Zeno Labs Live

Direct Travel’s Brianna Conway Talks Traveler Confidence Post-COVID

4 May 2021

Zeno Live host and Serko SVP of North America Tony D'Astolfo hears some perspective on rebuilding business traveler confidence as we emerge from COVID from Direct Travel Director of Technology Solutions Brianna Conway. 

Brianna detailed how Direct Travel is working to re-engage timid travelers through increased communication and information sharing. Direct Travel’s efforts receive a healthy endorsement from Tony, who has been taking advantage of the company’s travel alerts since the initiative launched.

Watch the recording or view the full transcript below.

Full Transcript

Tony D'Astolfo:
Hi and welcome to Zeno Labs Live the new live video series from travel booking and expense management provider Serko where we feature subject matter experts on various topics across the corporate travel industry. I'm Tony D'Astolfo and today, I'm joined by Brianna Conway, Director of Technology Solutions at Direct Travel. Welcome Brianna, and thanks for joining us.

Brianna Conway: Thank you, Tony. Happy to be here.

Tony D'Astolfo: Brianna, today we're going to focus on traveler confidence. It's a big, I think, focus area in a post COVID world. So let's get down to business. Okay. First question I have for you. Now we hear and read a lot about pent-up demand for travel. And in fact, we've seen some of this manifest itself, mostly on the leisure side. There seems to be some optimism building though on the business travel side, but it's not quite as easy to return to travel on the business travel. So walk us through some of the specific factors that are in play and that need to happen before business travel returns.

Brianna Conway: Yeah, I mean, it's a good point and it does apply to both leisure and on the business side, but there's pent-up travel, right? People want to get out there. I know that's much more prominent on the leisure side, but we see Zoom fatigue on the business side of things. People are wanting to get back out there. I think the biggest things with making sure that people feel confident and comfortable getting back on that path is vaccines, first and foremost. And we got that. Now it's just a matter of making sure that people have it. So I know the idea of vaccine passports can be controversial, but that is going to help people feel more confident getting back out there. So that's a big thing. The other thing I see being a really big factor in getting people back out there on the business side of things at least, is offices opening again. I know a lot of the offices around the world are still, either don't come in or if you want to, come in. And when I think about my own travel on behalf of Direct Travel, it's going to see customers in their office. We need them to be comfortable and confident letting people into their buildings. Again, vaccines play a huge role in that. I think that's probably the biggest thing is letting people back in the offices, vaccines, passports, et cetera.

Tony D'Astolfo: All right, cool. What are you guys doing at Direct Travel specifically to better prepare your customers to return for travel? So let's say they want to get on a trip. What are you guys been doing?

Brianna Conway: More than I could possibly tell you. So I will say, overall, the biggest thing is probably over-communication, right? On both the traveler and travel buyer side. In order to get people comfortable getting back on the road again, the biggest thing is probably on the traveler side and that's that's information. Information is king. Making sure that they have whatever they need at any point of the journey. Before they book, while they're booking, after they book, after they've returned from their trip. There's so much information out there and they can Google it on their own. That's not easy though, because there is so much out there and it could be overwhelming. So what Direct Travel has focused on is making sure that that information is easily available and pertinent to their specific trip. So for example, with our Zeno customers, while they're booking their trip, they can see, does this airline require masks. Most of them do, but what is their cleaning protocols? Do they still block the middle seat? Those kinds of things. For travelers who haven't been on the road in over a year now, that's important in making them feel comfortable and confident, right? Is making sure that that kind of information is available to them when they book through Zeno or even after they book. We have messaging tools. We have scripting with our agents to make sure that they understand if there are mandatory quarantines, if the area that they're going to requires masks publicly, which most do still. But that's the biggest thing is information. And we, I would say, we're taking the path of-

Tony D'Astolfo: I'm going to give you a little plug here because I signed up for your travel alerts. And I get them every day. I get them at all times during the day. So they're pretty cool because they will tell me specifically. Now I could've said I only want Latin American alerts but I basically said tell me everything. I get these things and they're pretty cool. They'll tell you exactly what's going on in the country. So kudos to you guys for putting that together. I assume that pushes out to all your travelers. It's something that they'd have to opt in to get?

Brianna Conway: They can get it, period. So when our travelers book through our preferred channels, so whether through Zeno or through the agents, they're going to get the alerts through our automated app. So they'll see certain things during the booking process. Am I allowed to take this trip to X, Y, Z state country, et cetera. And then when they're actually on that trip, they will get those alerts from us of do they require mandatory quarantine, negative COVID test, et cetera. I'm really happy to hear that feedback from you because that is a big piece of it is making sure that travelers are getting that kind of notification, right?

Tony D'Astolfo: No, you're absolutely right. I mean, I could go to the web, like you said, I can go to Google, you can Google anything, but it's really nice that proactively I'm getting this information and I can slice it down and say, look, this is where I'm going today. And so it's very cool. So kudos to you guys pulling that off.

Brianna Conway: Proactive. And again, specific to my trip because I could look that up that information up via Google, but when I book that trip to have that pushed to me, whether via email, desktop, or mobile, that makes a really big difference.

Tony D'Astolfo: You're filtering through a lot of the noise, so it's not generic information. It's specific information to the country of Ireland. Right.

Brianna Conway: Exactly.

Tony D'Astolfo: So that's where I'm going. That's all I really need to know about today. Right. Very cool. All right. Now specific to travel buyers. Okay.

Brianna Conway: Yes.

Tony D'Astolfo: So they're paying for the trip, the people that are managing travel at their companies, what will you guys do differently in a post COVID environment for them and specifically, and then I also would love to know, are they measuring you differently or you think they will measure you guys differently?

Brianna Conway: That's a good question. With travel buyers, the thing that I keep in the back of my mind is I've met so many travel buyers over the years that care for their travelers, literally as if they were their own family, right? They care so much about their company's travelers and that makes a difference, first and foremost, to have that caring end on the travel side of your company. But there's a lot that we've done to support travel managers in making sure that they're comfortable getting their travelers back on the road again. Whether that's our duty of care offering, for example, we have included a new COVID dashboard so that they can keep track of, do I have travelers, that are now traveling for the first time in a year probably, going to a high-risk area. We can identify those travelers. We can identify what the quarantine protocols are in that area that travelers are going to, so that's been the biggest thing is getting that in the hands of travel managers or travel buyers. The other thing is everything that they might need to communicate. All the things that we've talked about, that's something that, again, travelers can find on their own if they want to, but it's really overwhelming. All the tools that we have, whether we're talking about desktop or mobile or whatever, we have channels to make sure that travelers have the right information at the right time. That really helps travel buyers accommodate their new program in this new world, right? It's a different world that they're interacting with now. The other thing that we see being really pertinent to travel buyers specifically is reporting. We have a traveler experience report that we've had for about two years now, and it's always been very pertinent, but even more so now that travelers are starting to get back on the road again. It helps our travel buyers keep track of, not only who do I have traveling right now, but who is on an international trip, who is in an area that's higher risk for COVID. So there's a lot that we're doing on that travel buyer side to make sure that they feel comfortable with their travelers getting back on the road again because I know that's really important to so many of them.

Tony D'Astolfo: Now you said experience. So are you also tracking the traveler's kind of perception of what they just encountered? So you can you get that feedback where, whether it's at the supplier level or just general information, like yeah, the airport was smooth or I got bogged down here. Is the experience actually being captured too? There's a place to capture the experience?

Brianna Conway: Yes, at a base level, we're just capturing, who's traveling to international destinations or high-risk destinations, but we absolutely have the ability to identify where are those high risk areas that we're going to, and if we have travelers going there, what was their experience at the airport? What was their experience at the hotel? So we absolutely have the technology to be able to do that and I think that's really important.

Tony D'Astolfo: I think that's critical, right?

Brianna Conway: Yes.

Tony D'Astolfo: Absolutely. That's critical because when you think about it, passing on the experience, who goes first, who goes next and then... There's so many reviews sites, but I don't think there's anything better than a review from a peer. So they're at my company, they do the same thing I do. And, and really, I think those reviews kind of get elevated. So sharing that experience, really cool. Good, good. That's really cool that you're bringing something like that to the audience now. All right. Last question in this section. What advice do you have for travel managers as they think about adapting their programs for a post pandemic world? So what adaptations do you think would make sense for our buyers?

Brianna Conway: I think the biggest thing is just having a communication plan in place. So again, information is king in this case. You really can't over-communicate. Whether we're talking about before somebody even books their trip, to when they book, to after they booked, to when they return, there are all these points of communication along the way that you can't underestimate possibly in this situation. Making sure that they have that information along the way is going to be huge. Making sure that you have the reporting to support. Our travelers are back on the road again, here's how they're doing physically, mentally, emotionally. That makes a big difference. We're so used to reporting on average ticket price, online booking tool adoption. Those are also still important of course, but traveler experience reporting more than ever is so important right now. So making sure that you have a TMC in place that can report on that as really important. That's another thing that we've seen from the sales side of things is we've seen a lot of companies doing, to put it mildly, an autopsy on their current TMC, right? How did you respond to us when the pandemic first took place? What was support look like? What did agent support look like, et cetera. If there are companies out there that noticed a lag in support during the pandemic, that's only going to emphasize as travel starts to pick back up because TMCs, all of us, we're in the same place, right? We did have to cut people. We did have to understand how to manage new support levels. But to make sure that you're with a TMC that allowed for that disruption during the pandemic, that makes a big difference in knowing how they'll be able to support you as travel starts to pick up again.

Tony D'Astolfo: Yeah, and added some tech to close the gaps, right or to fill in some of the gap?

Brianna Conway: Yes, absolutely.

Tony D'Astolfo: All right. Going to switch gears now. Time to move you into the Zeno Zone. This is where I ask you some personal questions, not too personal, but personal enough. So we get a little sense of who Brianna is. Are you ready to jump into the Zeno Zone?

Brianna Conway: Take me there.

Tony D'Astolfo: All right. Let's do it. First question. You have a major business decision to make, and you can make one call to anyone. Who gets that call from Brianna Conway?

Brianna Conway: This is a major business decision on behalf of Direct Travel?

Tony D'Astolfo: Yes.

Brianna Conway: Well probably my boss.

Tony D'Astolfo: Your boss, okay. Good answer, safe answer.

Brianna Conway: If I have a gun to my head and it's like, do you exist or do you not exist? Maybe Ed, John, CEO, CFO. Depends on what the situation is.

Tony D'Astolfo: All right. I like that. I like that. Now you told me your mom might be watching today. Would your mom get a second call?

Brianna Conway: No, let's not bring Mom into this. To anybody that's watching, my mother is a travel manager. That's what Tony knows here.

Tony D'Astolfo: All right, let's move on. All right. Three dinner guests, dead or alive. Any time span, you can pick anyone that you would have at your table. So what three dinner guests are at your table?

Brianna Conway: And this is for Brianna personal, not Direct Travel?

Tony D'Astolfo: Brianna personal.

Brianna Conway: Brianna personal. So for me, I would say Michelle Obama, and if she's not available, I'll take Barack Obama. And then, nobody judged me please, but probably Taylor Swift.

Tony D'Astolfo: I like it. Puts nothing wrong with that. You said you have to bring in different people to make it an exciting event.

Brianna Conway: In that situation, I'm picturing just like woman empowerment.

Tony D'Astolfo: Yeah, yeah. Okay.

Brianna Conway: I got Michelle, I got Taylor.

Tony D'Astolfo: I'm good with that.

Brianna Conway: And for many, many years, I have pushed my Taylor obsession onto my little sister, saying like, oh no, I go to concerts because my little sister wants to go. No, I want to go.

Tony D'Astolfo: All right. Okay. So, well, look, have your little sister at the table as well then. All right.

Brianna Conway: There you go.

Tony D'Astolfo: So now here's the next question, kind of an extension of that one. Are you guys in a fine dining establishment or a dive bar?

Brianna Conway: Dive bar. I have the palate of a kindergartner, if not less. I'm a chicken tenders, plain buttered noodles kind of girl, so.

Tony D'Astolfo: Okay. All right.

Brianna Conway: If you can't get that somewhere, then I'm just at a dive bar with beer. I'm good.

Tony D'Astolfo: Sounds good. I love it. All right. Last question. It's really not a question. Give me a prediction. Something you think will happen in our industry in the next 12 months.

Brianna Conway: I knew this might come. So it's so hard to say. I know the old example before COVID was Uber and Lyft. Who could have predicted that, right? That that would disrupt our industry so much. And so now we're on the cusp of COVID and I can make predictions about when travel might come back. Everyone's doing that. But in the back of my own personal, you've asked me personal questions, personal, crazy mind. I follow Elon and Dogecoin on Twitter, and all I'm seeing is we're taking Dogecoin to the moon, Dogecoin to Mars. And I'm curious about when I'm going to get my first question of when does Zeno have a direct connect to Mars?

Tony D'Astolfo: Ah, okay. Well, I'm going to hold that in confidence at this point-

Brianna Conway: Fine.

Tony D'Astolfo: Because it is on the road... Okay. Brianna, listen, it's been a real treat for joining us today. Thank you so much for doing this. I'd like to also thank everybody who joined us live today and I hope you join us again on our next installment of Zeno Labs Live. This is Tony D'Astolfo and Brianna Conway, signing off.

Brianna Conway: Thank you. Bye guys.

Tony D'Astolfo: See ya.

Have feedback for our team or ideas for other guests we should host on future episodes of Zeno Labs Live? Drop us a line.

About the Speakers

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Brianna Conway

Director of Technology Solutions for Direct Travel

Brianna began her career with Direct Travel in 2017. Prior to her current role, Brianna worked at CWT as a Manager of Global Technology Solutions. In her free time, Brianna is a successful photographer!


Tony D'Astolfo

SVP of North America for Serko

Tony joined the Serko team in 2018 to lead the launch into the North American market. Prior to Serko, Tony served in leadership roles at Deem, Phocuswright, and GroundLink. In his free time, you can find Tony in the New York area quoting "The Godfather" to all who will listen.