In the newest episode of Zeno Live, Serko host and SVP of North America Tony D'Astolfo sits down with CWT’s SVP of Global Supply Chain Partners Vince Chirico at the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Convention in San Diego.
The two meet just as CWT has released its joint 2023 industry forecast with GBTA. They discuss technology advancements at CWT, what’s ahead for business travel, how the company and its clients are coping with The Great Resignation.
Watch the recording or view the full transcript below.
Tony D'Astolfo: Hi, and welcome to Zeno Live, the new live stream series by online booking and expense provider Serko, where we feature interviews with subject matter experts across the corporate travel industry. Today, I'm coming to you live from GBTA in San Diego, and I'm joined by senior vice president of global supply chain partners Vince Chirico from CWT. Vince, great to see you.
Vince Chirico: Great to be here.
Tony D'Astolfo: We've known each other a long time. It's been a while. First pilot out of the box. It feels like this is kind of normal, but from your perspective, you've been through a lot. People are returning to travel. Give me your perspective as a travel management company dealing with the return to travel.
Vince Chirico: Yeah, sure. What we're seeing is people like to be face to face. Being two-dimensional just isn't part of our DNA. Travel's back in a big way. We're really pushing hard to get after servicing all our customers. One dynamic we're seeing is that they want to speak to our travel counselors.
Tony D'Astolfo: Do you think that's because the pandemic's put a little doubt in their mind, so they want a subject matter expert to give them some guidance.
Vince Chirico: Yeah. It's 'While I have you on the line, can you tell me this or can I ask you this? Or can you make me feel comfortable about that?'
Tony D'Astolfo: And it's probably a good news, bad news, right? Good news: They love talking to the counselor. Bad news: Somebody's waiting to talk to the counselor.
Vince Chirico: That's right.
Tony D'Astolfo: Second question. People learned to use technology during the pandemic. My guess is you're leveraging a bunch of technology to kind of deliver the service. So what specifically have you done at CWT and what have your customers asked for?
Vince Chirico: Back to people wanting to speak to our counselors. We're working to be a little bit more predictive about demand and capacity planning. That's been helpful. But I would say the primary technology is all around sustainability. It's in every RFP, it's now a key dimension of winning business. We're working with the likes of Thrust Carbon, uh, Defra in terms of measuring carbon footprints. Those came out in March-June timeframe. We also began offering back in November 2020 a full end-to-end offering.
Tony D'Astolfo: You're addressing where the market's going. I think this conference, I heard someone say there's 10 sustainability sessions — so you're clearly in the sweet spot of where people are going. Let's talk a little bit about...[CWT] do a survey every year with GBTA. You're in the middle of all of that. So give a little bit of a background of what you're seeing in terms of overall trends, and then I'll ask a couple of specific questions.
Vince Chirico: Generally, travel's back with a vengeance. We think there are three factors, three big factors that are weighing. Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Tony D'Astolfo: Things holding us back, right?
Vince Chirico: Right. Inflation, prices rising and COVID still lingering. I don't know how many of your colleagues or customers you've talked to, but people are still catching the disease...
Tony D'Astolfo: Got it three, four times now. Right?
Vince Chirico: Those things are, uh, putting pressure on prices and we are seeing, you know, prices go going up, and so it remains to be seen what impact that has on demand. But that's our initial sort of observation.
Tony D'Astolfo: On that question, who has the pricing power in '23 right now? It's clearly with the suppliers — hotel rates are up, airfares are up. Do you think that's going to ease in 23? Or do you still see pricing power's going to sit with the suppliers for a while?
Vince Chirico: I don't have a crystal ball, but I would say it's going to still stick with suppliers.
Tony D'Astolfo: Gonna shift gears a little bit and talk about The Great Resignation. It's hit our industry really hard. You guys were affected, everybody in the travel supply supply chain's been affected. So how do you deal with that as a company?
Vince Chirico: Look, I think there's, uh, a lot of drama around the topic. Naturally people may have decided to do something else with their lives, but travel weighs in on the global economy in a big, big way. We, like everyone in the industry, are taking up all kinds of hiring schemes — refer a friend. We're bringing on people as fast as we can. It can work both ways as well. People can decide to get into the travel sector as well as leaving the travel sector. I can't speak really for the whole industry, but for CWT, we have a great culture. We've got fabulous people and great talent.
Tony D'Astolfo: All right. I'm gonna kind of drift off that a little bit. Working remotely, I think you guys have a pretty large remote staff. Return to office — tell me a little bit about how CWT is viewing it. Are you letting people work from anywhere, everywhere? Does that increase the need for technology to enable that? So just kind of the whole remote workforce.
Vince Chirico: What we're doing at CWT is a three-pronged approach. There are those colleagues that are gonna be required to be in an office. They need a stable telephone or internet. There are those who will have been working remotely, who will continue to work remotely. And then there will be sort of those who are hybrid.
Tony D'Astolfo: Coming back and forth?
Vince Chirico: Yeah. I think that's probably a pretty common answer and approach to it. And I think our customers are probably following that, too.
Tony D'Astolfo: That's what I was gonna ask. So your customers are the same way. And do you see the concept of work travel? What I mean by that is you're not traveling for work, you're traveling to go to a location because you haven't seen your people in a while, right? To me it's like, it's almost a new area where we're all going to need to focus. People are spread out. They're not in offices anymore, but they still want to get together. So many people told me they got hired in the pandemic and they never met anybody in the company. They're working for me a year and a half later. I think it's an opportunity for us. I'm sure you see it the same way.
Vince Chirico: I'm seeing it all across CWT. I, myself, haven't had my whole global team together in over two years. We're planning our first get together two years during the next couple of months. So, yeah, I think there is a lot of just teams getting back together face to face for various reasons and meeting.
Tony D'Astolfo: All right. Gonna move here to the Zeno Zone. Get to know Vince a little more. You ready to do this? Here you go. First question, you got a very big business decision to make, and you get to make one phone call. Who gets Vince's phone call?
Vince Chirico: Very big business decision to make who gets my phone call? Wow. Um,
Tony D'Astolfo: Now who do you report to at CWT? I mean, I don't wanna give you the answer. You've been around for a while, so you probably have a whole list of folks.
Vince Chirico: I was thinking maybe someone in US government, but...no, I now report to Brian Mogler, who's our Chief Partnerships Officer. So, I guess it would be Brian.
Tony D'Astolfo: All right. Good. Second question. Three, dinner guests living dead alive. Who's at Vince Chico's table?
Vince Chirico: Wow. Um, my deceased mother, God bless her soul. Um, probably I wasn't ready for these—
Tony D'Astolfo: That's cool, man. That's why I do it.
Vince Chirico: Uh, the Lord Jesus Christ. And John Kennedy.
Tony D'Astolfo: Now this second question. Are you guys in a fine dining establishment or you're in a dive bar — and your mother's with you, so I think I'm gonna answer this one for you, but go ahead—
Vince Chirico: In fine dining.
Tony D'Astolfo: Thank you. I think that's the right answer. Okay, last question. Anything you think's gonna happen in the industry in the next 12 to 18 months?
Vince Chirico: Again, I think you're gonna see a lot of these, a lot of pre-trip approval, a lot of, you know, technology and tools, with regards to pre-trip approval and travel ready document requirements and visas and all of that. Really step up Return, safe return sound.
Tony D'Astolfo: Vince, it's been a pleasure. Thanks for joining us here. I wanna thank everybody else for joining us and look forward to the next installment of Zeno Live. Vince and Tony signing off from San Diego.
Vince Chirico: Good to see you.