Zeno Labs Live

ZS’s Suzanne Boyan On How Doing Business Will Change After COVID

16 March 2021

Suzanne Boyan, Meetings and Travel Manager at ZS Associates, joins this installment of Zeno Live hosted by Serko SVP of North America Tony D'Astolfo. Tony and Suzanne discuss expected shifts in corporate travel post-pandemic, including her thoughts on RFPs, access to data, and cost savings. Tony wrapped the live stream by putting the BTN 2019 Travel Manager of the Year on the hot seat with three rapid fire questions about her life and career.

Watch the live stream recording or view the full transcript below.

Full Transcript:

Tony D'Astolfo: Hello 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. Today, I'm joined by Suzanne Boyan, travel operations manager, ZS Associates, and the 2019 Business Travel News Travel Manager of the Year. Welcome, Suzanne, and thanks for joining.

Suzanne Boyan: Oh, it's my pleasure. Happy to be here.

Tony D'Astolfo: Well, you know, we're only a couple months into 2021, but 2019 seems like eons ago. I don't know about you, but that's the way it feels to me anyway. But today I think we're going to take a look forward. I really want to focus on, in a post-pandemic world, some of the key relationships that you have and how they might change. So let's dive in. So question number one, Suzanne. How do you see the criteria for picking supplier partners changing post-pandemic? And I'm talking about across the board, air, hotel, rental car, ground, GDS, OBT, TMC, just in general, post-pandemic, what are the changes you anticipate?

Suzanne Boyan: I think for a while, it was really widely accepted that travel data was just always lagging. So, for example, Prism gets the data 45 days after booking. It was common that you would get data from your TMC globally 45 days after booking so that they could consolidate it and sanitize it into whatever country you're from. I don't think that's going to be acceptable anymore. We need data in real-time., We need data now. If something were to happen again, another global pandemic, you can't wait 45 days to figure out where people are, especially those who might not have booked through your traditional channels. So I think data is going to be at the core of every single negotiation. How quickly can you get the data? How clean is the data? And if it can't get to where it needs to be, then I think there's going to be a strong push for investment in that.

Tony D'Astolfo: Investment by third parties that enter or investment on your part, or both?

Suzanne Boyan: I think from everyone. This is something that I would certainly be willing to pay for if I knew that my data was clean and delivered in real-time. That's worth paying for as a buyer, but I'm not the only one that should be paying for it. Everyone benefits from this, right? The supplier benefits from having this information at their hand in real-time; the vendors, airlines, cars, and hotels also benefit from having this in real-time. I mean, the future of data is very promising for negotiations.

Tony D'Astolfo: All right. So now you've got, let's say, you've got your hands on a bunch of new, better, closer in data. You're still using RFPs going forward, and or will the criteria you attempt to extract in the RFP process could that possibly change?

Suzanne Boyan: I have a love-hate relationship with RFPs, as I'm sure most travel buyers do, and probably suppliers as well.

Tony D'Astolfo: We definitely do. Yeah, guilty as charged.

Suzanne Boyan: I'm a firm believer of not asking every question under the sun when it comes to RFPs. I'm more looking for cultural fit with ZS, those that fill a need that we currently have a gap in. With that being said, I would love nothing more than the RFP process to die and to be able to use that real-time data to do real-time negotiations or to set up an umbrella of criteria that help both the travel buyers and the suppliers know that they're working towards within that, and then not have to go out to RFP. I think a good example of this would be, "Hey, I negotiate with a hotel supplier. Let's do 10% off the bar, and if I give you 30% of my share in a certain city, well, now it goes to 15% off bar." And so if we can agree on that, then I don't have to do the charade every year of, yes, I'm going to go with you versus the competitor down the street. We can just have long-term agreements, as long as you fit culturally. Does that make sense?

Tony D'Astolfo: Yeah. Like a general structure-

Suzanne Boyan: Yeah, exactly.

Tony D'Astolfo: And then update structure based on what's going on. All right, so let's... How about a TMC, though? That's probably going to be a little bit outside the realm of-

Suzanne Boyan: Sure.

Tony D'Astolfo: Yeah, so more traditional there?

Suzanne Boyan: More traditional there. I would like to see every one testing the market every three years, but I don't think that's a productive use of anyone's time. I think the core of it needs to be on the key tenants, so is this TMC a good cultural fit for me? Is this TMC going to provide me my data in real-time? If not in real-time, how long? Will that data be clean? Is it self pull? Do I have to work with somebody? Those types of questions I think are important to ask. Asking how long it takes for a TMC to pick up a phone, I think you're going to get basically the same answers across the board, right? To me, that's not a question worth writing down. It's worth the conversation when something goes wrong, and they don't pick up the phone, is when that question comes into play.

Tony D'Astolfo: Very good. I like the approach. All right. Let's switch a little bit about where are you going to be placing your premiums in terms of travelers, the travelers in the program today? Do you think going forward that time, health, wellbeing, tracking, you've mentioned data already. Are those going to be the foundational principles of your program in addition to savings and cost avoidance?

Suzanne Boyan: Yeah. I think we're going to look at savings and cost avoidance very differently. I don't think it's going to be at the forefront for a lot of upper management, at least not at ZS. It's going to be productivity, was this trip worth it? Do we have to do this trip knowing how productive we've been during the global pandemic without traveling? And if this trip is worth taking, how do we ensure that our employees are safe? How do we ensure that they are healthy but also productive while traveling? And so that comes more down to traveler satisfaction versus pure cost-saving play.

Tony D'Astolfo: Okay. So historically, we've focused on the cost-saving stuff, and I think upper management has historically valued their travel management companies and their travel buyers, you, your travel manager. Has always been historically on how much did it cost? Are we saving money? And then the traditional client sat stuff, right? So travel went out, I like the hotel, the booking tool was okay, whatever it is that you're asking. I assume you're still going to do those things. What else are you contemplating? Do you have a new set of information that you will present to senior leadership? Have they asked you for that, or are you very forward-thinking, saying, hey, this is the way I'm going to present my program to my leadership?

Suzanne Boyan: So my I've been lucky. My senior management has never asked for cost savings per se.

Tony D'Astolfo: You are lucky. All right. Looks like Suzanne might be frozen. If this is the live stream, she'll be back in a sec, I hope. We might have a little buffer situation going on with our bandwidth. This is what happens in a live environment. Come on, Suzanne. Come on, give me some bandwidth. In other news... Here we go. She's back. Okay. All right.

Suzanne Boyan: I had a return to travel.

Tony D'Astolfo: There you go, that's the return to travel. All right, so let's jump back in because I want to get back into it. You were just about to start the question about what else? What other metrics are you going to be bringing forward to management? And you told us you are in a very small minority that doesn't care, not to say they don't care, but they don't focus on cost avoidance.

Suzanne Boyan: That's right. Yes, exactly. And so we certainly do report on that internally to my team because it's something we strive for, but it's not something we report on to our leadership. What we report on to our leadership is traveler satisfaction. What are the tools that allow our travelers to make good choices for their clients, which ends up translating to cost savings, but then at the end of the day, makes them more productive while on the road for ZS? And so that is still going to be our focus moving forward. That's not going to change. Now, we might ask different questions like, "Hey, was this internal trip really necessary when we have tools that work more or less when the internet doesn't go out?" But I think there's always going to be a time and a place to get together, even internally, so that you can network within your own organizations as well.

Tony D'Astolfo: Okay. All right, cool. All right, I want to ask one more question. Actually, I want to congratulate you because I read some stuff this week; I did want to bring it up. Congratulations, I see that you are co-founder of the TAMS Incubator startup, so congratulations for launching that. Tell us a little about it.

Suzanne Boyan: Yeah, Hansini Sharma and I are really excited about it. We strongly believe that the more innovation in the travel space, the better it is for everyone, and essentially what it does, it takes early to mid-stage startups and puts them in a six-month program where they're going to have access to an advisor and subject matter experts, to really hone their idea towards the business travel market. So we're calling it travel and travel adjacent because many travel startups probably don't start as travel startups.

Suzanne Boyan: Exactly. And so we really felt as though that was the best way to market it. So extremely excited. If you're interested, please reach out on LinkedIn. Happy to get you connected to that website.

Tony D'Astolfo: Very cool. I think it's a great idea. It's one of the things I enjoyed most, my tenure with PhocusWright a couple of years, the whole innovation summit and just talking with startups, and helping to whatever degree you can. So I will sign up if you ever need somebody to give some bad advice, or maybe some good advice some time; I'm there for you. So good luck with that, congratulations.

Suzanne Boyan: Thank you.

Tony D'Astolfo: All right. Time to move into the Zeno Zone. This is where we fast pace; we get to know Suzanne a little bit more outside the business lines a little bit. So are you ready to get a couple of quick shots here?

Suzanne Boyan: Let's do it.

Tony D'Astolfo: All right, let's go. So you have a major business decision to make, and you can make one call to anyone. Who gets that call from Suzanne?

Suzanne Boyan: Oh, I would call, if it can't be within... Can it be within my organization or not?

Tony D'Astolfo: Anybody.

Suzanne Boyan: Anybody? I would call our CFO, Graham. And I say that because I think he's just so sensible and can look from every angle, and so he's always offered really fantastic advice to me.

Tony D'Astolfo: Well, I'm going to say, good for you. Most of the CFOs I deal with, because I'm in sales, are always asking me why I'm over budget, but well done, I will leave it at that. Okay, question number two in the Zeno Zone. Three dinner guests, this could be anyone, dead or alive, history of time, who's at your table?

Suzanne Boyan: Without a doubt, the first one is my mother. She has always been my hero and probably always will be, and one of my best friends. Samin Nosrat, who is a famous chef, and Oprah Winfrey. So I'm going for the all women and all alive.

Tony D'Astolfo: Nothing wrong with that.

Suzanne Boyan: All three of them hold a special place in my heart.

Tony D'Astolfo: A recipe or two, a story or two, I like it. Okay, now, given you've got a chef, this question, I think I know the answer to. Is this a fine dining establishment, or are you in a dive bar?

Suzanne Boyan: Oh, we're going to a dive bar.

Tony D'Astolfo: No, I don't think Oprah does dive bars well, but okay.

Suzanne Boyan: I think she's a good Chicagoan; she knows how to go to a dive bar.

Tony D'Astolfo: Okay, maybe, but I think she moved on. All right, finally, last question I want to ask. It's actually, I'd like you to make a prediction about something that will happen in our industry in the next 12 months, and remember, you're being recorded, so for posterity, we might look back on this someday, so prediction from Suzanne Boyan in the next 12 months?

Suzanne Boyan: You know, I think it's going to be all about data, and it's something I think, whatever that is, it's going to be a demand for data now, a demand for data that's clean, and the next 12 months I think are going to revolve around that as we open up our borders.

Tony D'Astolfo: Sounds good, data. All right, I like it. Okay. Listen. Thank you, Suzanne.

Suzanne Boyan: Oh, my pleasure.

Tony D'Astolfo: I would say, anybody else who joined on the live stream, I hope you will join us again on our next installment of Zeno Labs Live, and until then, this is Tony D signing off. Thank you.


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

Suzanne Neufang-2

Suzanne Boyan

Meetings and Travel Manager For ZS Associates

Suzanne joined ZS Associates in 2012 and quickly became a pioneer in the corporate travel industry. In 2019, Suzanne was named "Travel Manager of the Year" by Business Travel News. However, Suzanne says that first and foremost she is a mother to her rambunctious 3-year old.


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.