Providing Context to the Government Travel Space

Apr 1, 2019 | Defense Transportation Journal

By Sharon Lo, Managing Editor, DTJ & NDTAGram

Photos by Cherie Cullen

Putting the importance of GovTravels attendees into perspective, Mr. William H. Booth, Director of the Defense Human Resources Activity (DHRA), began his keynote speech on day two of the Symposium by telling the audience, “every one of you in this room is dedicated to making sure that those individuals—men and women—that are the pointed end of the spear can execute mission when their mission needs to be executed to keep this nation safe. That’s what you do—you’re all combat enablers.”

Mr. Booth described the impact the defense travel enterprise can have through the example of the SmartPay3 Government Travel Charge Card. When he questioned the audience about who had to receive a new credit card during the recent transition from SmartPay2 to SmartPay3, no one raised their hand. This, he stated, was due to the hard work of the DTMO team.

Mr. Booth explained that there are approximately 1.8 million charge card holders. When the transition to the new program was first announced, each was expected to have to get a new card. This would mean each cardholder spending around 10 minutes to activate their cards, set-up new accounts online and perform other maintenance tasks. In addition, reissuing new cards would have cost Citibank three to five dollars per card. This means DTMO’s efforts to eliminate having to reissue cards effectually saved 300,000 man-hours and $5 million.

Implementing seemingly small changes can make a huge difference when you are talking about governance of a $9 billion a year enterprise—and that is one point Mr. Booth emphasized, especially as it relates to work being done to modernize the enterprise. The modernization work is being implemented through deliberate steps forward, and with stakeholders’ opinions and needs taken into account.

The second day of GovTravels continued with a panel, Progress Report – Government Travel at the Crossroads One Year Later, led by Mr. Tony D’Astolfo, Senior Vice President, North America, Serko, Ltd. Mr. D’Astolfo gave an introduction to frame the discussion that considered how the most powerful companies in the world—Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix and Uber—can impact government travel. Consumers would describe these companies as cool, simple, handy, convenient, personal, fast, smart, etc. He asked the audience to then consider what emotions or words would be used to describe them or the services they provided, and subsequently if they would like to change how they are thought of.

He continued that in thinking more broadly of the lifecycle of a trip mindful of the touch points one should consider how to turn big data into small powerful experiences, aspire to serve in ways that create powerful impressions and contemplate the customer needs before they do.

Panelists Scott Smith, Program Manager, Department of Defense Travel Modernization; Jamie Kiser, Vice President, Global Services Operations, SAP Concur; Don Moore, Vice President Business Rental Sales and Global Corporate Accounts, Enterprise Holdings; Erika Moore, Vice President and General Manager USA Sales, Travelport; and Nick Vournakis, President, Military and Government Markets, CWTSato Travel, represented a cross section of the travel industry and government.

Personalized experiences were said to be at the center of travel expectations. Personalized experiences, making it easy and being able to apply predictive analytics to patterns of behaviors must be at the forefront of the government travel focus.

Business travel as an industry is unique in dealing with travelers as both consumers and employees so there must be a smarter governor in place to ensure the needs of our Service members and travelers are met and that all of this is done a context that makes it near error proof.

Business travel has changed tremendously, putting more emphasis on the traveler and the need to remove friction from their trips. This often results in giving travelers more flexibility to determine what is right for them. Enabling technologies are also providing travelers with more capabilities to self-serve.

With government travel, a tech-enabled traveler first approach can work, despite a more rigid need to manage expenses, comply with policies and directives, and maintain a strict duty of care. Government and military members travel as stewards of the government and their expectations for their travel experience reflect this thinking.

In many cases, progress on the business side has evolved because businesses have reached out to travel providers to create a product that meets their needs. This is something that would likely benefit government organizations, as being more engaged would help to ensure suppliers can implement ways to meet their needs at earlier phases of development.

Technology advances at a rapid pace and workforce demographics are changing, and today’s travel programs must evolve to keep pace. Over time everyone will become a digital native and the need to provide travelers choice will increase. Members of the travel community must embrace change or risk being left behind. But this needs to consider the objective while balancing the personalized experience and expectations.

Upselling is major focus for suppliers and a top travel trend. Managed programs help mitigate this by setting parameters to what can be sold or offered to travelers. It is the responsibility of the entire travel ecosystem to ensure the correct offerings are made based on policies.

The day continued with industry keynote, Mr. Dominic Delmolino, Federal Services Chief Technology Officer at Accenture, who spoke about the 4th Industrial Revolution and Its Impact on the Travel Industry. The 4th Industrial Revolutions is characterized by breakthrough technology such as AI, robotics, IoT, 3-D Printing, nanotechnology, precision medicine and so much more.

Mr. Demolino explained customers are now starting to apply what they have in their personal lives to what they have in their professional lives. Their expectation is for things to run seamlessly.

Digital has altered everything and many believe we are now entering the post digital era where digital and physical worlds are merging.

There are some real challenges facing the travel services marketing including greater competition, more disruption, many new entrants to the market due to lower barriers to entry, modernization challenges pf existing systems, and dramatic changes to the customer segment.

With the challenges come opportunities. Organizations should take advantage of all the data being created in order to make better predictions, as well as to do things like A/B testing. To do this, organizations must be willing to forgo gut reaction decision making for data-driven decision making. Information also allows experiences to be tailored to travelers’ personal preferences and needs, but there is a fine line between utilizing consumer data and not being invasive. Transparency on what data is collected and how it is used helps with this. With information collection care must be taken to protect data.

Modern systems are designed to be person-based and AI helps with this. Systems are powerful enough to adapt to humans, versus humans having to adapt to systems. Systems adapt both for travelers and for travel service providers want to work.