Before the pandemic, American Airlines crowed about adding to its sales force and growing market share in corporate travel. Conditions have changed. Both corporate travel and airline capacity growth are depressed. Improving profitability and paying down debt are top priorities. After cutting back last year on customer benefits including perks and discounts, now AA is saying goodbye to its top customer executive.
AA chief customer officer Alison Taylor will retire from the company later this year. She plans to relocate to Australia to be closer to family. Praise for Taylor’s industry legacy was swift and voluminous on LinkedIn.
When news of AA’s about-face with the corporate market emerged late last year, starting with the AirPass program, Taylor in an interview with Business Travel News “denied that the discontinuation of AirPass reflected a growing emphasis on leisure travel at the expense of the corporate segment, which has been slower to recover. She said that hasn’t been part of the company’s discussions ‘at all.’ ”
During a conference call with equities analysts on Thursday, AA chief commercial officer Vasu Raja acknowledged that the carrier had not “built a plan around” corporate contracted business, which is at about 75 percent recovered. Asked about any concerns related to corporate layoffs, Raja said, “We aren’t building a plan based on a lot of that demand returning.”
According to AA, Raja will assume some of Taylor’s responsibilities while Scott Laurence will “take the reins of our sales and international operations teams.” It’s not currently on his LinkedIn profile, but Laurence spent a few weeks at Delta early last year as VP for network planning before joining AA as an SVP. Before Delta, he was at JetBlue for 15 years, following nine at United. AA VP of global sales Thomas Rajan will report to Laurence.
AA hired Taylor from Starwood in September 2016 to lead its sales team, develop worldwide sales and distribution policies, and manage relationships with corporate customers and travel agencies. She reported to SVP Andrew Nocella, who left a few months later to join United Airlines.
An industry exec familiar with the situation suggested the April 1 expiration of restrictions on executive compensation at airlines related to pandemic payroll support from taxpayers could spark more movement in airlines’ executive ranks.
The Travel and Meeting Society is planning an in-person event for later this year, said new executive director Mark Williams. TAMS last week announced that Williams, a former consultant and travel buyer, joined the non-profit. TAMS began a membership program in October and also has 10 sponsor partners, said Williams. He described his as a “half-time” role.
Some wonder whether TAMS will adopt the ethos of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, where Williams served as president from 2003 to 2004. (ACTE closed up shop in 2020.)
“People are interested in seeing the organization do things a little differently, to appeal to maybe a different audience than what’s out there,” said Williams. “We will be small and focused, very volunteer-led. There never will be a large staff to support it. Membership is very inexpensive but was set at a level to get as many people involved as we could. It will be more along the original ACTE model, with no member classifications.”
Asked about the challenge of balancing competing interests of members and sponsors, Williams said, “You can’t survive without sponsorships from the supplier community. It can be a slippery slope. There are things the founding partners get — sponsorship of a webinar, stuff on the website — more along the lines of advertising in conjunction with TAMS rather than directing what we might produce.”
Marriott properties in the U.S. and Canada are available for instant booking in Groups360 for both meeting space and guest rooms, a few months later than planned. Separately, Cvent partnered with venue source MeetingPackage to enable, later this year, instant bookings of simple and small meetings with participating hotels and venues.
CWT announced a “multi-year” partnership with Wenrix for airfare price assurance, with a rollout to all wholly owned markets underway this month. Sources last year anticipated the pairing after CWT’s partnership with Coupa ended.
Reaction: Our comments sections have been pretty active. Thanks to Gloria Bohan, Nicole Del Sesto, John Harvey, Greeley Koch and others for weighing in.
Correction: Our last Dispatch did not properly describe ARC’s Direct Connect initiative. “The program enables reporting and settlement of transactions booked using direct-connect (NDC or proprietary schema) pipes by importing sales data directly from airlines or aggregators,” according to ARC. We have updated the post here.
Around The Web
• The Wall Street Journal was not the only publication to recently cover the relative health in small and midsized company business travel — in contrast to the traditional image of the road warrior — but there was little our regular readers would not already know. We did enjoy the back-and-forth in the comments section of a Journal piece talking about blue-collar workers showing up where suits used to be, and hotel companies like Best Western and Choice upgrading to meet the demand. “When needing to stay overnight to take care of a customer who is 100 miles or more away from home, I’m certainly not booking a room at the Ritz Carlton,” wrote a reader identified as Mike Levy. “But I’m also definitely not spending the night camped out in the bed of my F250 (or staying in a ratty motel). I’m looking for the best value I can get (along with a solid breakfast in the morning). I will then build in the cost of that stay into the customer invoice. This is most certainly not a ‘blip’ that’s going away anytime soon.”
• How ready is artificial intelligence for corporate travel customer service? Not very, suggests our read of this WSJ article. “It’s appropriate to be doing some experimentation,” said David Truog, a principal analyst specializing in technology and design at Forrester Research. “But it’s too early to deploy mission-critical systems based on this.”
• Travel Weekly and The Beat are keeping tabs on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s rule-making process. In a nutshell, DOT (again) proposed rules requiring airlines and third-party distributors to disclose add-on fees for bags, ticket changes and cancellations, among other items, at the time of purchase. Various corporate travel interests (again) urged exemptions because TMCs and their corporate clients negotiate contracts that outline services provided. There’s debate as to whether GDSs should be forced to comply and how comparison shopping sites would present all the info without overly cluttering displays. In its comments, the American Society of Travel Advisors wrote about concerns with other details, including the “requirement that travel advisors disclose fees for multiple services in each and every ‘offline’ transaction – even to repeat customers and frequent fliers – and its expected impact on agency operations.”
• From BTN Europe: UK travel management company Gray Dawes goes multinational.
• Here’s a helpful primer from American Express Global Business Travel on the EU’s new Visa Waiver Program.
Here’s a page where we pull in business travel news feeds from around the web.
Hat-Tips And Heads-Ups
What would you rather be doing than filing an expense report? Banyan, which describes itself as an “item-level receipt data network,” surveyed 395 business travelers and found one in five would prefer to pour lemon juice on a cut. More than one-third would favor a dentist appointment or driver’s license renewal. But more than one-third said they’d rather file an expense report than do any of those or the following: eat gas station sushi, tickle a T-rex, file an insurance claim, go back to middle school or talk politics at Thanksgiving. None of that is fun but the T-rex stands apart, no? It reminded us of this story about the Norwegian government agency that improved travel policy compliance by forcing violators to resubmit expenses.
“Save the earth. Skip the offsite.“ Spotted at a Brooklyn bus stop, WildAid’s new “The Environment Excuse” ad campaign reached more than 50 metro markets this month, urging Americans to make tweaks to their flying and commuting habits.