Innovation, innovation, innovation

6 September 2011
Innovation wasn’t the official theme of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) convention held last month in the US. But its importance just dripped through constantly. First, there’s the innovation in how we think about our consumers. One of the most interesting nuggets I heard came from Robert Stephens, the founder of IT support business Geek Squad. He used the term “patient and picky” to describe how the behaviour of travellers and consumers is evolving. He illustrated the change by saying that previously he couldn’t stand waiting around in line for his coffee at Starbucks. But now he doesn’t mind, because thanks to the mobile applications he has, he is using his time effectively while waiting. But once he gets to the front of the queue, he wants his drink quickly and the ability to choose from a myriad of different options. I think this term “patient and picky” perfectly illustrates what is happening within the business travel market. And this is why so much of the chatter from the sector is about mobile solutions being driven by the demands of travellers. It’s time we thought differently about our customers and their needs. Then there was the impact of innovation on changing existing systems and our appetite to evolve. At the convention, you got a sense that the problems within the distribution chain had been recognised, but I was left wondering whether there really was the appetite to tackle them as a community by many of the parties involved. And while innovation is important to address the difficulties we have in our sector, it should never be at the expense of the traveller and travel-buying principles. Finally, the impact of globalisation on innovation was evident. The recession meant travel buyers are facing consistent issues and problems globally as well as locally. But the benefit of a global market means that solutions to a lot of our problems are often already developing in less mature markets. There can be a riper environment for innovation in some of these places compared to developed markets because they aren’t constrained with legacy methodologies. I see that when I travel to the annual business travel conference in South Africa. People think in different ways, so bringing 6,000 people together from a variety of cultures at the GBTA conference, means an effective use of face-to-face time to learn from each other.
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