Each year in our December issue we highlight the accomplishments that data in the managed travel space have made in the past twelve months. This year should be no different – but it is. We find ourselves nine months into a global pandemic, and we’re still trying to figure out how our industry can recover and get back to business.

This has created unique opportunities and challenges in the realm of data. Buyers are still encouraged to focus on building out their Phat Data strategies. And as we have said, there should be a review and renew phase of our strategies. Now more than ever we need to be taking a deep dive in what data buyers are truly going to need to manage their programs differently in the midst of this pandemic and in the post-pandemic world to come. For 2021, Phat Data is going to be looking into the data driven decisions around the resumption of corporate travel and how the travel landscape – and the data it generates – has forever been changed.

Data Management

Rebuilding Confidence
Unless corporations are comfortable putting people back on the road, the recovery will never occur. So we’ll kick off the new year with a focus on building traveler and corporate confidence to return to travel and what data needs to be shared within companies to help both management and travelers make the best decision about who should start traveling again and when they should do it. Whether it is testing, vaccines, quarantines, liability protections, waivers, or general statistics on the safety of travel we need to use the data and science that is available to us to educate both our travelers and our organizations.

Another focus for 2021 will be how Phat Data looks different for our managed categories, and what data we should be using for our sourcing and contract negotiations. With 2020 being annihilated, there are so many unknowns that make 2021 virtually unpredictable. So where should we be focused for 2022 and beyond? What should buyers and suppliers be doing with their category sourcing? And most importantly how do we strengthen our partnerships while being true to what the data tells us?

Shifting Metrics 
One of the key indicators for future travel spending will be how corporations budget for travel. Phat Data will explore the impact of reduced spending, not from the perspective of the pandemic, but from the standpoint of the financial benefits that CFO’s are seeing and how the expectations around non-essential travel may be permanently changed. What will the data tell us about people’s productivity and how teams collaborate? And is there an impact on the overall performance of an organization if the ability to connect through travel is reduced significantly?

Speaking of collaboration, let’s not forget about the meetings and events industry. Prior to the pandemic, we were seeing some amazing results in the ability to track and measure the attendee experience, gauge the ROI for events, thanks to the developments in the tools and technologies to help capture and deliver that data.

Now as we move into 2021, we know virtual meetings aren’t going away, so how should we be measuring an event’s success and the ROI from virtual or hybrid meetings and events? Does the data set look different? What will the data tell us about an attendee’s engagement with the dog-barking, home-schooling, Amazon-delivering lives that we are all now living? Now combine that with the fact that some attendees are virtual while others are attending in person – should we be measuring those individuals against each other or using the same metrics, even though we know their experiences are totally different?

Whether we are seeking data about health and safety, measuring meetings, or managing spend categories, the industry should continue to see advancements in technologies that help us derive the data we need to better manage our corporate travel programs. Throughout 2021 Phat Data will highlight new technologies, renewed technologies and the gaps that the industry may encounter. Because, let’s face it, we can’t build out Phat Data strategies without access to the data that we need. To date, the industry is still struggling with disparate data sources that are siloed and not always accurate, so our Phat Data series will continue to delve into the world of data technologies.

Who knows what 2021 will bring to the managed travel program? We could be in for a quieter year as the dust settles, or one that rocks our world with change and innovation! Will it be FLAT or PHAT? Regardless of what is to come, it is still important for buyers who haven’t built out a Phat Data strategy to do it. The time couldn’t be better, so start now!

Continue to focus on remaining relevant in your organization and use data to tell your story. Buyers should also begin to integrate some scenario planning into your data strategy; ask yourselves the What If’s, and use data to model the outcomes. This will enable you to be better prepared to answer the questions that your management – and your travelers – have yet to ask. Think about things like, what if your organization only returns to 25 percent travel? 50 percent? Model what that looks like for your supplier agreements, your overall travel costs, and impact to your overall program. Preparing now will enable you to know where to focus tomorrow.

Regardless of the size or shape of your managed travel program, Phat Data can help you develop it, tell your story and highlight where your resources should be focused. No doubt things looks different now than they did in January, but think about the amazing opportunities that can come from buyers who have the time to sit back think creatively and build out the most dynamic and impactful programs of all time. Now that is Phat!

Happy Holidays and Cheers to a better 2021!  

Jennifer Steinke is Global Head of Travel for PPD, Inc., and an industry thought leader with over 30 years experience managing corporate travel. She holds an MBA plus Certified Corporate Travel Executive (CCTE) and Global Travel Professional (GTP) certifications from GBTA. Jennifer strives to deliver innovative and thought provoking ideas to the corporate travel industry.