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Corporate Traveller’s Leap into the Future with Chris Lynes

In a compelling interview with CanadianSME Small Business Magazine, Chris Lynes, President of Corporate Traveller, delved into the evolving landscape of corporate travel. With over two decades of experience, Chris emphasized the importance of adapting to industry changes and enhancing customer experience. He highlighted the innovative use of their digital platform, Melon, to personalize and streamline the travel booking process. Chris also addressed common travel booking errors and their financial implications, stressing the importance of flexibility and detailed planning. Looking forward, he predicted a focus on “bleisure” travel and wellness in corporate policies, and discussed Corporate Traveller’s commitment to sustainable travel practices. Additionally, Chris touched on the integration of AI in travel management, foreseeing a future where technology enhances the efficiency and enjoyment of corporate travel.

Chris Lynes, Managing Director of Flight Centre Travel Group Canada—one of the world’s largest travel companies, including its flagship business travel management division,  Corporate Traveller —offers a rich background with over two decades of leadership in the travel sector and a record of fostering consistent annual growth surpassing 15 per cent. Renowned for his innovative, strategic, and collaborative leadership style, Lynes has been pivotal to the successes of the group. With a deep commitment to diversity and customer-focused service, he promises to steer Corporate Traveller on a continued path of excellence. Attuned to the dynamic shifts within the industry, Lynes is poised to elevate the Canadian company to new heights.

With over 20 years of experience at Corporate Traveller, you’ve witnessed significant changes in the industry. How do you see the role of Corporate Traveller evolving to address the current challenges, such as the ‘January Blues’ and inefficiencies in travel bookings, to continue delivering amazing customer experiences?

With over two decades of experience in the industry, there have been many significant changes over the years, and Corporate Traveller has consistently had to learn how to adapt. Corporate Traveller continues to evolve our digital platforms with a primary focus on customer experience.

We recognize that personalization is key, whether our clients choose to leverage the expertise of our travel consultants or use our proprietary online booking tool, Melon. In the past, online booking tools have been extremely rigid and bland; however, Melon stands out. We have modernized the booking flow to engage travellers as they plan their trips, and our team ensures that the travel experience itself is just as straightforward as the booking process.

Corporate Traveller's Leap into the Future with Chris Lynes

In the post-pandemic landscape, travel consultants have become more relevant than ever, especially among business travellers. A notable shift has occured from ‘Do-It-Yourself’ in-house arrangements to relying on experts who not only reclaim your time but also alleviate the stress associated with what can be a lengthy and challenging process.

Considering that over 55% of businesses experience financial losses from travel booking mistakes, could you share insights into the most typical errors made during this process? Additionally, how do these mistakes impact the overall financial health of companies, particularly under the strain of increased loan costs and economic uncertainties?

A common mistake we often see is travellers or companies opting for airfares that are more likely to incur higher fees or ones lacking flexibility for changes. Customers often share with me that they never expected a meeting to change, or an event to be cancelled – but things happen. Travellers find themselves bound by non-refundable and non-changeable airfares, causing them to purchase new tickets without the benefit of advance purchase rates. These fares can be very expensive and will add up quickly, resulting in substantial financial losses for businesses. Corporate travel is changed approximately 35 per cent of the time, and as such, understanding the different restrictions or inclusions are important factors in determining what fares to select.

Similarly, a significant 22% of companies overspend by booking too close to the travel date, missing out on better rates as costs invariably spike due to increased demand.

A frequently overlooked detail with serious consequences is the misalignment of travel elements such as flights and hotels can leave travellers stranded or cause missed connections, leading to unexpected additional expenses and safety risks in new cities.

These errors can severely strain a business’s finances, especially when managing costs becomes more challenging due to economic uncertainty and rising costs.

You have a unique perspective on the trends shaping business travel. What are your key predictions for 2024, particularly in terms of global recruitment, commuting, the rise of bleisure travel, and the integration of wellness considerations in travel policies?

The return to travel in 2023 broke the norm. Prior to the pandemic, most business travel revolved around sales and professional services. In the post-pandemic world, we saw a shift to internal business meetings, sales kickoffs, and meetings and events. However, in 2024, we are seeing a slowdown in events to start the year, coupled with a return to individual travel and outbound meetings.

The significance of remote work persists as companies refine their in-office versus remote policies. Notably, “bleisure” travel and personal wellness have emerged as integral components of business success. Many companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of incorporating travel perks into their corporate programs, not only as a means of retention but also to enhance the overall happiness and well-being of employees.

At Corporate Traveller, we offer our staff travel incentives and perks, such as our President’s Club, which awards our top-performing employees with one-of-a-kind trips. For instance, this January, our President’s Club enjoyed a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland.

Sustainability is becoming increasingly important in corporate travel. How is Corporate Traveller responding to this shift, and what strategies do you recommend businesses adopt to support sustainable travel practices effectively?

As sustainability becomes increasingly important, Corporate Traveller is actively responding to this shift with strategic measures to encourage and support responsible travel practices. Our online booking platform, Melon, uses a badging system that highlights and prioritizes responsible travel options. This feature provides travellers with clear information upfront, empowering them to make informed decisions aligned with sustainable practices. Rather than solely focusing on offsetting travel impact after the fact, we believe in the importance of informing travellers in advance so they can proactively choose eco-friendly options.

Corporate Traveller's Leap into the Future with Chris Lynes

Additionally, we recommend businesses adopt consistent messaging that supports individual company policies, enabling organizations to effectively work towards and achieve their environmental goals.

Flight Centre’s new AI Center of Excellence marks a significant shift towards integrating AI in travel management. How do you envision this blend of technology and personal assistance enhancing the travel experience for corporate clients, especially in dealing with travel disruptions and enhancing customer service?

In business travel, I think we’ll see rapid enhancements in customer experience, in particular with predictive analytics for disruptions.  Some airlines are beginning to lead the charge with AI and rebooking capabilities. For instance, the system can identify misconnections and automatically suggest alternatives for the traveller to accept, even while they are still in transit on the originally booked itinerary.

Corporate Traveller's Leap into the Future with Chris Lynes

AI will also allow for more personalization as it will become a virtual assistant that will help plan travel. By pulling previous booking behaviours and patterns, the AI system analyzes and tailors options presented to the traveller, creating a more individualized and efficient booking experience. As more bookings are input into the AI-driven system, users will notice a refined selection, streamlining the process and making it a simple and enjoyable aspect of business travel.

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