How has Industry and Government Responded, Adapted, and Innovated?
The significant changes and challenges to government travel and the travel sector over the last year was at the center of discussion during NDTA’s 2021 GovTravels Symposium. The symposium, which was co-sponsored for the fifth year by the Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO), is an annual gathering of US Government and industry travel experts. GovTravels focuses on government-wide travel programs and travel policy, providing professional development and networking opportunities for all participants. Held virtually February 23-25, the theme of this year’s event was “Respond, Adapt, Innovate—the Changing World of Government Travel.”
On the final day of GovTravels, a panel presentation provided insight into ways industry and government have responded, adapted, and innovated over the past year, as well as plans to overcome and push through the friction created by COVID-19. Moderated by Tony D’Astolfo, Senior Vice President North America, Serko Ltd, panelists included Robert Connors, Vice President, Enterprise Holdings, Inc.; David Harvey, Vice President, Southwest Business; Nick Vournakis, Managing Director, Global Customer Group, CWTSatoTravel; and Jim Gregory, Deputy Assistant Administrator Strategic Communications and Public Affairs, TSA.
D’Astolfo opened the discussion by asking panel members to describe how their respective businesses had adapted as a result of the pandemic. For Vournakis, when the industry was “catastrophically impacted” by the pandemic, CWTSatoTravel focused on cash management. In addition, it focused on having enough liquidity to continue making strategic investments, drive business continuity, and ensure the company could weather an 18 to 36-month downturn.
While TSA’s primary focus remains on security, Gregory shared that the pandemic necessitated the implementation of myriad protective measures such as plexiglass barriers and wearing PPE to make the screening process safer. The agency also upgraded its equipment to reduce the need for security agents to handle passenger boarding documents and baggage.
According to Harvey, matching capacity to demand is key to any airline. The abrupt halt of flying passengers caused the airline to look closely at how to adjust its operations control, network, and schedule. Also, while Southwest already had robust business continuity plans, those plans needed to be adjusted and thought through more thoroughly to address the realities of COVID-19.
When the pandemic hit and it became obvious that airport business would be down for a while, Enterprise Holdings moved many of its cars to city and local locations. It also took a good look at its cleaning procedures. Connors explained that while cars had always been cleaned, the company had to look at cleaning to “pandemic standards.” It was critical to put health protections into place to ensure employees and customers felt comfortable.
The panel also share insights and predictions for the next 12 months. Gregory predicted an extension of the digital health passports. Harvey shared that Southwest’s had been working through its distribution channels to make the airline easier to do business with, a task he expected to be complete within the year. Connors thought that as travel returned, people would be so happy they would ignore any annoyances that occurred over the course of their trips. Vournakis predicted that government travels would return to 80 percent of 2019 travel. While the travel industry has faced immense challenges since the start of the pandemic, it was clear that there is optimism for the year ahead.