The Future of Government Travel Takes Center Stage
Text by Kimberly Huth, Director of Public Relations, NDTA
Photo by Cherie Cullen
Where is the future of government travel headed? A broad cross-section of presenters from private industry and the federal government set out to answer that question on March 6, the second day of the 2018 GovTravels Symposium.
A significant effort by the Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO) to restructure the Joint Travel Federal Regulation (JTFR) and decrease the page count from 3,600 to 1,200 was an incredible start, but more can be accomplished, according to keynote speaker John Bergin, Senior Executive Service, Business Technology Officer for the Department of Defense (DOD) Chief Information Officer. He noted the typical traveler was trustworthy and a good steward of taxpayer dollars, and verification should focus more on oversight of the process.
“The reality is oversight of the program needs to be highlighted versus trying to prove the traveler was wicked and wasteful,” said Bergin. Technology has evolved and allowed for more efficient accountability for the traveler, but government travel has been slow to innovate. DTMO is working incredibly hard to enable the traveler to make better business decisions when they schedule travel and to enhance availability of choices to suit the traveler. Part of the difference too, in a government traveler’s experience, is the technology behind their trip. DOD’s Defense Travel System (DTS) provides good service, but as a custom-designed system it inherently lacks the flexibility to incorporate the private sector’s rapid advances into a mobile-dominated world. By adding “local” policies or looking at travel through fiscal lenses, we add processing time and seem detached from the traveler, and this is being discussed at the Secretary of Defense level. In fact, when Secretary Mattis travels, he often hears complaints about the DTS process taking so much time, which is why he has ensured this process is being improved from the top down. Restructuring the JTFR was a great start that we need to build on.
GOVERNMENT TRAVEL AT A CROSSROADS
Tony D’Astolfo, Travel Technology Expert, moderated a panel focused on real-time use of traveler issues using a variety of mediums, to include feedback via travel agencies, direct contact, apps, and website feedback. D’Astolfo introduced the audience to the term “GAFA” (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple), and said “GAFA has figured out that the traveler is more interested in being pushed information versus having to pull it from a web page.” The difference between those companies and all others is they have set a standard of expecting ease of purchase (think less clicks), personalization and innovation of the traveler and constant innovation. But, we must layer on an important safety measure.
Mitigating travel risk and responding when an event occurs can prove challenging for many global companies, but arguably more challenging for our government travel community. According to an April 2012 SAP Concur article1, Duty of Care is a company’s responsibility for the well-being of its employees from both a moral and legal perspective, and how it extends to traveling employees. That is an even more complex challenge as we send government travelers to global locations. “In my view, we should embrace technology analytics and build improvements around the data,” said William Mansell, Director of the Defense Travel Management Office.
“Travelers today are better educated and so are their parents, whom I hear from when their son or daughter is delayed at an airport far from home,” said Mansell. In addition to easing the travelers, burdensome travel experience, from beginning to end, we have a Duty of Care responsibility. “Duty of Care is a team sport, and although more communication with a traveler is positive, it also increases our digital footprint.”
Erica Moore, VP-Americas, Travelport, reminded the audience the future of travel is everyone’s challenge. Consider for a moment companies like Airbnb and Uber, and how they have impacted the family moving across the country. They have applied innovative ideas and we in the government travel space are left wondering how to incorporate those ideas. They may be more likely to utilize a service like that to meet their family needs. According to Moore, “46 percent of travelers are business travelers.” They desire a streamlined experience they then carry into their personal travel experiences.
The 2018 GovTravels Symposium was excited to host LTG Russel Honoré, USA (Ret.), former Commander Joint Task Force Katrina. In some circles, he is referred to as the “Category 5 General.” A decorated 37-year US Army veteran, LTG Honoré shared his leadership lessons learned during a very challenging time. As the Commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, during post-hurricane New Orleans, he coordinated a military response while listening to the needs of the community. “Just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it will not happen,” he said, referring to the risks of building in a flood zone. When a Category 5 storm is projected, we should all plan to have things like trees and power poles as projectiles, extensive power outages and flooding. He challenged the innovators in the room to develop “generators that are as small as suitcases” and asked the audience if they thought today’s pocket-sized cell phones would have been possible 15 years ago.
In closing, the General said there were three principles of leadership: “Do the routine things well; don’t be afraid to take on the seemingly impossible; and never allow yourself to become paralyzed into inaction by fear of criticism.”
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND BREAKOUT SESSIONS
The afternoon sessions were industry, DTMO and GSA sponsored. Topics covered included FY19 City Pairs, Travel Management Companies (TMC) and Corporate Best Practices, and Touchpoints in the Traveler Experience. The Future of TMCs discussion centered around the impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI). According to Lori Leffler, Hospitality Branch Chief, DTMO, “Travelers will no longer need to set up searches; instead, travelers will enter the city, date and number of rooms. They will receive hotel options—all matching the travel policy plus an individual preference within the current published policy.” By evolving our methods, we will “provide more transparency, and it will force government to create new travel policies that better reflect today’s marketplace,” said Leffler.
VADM Andy Brown, USN (Ret.) led a panel of industry professionals from CWTSatoTravel, General Dynamics and Sabre on Understanding Corporate Travel Best Practices. The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) predicts business travel spending will grow by 6.1 percent in 2018, up 5.1 percent from 2017. The Morgan Stanley 2018 Global Corporate Travel Outlook Survey reports that over two thirds of corporate travel buyers expect air traffic volumes to increase by average of 4.8 percent and air prices to increase an average of 1.8 percent. The panel closed by recommending shifting from a traditional service-based model to a technology-focused strategy. They further recommended that companies focus on adopting travel risk management solutions that enable communications with travelers during trips through alerts and traveler status updates.
1 Eberhard, M. (2012, April 17). Understanding Duty of Care in Relation to Business Travel. Retrieved from SAP Concur: https://www.concur.com/newsroom/article/understanding-duty-care-relation-business-travel