Zeno Labs Live

Serko's Matt Beck and Mike Daly Talk Lessons from APAC

10 March 2021

Serko's Mike Daly and Matt Beck recently joined the the Zeno Live series to discuss COVID recovery. Hosted by Julie Sickel of Dots & Lines, the conversation took a deeper look into specific lessons US travel managers can take away from the Asia Pacific region's successful return to business travel. 

Our team recently published an ebook covering the same topic in more detail. If you want to download the ebook, you can do so here.

Watch the recording or view the full transcript below.

Full Transcript

Julie Sickel: Hi and welcome to Zeno Labs Live. It's a new video series from travel and booking expense provider, Serko, where we feature subject-matter experts from across the industry, talking about various relevant topics. I'm Julie Sickel from Dots & Lines, and I'm joined today by Serko's Mike Daly and Matt Beck. Matt, Mike, thanks for joining.

Mike Daly: Absolutely. Thank you for having us. It's good to be back in the lab.

Julie Sickel: Yeah. Mike, you are so festively dressed for the lab. Thank you so much.

Mike Daly: Absolutely.

Julie Sickel: So, given your festive garb, I think we'll start with you, Mike. We're talking lessons from Asia-Pacific... why don't you set the scene for us? How is business travel recovery different between the U.S. and APAC?

Mike Daly: Sure. And I appreciate that. And I think we got to start with how we handled the pandemic as a region in Asia-Pac, about a year ago and some of it was the way we locked down specific countries. Some of that had to do with geography, right? You've got Australia and New Zealand, which are island nations. So that helped with the lockdown. You had countries like China, which has a different political climate and has the ability to lock down maybe in a more, I don't want to use the word draconian method, but a little harsher lockdown than other countries could pull off. So I think you start with that and they were able to eradicate or reduce greatly the spread of the pandemic in the early stages. So when we started to roll around in September and October, which was the beginning of the spring season, especially in the southern hemisphere, you started to see travel come back a lot more quickly.

Mike Daly: And I think that's going to be a great indicator of what happens here in the North American market, as the numbers that we've seen coming out of Australia and New Zealand specifically, is that New Zealand is about 90% plus on a monthly basis back to where they were pre-pandemic in terms of travel transactions. Australia is somewhere between 40 and 45%. And then I just read a statistic on China that their hotel occupancy rates are actually over exceeding pre-pandemic levels. So I think that'll be a good indicator of some things that we'll expect to see here in North America and hopefully Europe as well.

Julie Sickel: Yeah. I mean, well, let's hope with numbers like that. I think we'd all be happy with that. Matt, going to you, what lessons can we take from APAC in terms of, they've been through this pandemic, they're kind of on the recovery. What's changed and what hasn't really?

Matt Beck: Well, I think when you look at travel management, we're still going to see travel managers focusing on the same three Cs, right? You've got cost, comfort and care. So they're still working towards how do I manage my costs? How do I make sure that my budgets are going to match? Especially when you have either reduction in budgets or the concept of, you haven't spent anything on travel in 12 months, nothing's impacted. But I think we're going to realize that return to travel, you can only hold the wave back for so long because ultimately business is done in-person, right? You have to have relationships, you do business with people you know. So I think your cost is going to come back and we're going to have to, again, that management. They still have that constant battle. The comfort of course is the side of, what do my travelers want to do?

Matt Beck: And I guarantee you, they're not wanting to travel less comfortably, right? And that's going to potentially increase the cost of hotels and things of that nature. So, you're going to have that balancing act between those. And the last one, which I think is going to start playing even a higher role, which you've seen actually that trend over the last decade or so is the concept of care, right? The duty of care, how are we going to take care of our travelers? Whether that's on the front end, are you able to travel? Or on the traveling side, are we taking care of you while you're on your trip? How do we make sure that we can ensure you're going to a place that is not going to be a risk for you? And how do we mitigate your risks as best we can? Because ultimately, I think that as we've seen as an organization, even as a world, right? It's not going away, it's simply, we're getting better at managing it.

Julie Sickel: Yeah. Yeah. That's something that we've heard kind of from various people in the industry. And that's a really good point in terms of, okay, so we have this kind of recovery that we're hoping to see in the U.S. And then we have these things that won't change the three Cs. So what do travel managers do now with that information? What should they be focusing on as we move toward this recovery and then reach the early days of business travel recovery? Matt, why don't you start?

Matt Beck: Well, I'm going to give you an analogy because I'm a fan of analogies. I look at this as the, this is your warmup, right? Before you hit the game, before you get on the field, you got to do your stretches. You got to get your things, you got to get your swing going, right? And so if you think of baseball in that circle, right? Before you start hitting, you're warming up the swing and getting everything back in order, making sure things are working. And this is a great time to be evaluating. What are you doing? And now's a good time to be implementing for the future. Are you really geared towards delivering what you need to for the next three to five years? And if not, this is a great time to be rolling out those improvements to your program. Whether that's evaluating your policies, evaluating your technologies, making sure that you're situated to be ready for the return to travel.

Julie Sickel: Professor Mike, would you have anything to add to that?

Mike Daly: Keeping with the theme of going with the Cs, I concur. And all this is going to come back very quickly, because we as humans crave what C word? Contact, right? That's why we travel. We want to be face-to-face with people, we want to have, or we crave a human interaction, right? That's the reason we get on planes. But let's think about where we're at right now. And we're going to be back to traveling, not at the grand scales that we were in 2019. That'll take some time, right? But we're going to be back to traveling before you know it. And I just look at the information and the things that have happened in the last week or so. We just passed a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill here in the U.S, which, let me see here, 7.5 billion of that went to PPP. 14 billion went to the airlines and another billion to airline contractors, 8 billion to airports, even Amtrak got 1.7 billion.

Mike Daly: So hopefully, they work out their tiff with travel fusion and we get that content back in there. But Matt's right. I mean, use this time as, I think, the time you have left before you're back to putting out fires and as a travel buyer, you're doing 14, 15 different things. Take a look at your tech portfolio. Do you have the tools in place that deliver a consumer-like experience for your travelers? Do you have the right duty of care mechanisms in place? Right. We as an industry, 50% of hotels were booked out of policy or out of program more importantly. A fourth of all airline tickets were booked out of program. Will you tolerate that in a post-pandemic travel world? Can you tolerate that? So make sure that you've got the right tools in place across your entire tech portfolio or vendor portfolio to ensure that you're ready for the return to travel.

Mike Daly: And I'm often quoted as saying, "Why do we rush to return to normal? Are all the parts of normal worth returning to?" Make sure that you're bringing people back to a better environment, a better program, because really this is the one time you're ever going to get to do that. Right? That nobody's traveling right now or hardly anybody's traveling now. Do it now. Let them come back to something bigger and better.

Julie Sickel: Wow. Well, I think with that rush of energy, that seems like another C.

Mike Daly: It's paying. It's paying, it's very positive, right? You have to stand the population.

Matt Beck: This is the time of renewal, right?

Mike Daly: We're traveling. Let's go.

Julie Sickel: Let's go. All right. So well, we're going to close with that then, Mike, to use another C.

Matt Beck: Yeah.

Mike Daly: Beautiful. Well done.

Julie Sickel: For more on this topic be sure to download the new e-book from Zeno by Serko, Lessons From The Other Side: What U.S Travel Managers Can Learn from Asia Pacific Return to Business Travel. We have the next Zeno Labs Live coming March 17th. That's going to be with ZS Associates' Suzanne Boyan. Again, talking about a relevant topic of how do you do business post pandemic. So go to Serko's LinkedIn page where you can set up a reminder for that. And guys, thanks so much for the time today.

Mike Daly: Thank you. Have a great week and a better weekend.

Matt Beck: See you later.

Julie Sickel: Thanks.

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

About the Speakers

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Matthew Beck

Senior Director of Sales Operations

Matthew, also known as "Matt" joined Serko with a full toolkit of results. With success at Travelport, Deem, GetThere, and Sabre, Matt has over 25 years of travel industry experience. On the weekends, you'll find Matt volunteering with the Boy Scouts of America as an Advisor and Merit Badge Counselor.

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Mike Daly

Vice President of Sales

Mike joined the Serko team in 2019  after a long track record of success. Before Serko, Mike led or served as an advisor for companies such as DVI, Freebird, Inc., Shep Travel, and Deem, just to name a few. Mike's charisma is a stand-out amongst the industry.