Travel Technology, Industry Outlook
Article | July 13, 2022
The September 11th attacks. The Great Recession. The COVID-19 pandemic.
All three of these seismic and tragic events have resulted in heartbreak to humanity, including loss of life and our emotional well-being both individually and collectively. Of course, accompanying these global crises were monetary meltdowns reminiscent of the Great Depression that commenced in 1929 and lingered until the late 1930s.
After a “relatively” calm 70 years, the United States economy has suffered three devastating developments inside the last two decades, alone. There have been wars fought throughout the world and inflation escalations along the way, to be sure, but the start to the 21st century has suffered escalating and unusually concentrated economic calamities some that have profoundly altered the very fabric of our lives, both personally and professionally.
Indeed, on the business front, such periods have been among the most perhaps the unequivocal most trying of times. Amid current circumstances as the coronavirus rages on around the globe, I recently connected with internationally-renowned business restructuring executive James “Jim” Martin, founder of ACM Capital Partners with offices in Charlotte, Denver and Miami. Having spent the last three decades leading international middle-market companies through periods of distress and transition to actualize stability and growth, Martin is uniquely well-positioned to share insights on how business can rally to best assure a “COVID comeback.” Here’s what he had to say.
MK: First, before addressing the current coronavirus situation, what can you tell us about how you’ve helped companies navigate previous “rough waters”?
JM: Relative to the September 11th attacks back in 2001, I’ll share a representative example of a strategic pivot that didn’t just help a company survive, but actually drove profit. After that horrendous event, I stepped in to assist a large aviation maintenance repair-and-overhaul facility whose revenue had been cut fully in half immediately following the attacks the result of many carriers permanently parking older aircraft (including the 727 fleet). The sizable challenge presented was to maintain a 1000-person labor force while allowing the industry the necessary time to recover. To do so, we created a captive subcontracting company to which we transferred one-third of our labor force. During our troughs, we contracted this labor to our competitors and, during peak periods, we utilized this labor for ourselves. Thus, not only were we able to retain our skilled, well-oriented labor force during the recovery, but that very staff actually provided additional, supplemental profit. The end result was that we sold the business for $138 million, which provided our new investors with a 33 percent internal rate of return (IRR).
Less than a decade after 9/11, amid The Great Recession in 2008, I entered another industry that proved to be among the most brutalized by a global economic downturn: automotive supply. My client was a key supplier to the “Big 3” U.S. auto manufacturers.
At the start of 2008, the industry forecast was the production of 18 million vehicles in North America. Come summer, however, it was clear the automakers would not come near reaching that forecast due to the financial crisis. This did not come as a complete surprise to us, though, because amid our firm’s protocols we had had already fully immersed ourselves in our client’s industry and employed forecasting tools alerting us of trends ... this one in the wrong direction. So, we were privy to the situation well before management and others within the industry. By late June 2008, we instituted cost-cutting maneuvers and furloughs that enabled the company to withstand the industry’s brutal second half of ’08 that would result in two of the “Big 3” automakers filing for Chapter 11. Despite the industry producing less than half—as much as eight million—of its original vehicle-production forecast, our client not only survived, but ultimately grew and prospered.
MK: Turning attentions to COVID-19, what do you feel is integral for businesses to survive and recover?
JM: For businesses to recover from the coronavirus shutdown, it’s going to take a two-pronged approach: both financial and human capital. Starting with the financial, it will be a “loan-ly” world for those not well-versed in the intricacies of SBA, PPP and other “economic disaster” lending. Consider how expeditiously those programs were rolled out. Then consider how even more quickly they were scooped up. Did anyone really read those loan documents in full, or even halfway through, initially or even to this day?
My guess is at least half of the companies receiving COVID-related loans took a very “CliffsNotes” approach to these agreements. The result is there’s a solid chance funds were used incorrectly, which is going to make a lot of the loans, shall we say, less “forgivable.” For example, if your company’s payroll roster is shorter today than it was pre-virus, the portion of the loans forgiven is likely to be less.
And while your mind may rush to claiming ignorance and throwing yourself upon the mercy of the government to which you already pay taxes, realize that third-party capital is likely to participate in this market through securitization. This means that thousands of SBA loans could be bought, then packaged to be sold to the secondary market, at a discounted rate, no less. If this happens, understand that the purchasers will have the full intention of holding their borrowers (i.e. small business owners) to paying back 100 cents on the dollar.
So, those companies who received loans and are required, but unable, to pay them back in full may be exposed to either foreclosure or, worse, a “loan to own” scenario. In other words, much like the agreement that comes with your big-tech user agreements, like those prompting users to “click agree,” the fine print matters.
What this means to recovery is that, once again, cash is king: gather it; preserve it; cease lines of credit; liquidate what you can; negotiate costs down with suppliers. And if your company had a healthy bottom line pre-COVID, than a professional familiar with these trenches can help you look to refinance or bring in equity.
With all of that said, the key to a COVID-19 recovery is going to be adhering to the rules of a lender’s road, as well as the ability to navigate the red tape when you veer off that road. If you have read all the fine print and properly managed your loan, congratulations! You’ve acquired some really cheap capital. For those who didn’t do their research, however, this road to recovery likely will need some paving.
MK: What about the human capital you mentioned?
JM: Yes, and then we arrive at the human capital. Lots of companies today are excessively top-heavy. Remember the part about removing emotions from this process? Companies that quickly recognize cuts need to be made will be better positioned to recover than those who dawdle. Again, compiling and preserving cash is going to best position a business for recovery.
This is an instance where it’s especially beneficial to know when to pull triggers (best if earlier than others) and to make decisions that are not based on emotions a tall order for many CEOs, which is why many turn to turnaround experts. However it’s undertaken, what’s certain is that reducing human capital is painful, but it is also often necessary and almost always beneficial.
The upside is that, when the virus no longer exits, businesses can already be well-positioned for a fairly quick recovery. Maybe not v-shaped sans a vaccine, but quick relatively speaking due to the downturn having been so specific to one singular causing factor.
MK: Tell us a bit about your role as and general value of a turnaround expert when turmoil strikes a business.
JM: During times of difficulty, owners and executives can greatly benefit from specialized knowledge that’ll help them best navigate those unchartered waters that are often entangled in a lot of red tape. So, turnaround experts bring to the table a litany of tried-and-true “been there, weathered that” experience and expertise. There’s simply no substitute for engaging with a partner whose entire mandate is ensuring your company’s survival and success during some of the most grim and challenging times it might experience those professionals who are willing to spend sleepless nights figuring out how to ensure the company meets payroll; who’ll work around the clock to keep the company’s doors open; and who can tackle challenges without being hindered by emotions that understandably weigh on a business owner or manager. It takes this kind of specialized expertise, experience and grit to lead companies through periods of distress and transition, to stability and growth.
No stranger to corporate chaos, during Martin’s own three decades as a globally-regarded turnaround expert, he has reportedly created and restored nearly $1.5 billion in value to lower middle-market companies; raised an additional $1 billion in capital; and managed mergers and acquisitions in excess of $500 million all collectively representing his company restructuring portfolio valuation in excess of $3 billion.
Today, as the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on business operations far and wide, take heed that there are various key strategic and creative tactics that can help businesses not only weather the storm, but even emerge stronger and more financially secure on the other side.
Travel Technology, Airlines and Airports
Article | August 2, 2022
Bleisure travel has taken over the travel industry. It brings together two worlds—business and leisure—to make a work trip enjoyable for employees.
The concept of bleisure is simple. While on a business trip, employees choose to stay back at their own expense to explore the city or region they are visiting, if their company agrees.
According to Stratosjets, 243 million business trips (60%) of 405 million long-distance business trips in the United States are converted into leisure trips every year.
“As businesses are becoming increasingly global, the necessity to travel for business is on the rise. It is estimated that by 2022, companies will be spending a total of $1.7 trillion to send their employees travelling around the world. As business travel grows, so does the ‘bleisure’ trend with more employees taking advantage of business travel and improved travel policies.”
-Spokesman for Amadeus, the travel technology company.
Businesses that support this type of travel are seeing a steady increase in employee satisfaction, and increased productivity in professionals. Bleisure also brings higher revenue for bleisure-ready hoteliers.
How Does Bleisure Benefit Travel Businesses and Employers?
Driving Brand Loyalty
Travel companies and accommodation services can gain the attention of the next generation of travelers who indulge in bleisure. They can employ modern travel technologies to attract millenials and youngsters. Sharing economy services like Airbnb are shaking up the traditional hotel model. Adopting bleisure can make hospitality brands relatable, drive brand loyalty and higher revenue through the high acquisition costs of corporate travelers.
Boosting Employee Productivity
Employees worldwide want to achieve a better work-life balance. 78% of travelers said bleisure travel increased their well-being when they returned to work. (Source: TalentIntelligence). Happy employees translate to a lower attrition rate, fewer medical claims, higher productivity, and less absenteeism, making it a win-win situation for employers.
Combating Talent Shortages
Companies that address the needs of their staff through a flexible bleisure policy are more likely to attract the best and the most talented people. It could be the only offering that could make an employee choose a company over its competitors.
Preparing for Bleisure
To capitalize on the demand for bleisure travel, hoteliers should offer amenities and services such as:
A suitable workplace where business travelers can fulfill their work commitments
Child-care and kid-friendly amenities for travelers who bring their families along
A dedicated concierge service and ready local sightseeing recommendations
Employers offering bleisure to their employees need to do their due diligence. They must offer a comprehensive policy that ensures employee travel safety and is compliant with duty of care legal requirements.
Cutting to the Chase
The bleisure tourism market is estimated to reach a valuation of $497.5 billion in 2022 with sales skyrocketing at an impressive 19.5% CAGR over the assessment period (Source: Future Market Insights). The tourism market is looking at bleisure as an opportunity for growth while recovering from the pandemic. They are investing in direct marketing, sales, discounts, giveaways, events, and other promotional activities to attract bleisure travelers and endorsing bleisure as a way to attain their revenue targets.
Travel Technology, Airlines and Airports
Article | September 29, 2022
As the impact of COVID-19 subsides, the devasted travel industry appears to be resuming normalcy with increased travel volumes. In addition, emerging tourism trends and technology in the travel industry have offered new possibilities for business travel to redefine itself. The present opportunities available in the travel sector may benefit your firm. However, customer experience in the travel industry has a significant impact on growing long-term loyalty. Providing a positive client experience is a significant problem for many in the travel and tourism industry.
Customer Experience Is a Challenge to Recover
Customer experience is a critical component of the travel and tourism industry. As travel volumes have increased in the post-covid era, so have negative travel experiences. Business travelers who commute frequently have higher expectations. For a very long time, they have voiced their dissatisfaction, even before the leisure travelers complained. This imbalance has been exacerbated by COVID-19.
According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, 38% of business passengers complained about the airline, double the percentage compared to leisure travelers. The actual question, though, is how to overcome this obstacle.
Some companies may go above and beyond to reassure travelers with honesty, openness, and unmatched customer service. You may improve the customer experience by implementing the following ideas.
Concentrate on the corporate culture
Give specific examples of consumer advocacy
Equip employees with the necessary tools
According to a survey conducted by Think with Google, superior customer service is the most compelling aspect for high-value travelers. Additionally, 60% of them agree that customer service is the most crucial factor when it comes to picking a brand to travel with.
CX Plays a Vital Role in Revenue Generation
Managing customer experience in travel can enhance the brand-customer relationship, ultimately leading to revenue growth. The adoption of technology for travel booking, ticketing, and expenditure management has improved the customer experience. Satisfied customers increase income and assist firms in calculating the return on their travel and cost expenditures.
Customer experience is a key differentiator that boosts customer happiness and loyalty, and both sells and establishes a competitive edge.
“CX is the difference between success or slump.”
— Chris Pescott, CEO of Perceptive.
Annual business travel expenditures will reach $1.7 trillion globally by 2022. According to Statista, nearly 500 million business travels will take place withing the United States each year by 2022.
Ways to Improve Customer Experience (CX)
Use Tech to Create Breakthrough Customer Experiences
Technology in the travel industry is regularly evolving. By putting technology at the center of each touchpoint, the industry is laying the groundwork for a successful customer experience in travel. Chatbots powered by AI and machine learning deliver client care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Chatbots have been intelligently developed using cutting-edge technology and may be used in place of humans. AI is constantly evolving, making it more trustworthy and effective as a commercial solution.
Embrace an Omnichannel Mindset
With mobile devices accounting for more than 50% of online traffic, multi-device digital experiences have become the norm. In addition, today's customers interact with companies across various offline and online channels, frequently switching several times, and each stage of the journey must be seamlessly connected and consistent. As a result, adopting omnichannel is one of the most significant changes you will undertake.
Use Customer Journey Mapping
To create a customer journey, you must first understand your consumer. By comparing journey maps to core KPIs, you may gain a deeper insight into your customer experience and identify areas of concern and opportunity. You may use trip maps to enhance the customer experience and visualize the customer experience in the future. Alternatively, you may influence organizational transformation from the stage of inspiration to the planning and execution phases. Utilize all touchpoints and seek new possibilities for interaction.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
KLM's social care staff are well-known for their responsiveness and efficiency – the airline even shows a live countdown on its Twitter header picture to inform consumers when they may anticipate a response. However, what sets the organization apart is its ability to generate unique customer experiences.
Qatar Airways is elevating the business class travel experience. At a recent travel industry conference in Berlin, the airline unveiled its Business Class QSuite. This is the first time a business class cabin has been offered and sold with a real double bed. However, the organization goes a step further by providing value to consumers traveling for business. Additionally, the QSuite may be an open work and meeting room. Multiple configuration choices appeal to clients seeking privacy or personalization.
A score of 9.2 for audience insights indicates that the brand is in tune with its social audience well enough to cultivate an impressive number of committed followers.
The travel and tourism industry significantly benefits from nurturing an outstanding customer experience. Supremacy in customer experience can be offered with the help of sophisticated digital technology that can quantify effects and forecast behavior. In addition, as 'bleisure' travel continues to grow in popularity to blend business and leisure time, the customer experience in travel is increasing in relevance.
What are the benefits of a good customer experience?
A good customer experience increases sales and creates customer loyalty. Moreover, it reduces complaints.
How would you define excellent customer service?
Great customer service means responding promptly to a client's wants, being responsive to their concerns, and offering an enthusiastic level of care.
Do you value customer service or customer experience more?
Consumer service results in a positive customer experience. Both are critical to the business's success.
Article | April 13, 2020
Just over a month ago, many of us sat in our offices, surrounded by colleagues, engaged in deep discussions about how best to leverage the increasing demand in travel this year. As per the World Tourism Organization's (UNWTO) forecasts from earlier this year, international tourist arrivals were expected to grow by 4% in 2020, which is not as great as the growth seen in 2017 (7%) and 2018 (6%), but it was still enough to continue fueling the tourism industry, which contributes to about 10.4% of the global GDP and approximately 319 million jobs. We were blissfully unaware of the looming threat of the COVID-19 global pandemic. In fact, several parts of the world failed to take notice of this crown-shaped virus that was about to bring everything to a grinding halt, until March 11, when the World Health Organization officially announced it as a pandemic.