Travelogix Presents…David Bishop
Longevity matters in business travel. It provides a sense of reassurance. The traveller knows they’re being guided by an expert who can confidently navigate a complex industry.
Gray Dawes Travel was the first TMC to sell flights way back in 1927. So, you can understand why they are considered to be a safe pair of hands being “just 95 years young and all”.
They have longevity and that matters.
For the fifth installment of our Travelogix Presents series, we sat down with David Bishop, Chief Commercial Officer at Gray Dawes Group, to learn more about one of the most well-respected and long-running TMCs in the UK.
We talked about how they traversed the pandemic and we gathered David’s views on collaboration and technological innovation within the business travel space.
We also touched upon the hot topics of today, including sustainability, duty of care and remarketing.
So, sit back, grab a coffee, and enjoy the latest installment of Travelogix Presents.
Steering Through the Pandemic
After everything that has happened in our industry, it always feels right to simply check in with our guests. So, we began the conversation with a simple question: how are you doing?
“We have gone through various waves of emotional states – optimism and pessimism – all while asking ourselves ‘how long is this going to last?” said David.
“However, I think it was October 2020, just before the vaccination programme was announced that felt like the hardest time.
“Fast forward to Q4 2021, there was a massive sense of optimism and it really felt like the start of a true bounce back – albeit with a small confidence blip in Omicron”.
David has maneuvered his way through some challenging times in business. Perhaps the biggest global and economic downturns of our time; the financial crisis of the 90s, the devastating 9/11 attacks in 2001, the global financial crisis of 2008, and of course the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020/21.
Business travel has endured them all.
However, he describes the pandemic as the “deepest and most sustained period of pain faced by the travel industry”.
He said: “9/11 provided a relatively short but sharp decline in business travel. The financial crisis was much the same, albeit more sustained. But Q1 and Q2 in 2020 provided almost no travel whatsoever. The wheels were lightly spinning, if at all, for the first half of 2020”.
When David worked in banking, the issues that arose were ‘somebody else’s in a sense, however – he now works in a private company with more ownership and control over that all-important P&L.
How did Gray Dawes react to this drop-off in tickets and revenue? Well, they banded together. When referring to furloughing and redundancies, David said “it wouldn’t fit with the company’s ethos if we cut deep”.
“We learnt a lot about ourselves as a business, both how we communicate and how we operate as a leadership team. Our marketing efforts massively shifted to let clients and prospects know that we were still here and operational”.
For many TMCs across the industry, this ‘shift’ in focus for marketing and communications has been a key driver in bringing their teams closer together and letting the world know they are an authority in the world of business travel management.
Pre-pandemic, the senior leadership team at Gray Dawes met once per week, either virtually or in-person. They attended roadshows (every quarter) and conferences (one per year) but never really had an ‘all hands/all staff’ approach.
The pandemic changed this.
For eighteen months, the entire business (furloughed and active staff) got together virtually to keep spirits high, they also involved suppliers to provide crucial category updates and held quizzes frequently. Who doesn’t love a quiz?
The goal was simple: “We wanted to remain engaged with our staff through this tough period whilst keeping them plugged into the industry ready for when travel would return”, David states.
But how does a giant TMC react to a new travel landscape centered around sustainability, duty of care, and creating a bespoke traveller experience in the form of remarketing?
Well, these themes aren’t new for Gray Dawes, and we wanted to know more. First up, is sustainability…
The Modern Era of Business Travel: Sustainability
In 2021, Gray Dawes partnered with Forest Carbon, the UK’s leading company in woodland creation for carbon capture. And the UK-based approach they have to rewilding is an attractive proposition.
“We asked our clients: If we could deliver a UK-based carbon offsetting programme, would you be interested? The answer was invariably and always yes”, said David.
The family owners of Gray Dawes – the Inchcape family – have also converted nearly 500 acres of land on their Glenapp Estate in Ayrshire, Scotland, to an ambitious woodland creation project, which will see around 600,000 tree saplings planted. Talk about “practicing what you preach”.
Going above and beyond on the rewilding front is just the beginning for Gray Dawes, just take a look at their ‘Legacy’ initiative and you’ll soon see how seriously they’re taking sustainability.
Gray Dawes is working with clients to reimagine their travel policies, helping them to respond to the demand for sustainability across our industry.
“Understanding a client’s travel policy is critical in making sustainable recommendations – cabin class, route, carrier, aircraft type and vendor all play a part”, said David.
He was also keen to highlight their willingness to listen to the experts when determining their own policies.
By working closely with their clients who specialise in the field(s) of sustainability, Gray Dawes are able to make informed decisions internally whilst using this knowledge base to help their myriad of clients achieve their goals.
Duty of Care: Is it our Duty to Care?
At Travelogix, we know how important duty of care is and will be, as we hurtle away from the remnants of the pandemic.
The ever-growing concern for traveller safety and wellbeing is the reason we’ve created Geo – a TMC led, SME-focused duty of care platform that we see becoming a crucial component of a traveller’s toolkit as our industry starts to recover.
David agreed that duty of care is now critical.
“I liken duty of care to the question: how I am able to travel these days?” he said.
“With covid rules and regulations, and the necessary documents to get in and out of borders – it’s a minefield out there.”
Gray Dawes identified that communication and providing relevant information to their travellers about restrictions and border controls was an absolute necessity to instill confidence.
So, ensuring their online booking platform contained easily accessible information that would equip their clients with the knowledge they needed to travel safely was a top priority.
As a result, their online vs offline booking rate for air travel nearly doubled during the pandemic – rising from 27 per cent to 51 per cent.
Also, towards the back end of the pandemic in Q4 2021, long-haul international air travel was the main contributor to revenue, with the majority of this coming from their online booking platform.
This goes some way to demonstrate traveller confidence.
They’ve clearly struck up the perfect, and somewhat consultative, relationship with their technology partner. Something we respect here at Travelogix.
All this aside, another factor that explains the high online adoption rate, was due to consumer spending habits. Fundamentally, shopping behaviours changed. As a nation and a species, we became more comfortable shopping online.
We ask David whether this ease we have with online shopping will hamper a return to face-to-face meetings and business travel. Will Zoom and Teams have a more expanding place in business?
“In Q3 2021, 61 per cent of businesses were travelling for internal reasons. Reconnecting with colleagues and getting together after such a long time away. There was hardly any external travel.”
David continues: “Q4, 2021, external travel to presumably meet clients was made up of 63 per cent. There was a clear swap here in objectives for the traveller.
This tells me that although digital platforms have their place, there is a thirst to get out and see clients once again, face to face.”
Remarketing and the Power of Collaboration
David is a fan of collaboration within our industry. We know this because he left a glowing testimonial of our Client Assembly back in November 2021.
For our ‘Development Spotlight’ session, we pitched ten items and asked the attendees to openly discuss the use case for all items and then rank them in order of relevance and usefulness.
“This approach, developing in line with your client’s feedback was great, and there needs to be more of that”, David says.
David initially thought “wow – that’s brave”, but soon came to realise that Travelogix has grown in line with what their clients want, which is needed to operate successfully in the world of business travel.
People see Gray Dawes as an innovative company. Perhaps a company that likes to work and consult with like-minded innovators: enter Grapevine, a remarketing specialist in the travel space.
“We have been working with Grapevine from day one”, David said.
Grapevine takes care of the ancillary add-ons and reduce the spending that takes place outside of the travel booking ecosystem for agents whilst improving hotel attachment rates.
“Jack (CEO and Founder at Grapevine) took a lot of time to listen and consult with us to find out not only what we needed, but what the industry needed more broadly. We love this approach and it’s one that we want to continue.”
Grapevine fills a hole that’s been ever expanding in our industry. “Remarketing opportunities, and looking at the data around trip duration, will become crucial in driving revenue back to the TMC”, David says.
“Trip duration, pre-Covid, was two days, then it increased to five days in Q3 2021 and even more so in Q4 2021 at seven days. While the transactions and number of trips may reduce, we believe that hotel attachment rates will increase”.
David talks about “creating a customer for life”. He talks about “surprising clients and going above and beyond their expectations when delivering a first-class service level”. He also likens this to product development at Gray Dawes.
If you have these views from ‘up on high’ within a TMC, at board level, this can only bode well for the team surrounding David. To have the desire to drive home quality service through the mediums of innovation, collaboration, sustainability, duty of care and remarketing to mention but a few – then you can understand why this business will hit its 95th birthday this year, with many more likely to follow.