booking behaviors. This can help clients create communication strategies for those different personas and address specific areas of concern relative to off-channel booking, safety and program compliance.

See you in 2019!

As this year’s event wrapped up, Raphael Pasdeloup, Senior Vice President and global head of CWT ERM, and the conference host, told the assembled guests that our aim in bringing these expertise, resources and clients together is to present the best intelligence CWT has to offer on the state of the industry and our outlook for business travel specifically. We hope to arm our customers with the information and tools they need to successfully manage their travel programs in 2019.

At the same time, CWT ERM also takes this as an opportunity to listen to our clients to better understand and solve for the issues and challenges they may face in the coming year—and beyond.

For more information about trends specific to ERM, click here.