Coronavirus pandemic: Innovating at speed to support business travel
By Alex Kaluzny, chief product and technology officer
We are experiencing a pandemic unlike any other. Having experienced world-wide travel disruptions and outbreaks, including SARS and the Ebola virus, we know that the ability to listen to customers’ needs and quickly respond makes a significant difference to how effectively we support travel managers and business travellers.
At Egencia, our culture has always been, and continues to be, one of customer-centric innovation. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced this even more. Unlike many other TMCs, we build and operate our own tech stack. With fast access to our data for insights, we have reacted immediately to deliver new capabilities in as quickly as a few hours. Sometimes, this is literally the difference between getting business travellers back home or having them stranded.
All of the following enhancements were launched at the same time worldwide and localised into 15 languages to ensure that we are supporting all of our customers around the world.
Duty of care during COVID-19
COVID-19 has amplified the importance of duty of care in new and uncharted ways. Travel managers and Human Resources (HR) colleagues need to understand where their travellers are scheduled to be and where they’ve been — a functionality provided by Egencia Traveller Tracker.
Based on usage data and customer feedback, three days before World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, we enhanced Traveller Tracker to allow travel managers to search for their travellers using more parameters. They can now search globally, by country, by city or by custom region drawn on a map.
At the same time, it also became apparent very quickly that the unique nature of the COVID-19 virus means that it is critical for a travel manager to also know where their travellers have recently been. We’ve also rolled out a ‘look backward’ capability in Traveller Tracker. Travel managers can now search the last 30 days to see where travellers have been to better understand if they may have been near or in a high-risk COVID-19 area.
As this outbreak has evolved, so have we. We’ve long had travel alerts for travel disruptions such as hurricanes, strikes or other critical incidents, but now our teams have gone all out to ensure that our clients and travellers are getting access to the information they need at every touch point to make decisions and take action.
We’ve accelerated updates, including new features and tips that help business travellers take control of their trips. We’ve been working tirelessly to connect business travellers with Egencia travel consultants in new ways so that we can help all the travellers that need us. For instance, we’ve built an online form that travellers can fill in to cancel bookings. We’ve developed a process to cancel bookings in bulk for clients who have made the hard decision to cancel all travel for their company or travel in certain regions.
We’ve been working closely with our supplier partners as they continue to evolve their policies to provide more flexible cancellation. We have been sharing regular updates on flexible rebooking and cancellation policies from our airline, hotel, rail and car partners as they occur — no mean feat, given the pace of change! In addition, we have ensured that these are reflected in our platform and enable travellers to cancel their previously non-refundable bookings online.
In these extraordinary times, we are helping our customers navigate the unexpected. Through the Egencia Help Centre, we are working around the clock to get travellers, travel managers and the general public the latest information on travel. For those that are still on the road or perhaps required to travel, we’re making further enhancements to the mobile app to ensure that they have all the same real-time COVID-19 alert information via their phone as they do on their desktop.
And when booking a trip, we’ve included the ability to filter hotel search results to show those with flexible cancellation policies and added a live banner to the hotel search interface that directs travellers to those hotels.
At Egencia we support customers in more than 60 countries around the world. We also have global support on the ground with our 3,000-strong force of travel consultants that speak over 30 languages and provide real-time support for travellers 24/7/365. We’ve committed to a ‘follow the sun model’ across our company so that we can support travel managers and business travellers all around the world as quickly and efficiently as possible. This approach means that our teams work across multiple time zones, with one team delivering their part of a new innovation and then handing off to another team as they start their day — ensuring that the innovation never stops, even for the rising and setting of the sun.
These are just a few of the rapid improvements we’ve rolled out to help our customers while their business travellers are on the road and to help travel managers uphold their duty-of-care obligations during this challenging time. We’re proud to be able to deliver rapid innovation and serve our customers to ensure that they have a successful trip from planning to returning home safely.