Travelogix Presents…Samantha McKnight

Travelogix Presents…Samantha McKnight

There are people in life, and indeed the industry we work, that you look forward to having a coffee with, and Samantha McKnight is one of those people.

If you’re ever at an awards gala or industry event, it’s always good if you’re at the same table as Samantha.

She is well-known and well-liked throughout the travel industry, so it’s a pleasure to grab a few moments with Samantha to learn more about her new role with CIBT, her thoughts on how the travel industry could look in 2023, and why Harper Lee’s, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, should be an essential read for any young person.

Please make a brew and enjoy our 12th edition of Travelogix Presents.

Q: If you could make one book a mandatory read for young people, what would it be?

“Asking for only one book is cruel. As an avid reader from a young age, many of the “classics” were on my list and in some cases read more than once. I always have a list of must-read titles on the go, but they change as I do.

“If you’re twisting my arm, To Kill a Mockingbird is not only a fabulously written book but also, as with many things, is as relevant today as the day it was released.”

“Racism and social injustice are central to the book but are shared in a way that leaves you feeling empathy. That’s something we need more of today.”

The beginning

“As with many people in business travel, I didn’t plan to work in this field and found myself working in this area before I even knew what it was!”, Samantha tells us.

Spending much of her career within the various sectors that make up the travel industry, Samantha is uniquely positioned to understand the travel ecosystem from all angles.

Aside from a sojourn into the world of events, Samantha held operational roles in luxury travel and corporate housing before taking on a series of more commercially focused opportunities.

In November 2022, Samantha joined travel visa and passport giants, CIBT, as General Manager. But, February this year saw her promoted to VP of  Enterprise Sales for EMEA.

Samantha states, “It’s been a very busy few months! Leaving one sector and joining a new one felt like going back to school, but it’s been a very enjoyable learning curve.

“I still lend my voice to the ongoing conversations around ground transport and specifically rail, as part of my role as a Supplier Director for the ITM (Institute of Travel Management).

“Increasingly, however, I’m now being asked for information and advice specific to my new world and globally mobile populations. The LinkedIn updates clearly work!”

Busy, busy, busy. Three words we’d use to describe Samantha’s schedule at any given time. She is involved in so much across the business travel space, so I wanted to know whether she ever takes time to recognise her personal wins or successes.

Samantha tells us, “I’ve learnt to take joy in the small things and to take the time to celebrate anything that matters.

“It can just as easily be taking time out from the day-to-day clamour of life to breathe and take time for reflection. Whatever form it takes, it’s an important part of my routine that gives balance, especially at times of struggle.”

A new chapter with CIBT

CIBT are the largest and most well-established travel visa and passport company in the world. Every year, they help over a million people obtain the documents they need to travel.

They cater to individual and business travellers, cruise lines, tour operators and travel management companies. Their reach is far and wide.

Samantha says, “CIBT enables global movement by managing the complexities of a changing world and we empower people and organisations to seamlessly live, work, travel, and trade through our global reach, local expertise, and customer-focused solutions.

“With compliance being of ever-increasing importance to travel managers and programmes, real-time access to visa and immigration requirements allows the right decisions to be made at the right time, reducing compliance risks.

In 2022, CIBT acquired Blair Consular Service, one of Europe’s oldest and largest export document providers. How does this acquisition alter the size and reach for Samantha and the wider team at CIBT?

Samantha tells us, “Every business traveller, exporter and importer knows this simple truth: the right paperwork is crucial. Missing or inaccurate documents increase risks, cause delays, generate needless costs and jeopardise deals.

“The introduction of Blair to the CIBT family of companies means we can offer a complete export documentation service for both commercial and legal documents.

With Samantha holding commercial roles with rail leaders, LNER, for nearly seven years, she is perfectly placed to understand the levels of friction felt in that sector post-pandemic. But we wanted to know whether the sector she finds herself in now poses different challenges.

Samantha says, “Many of the challenges are different, but are undoubtedly triggered by similar factors. Any business in the travel industry could run a PEST analysis (Political, Economic, Sociological and Technological) and find more similarities than differences at present.

“Political and economic factors directly inform a country’s policy on cross-border travel.

“Strict adherence to complex global and national legislation in more than 200 destinations worldwide makes for an ever-changing landscape.

“It’s therefore vitally important that we’re always aware of the latest insights, changes, and potential impacts to ensure we have the right information at the right time for our clients.”

Technology’s central role

There are opportunities aplenty in the business travel space now, and certainly for the year ahead. But unearthing these isn’t always straightforward.

Many economic, and geo-political, factors could hide these opportunities in plain sight.

We here at Travelogix are optimistic by nature. There are not only opportunities to be seized upon in 2023, but we feel strongly about true pre-pandemic recovery this year too.

Heck, most are feeling this bounce back already, certainly in markets like North America, where the domestic travel market has been a major reason why many TMCs there are leaping up and over the numbers they saw back in 2019.

We quizzed Samantha about the opportunities for the year ahead, and what is likely to impact our industry over the next 9 months.

“Technology will continue to be a major driver and contributor to what and how we do things. Many buyers’ responsibilities have grown, but not necessarily their resources. Therefore, integrated data sources and systems are paramount to delivering efficiencies.

“Whether this is integrations to ERP systems or for CIBT, integrating with the likes of Concur – all these options deliver on improved processes and in turn, better user and traveller experiences.

“In our case, integrating with Concur leverages booking data to proactively communicate travel document requirements utilising a traveller’s profile and itinerary data based on the traveller’s nationality and destination.”

Technology is something we know a little bit about here at Travelogix. Innovating in line with the requirements of our customer base and of course, the ever-changing trends across the travel industry, technology is at the very core of what we do.

Seemingly for CIBT, this is much the same. Samantha tells us, “Our software solutions are designed specifically for our sector. All of our offices globally operate from the same platform, meaning no matter where a client has a need, the experience will feel the same.

“Our continued investment in technology and innovation, allows us to continue to lead the way in ground-breaking technology combining our knowledge, our desire to share that knowledge with our clients and our intent to simplify and facilitate complex visa processes, and since technology is always advancing, we continue to invest in IT systems and infrastructure, adding functionality to existing platforms.

“Delivering real-time access to visa and immigration requirements, combined with a need for intuitive, easy-to-use interfaces for our range of client demographics keeps technology at the forefront of our minds.”

2023: Changes and opportunities for the year ahead

While clairvoyance isn’t a sensible way to forecast the year, industry leaders like Samantha have their ears pretty close to the ground.

For Samantha’s new sector, there are some serious changes that could impact one’s travel plans.  She tells us, “Since the UK’s withdrawal from the EU at the end of 2020, the UK has undergone significant immigration reform, with the wholesale introduction of new visa routes; and the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (*ETIAS) sits very much on the near horizon.

*The ETIAS is a system for granting authorisation to travel to those countries of the European Union which belong to the Schengen Area.

“With many changes coming, there will undoubtedly be increased scrutiny at borders. Never has it been more important for globally mobile individuals to have the correct visa for their intended trip purpose, as well as the advent of increased visa and immigration audits for employers and hosts.

For most, working remotely, or semi-remotely is the norm these days. But with this new-found trust and flexibility, come both risk and opportunity.

Samantha says, “For companies with flexibility around their worker’s location, this has led to totally new working methods. It has also led to a new class of “anywhere travellers” looking for experiences which dovetail nicely with the growing population of remote workers and digital nomads.

“The ecosystem supporting this traveller demographic must be aware of this growing trend and ensure their products and services are appropriately shaped. On the flip side, we also need to be better versed in the associated risks regarding compliance.

“The risk landscape is constant and evolving, for example, remote and digital nomads also bring additional and nuanced complications for global programs. For many travel buyers, this ever-changing and complex world is a new area of responsibility.

This constantly evolving landscape provides many travel buyers with a new dawn of responsibility and duty of care. Samantha says, “Ensuring travel policies, processes and supply chain are ready for the pending changes are vitally important.”

But it doesn’t all weigh heavy on the shoulders of buyers and corporates. Samantha says, “Having employees across the world can help find new opportunities and diversify your business whilst also making you an excellent prospect when trying to attract talent.

“With talent acquisition being a recurring theme in our world, anything that makes travel a more attractive prospect can only be a benefit.”

In closing

Finishing the Travelogix Presents interview, we asked Samantha, “knowing what you know now about life, business, and everything in between, what advice would you give your younger self?”

Samantha tells us, “Keep the destination in mind and don’t be so caught up on the path taken. This allows you to enjoy the journey!”

I guess this would explain Samantha’s acceptance of challenges or bumps in the road.

She tells us, “I’ve always loved a challenge and 2023 is shaping up to be a year of transition for the industry and me personally.

The speed of evolution seen in our industry means we can’t often foresee the outcomes of today’s challenges, but our ability to stay agile keeps us steady and in the game. That for me is an exciting prospect.”