Travelogix Presents…Rob Cope

Travelogix Presents…Rob Cope

The travel industry has endured a lot over the last two (and a bit) years. However, as we start to recover, there are some who are looking to try and separate themselves from the pack – and TakeTwo seem to be doing just that.

Amid Covid-19 and emerging from the sale of their previous TMC in Chambers Travel, Co-Founders Julie Cope and Chris Thelen spotted an opportunity to ‘do things differently’ by going bigger, bolder and better than before (hence the name TakeTwo…)

We sat down with Rob Cope, VP of Technology & Product, to talk about TakeTwo’s inception and their fundamental belief around technology and partnerships, through to their mission to reinvent the traditional TMC.

Sit back and enjoy Ep.7 of Travelogix Presents.

A (not so) new kid on the block

What happens when you take two industry heavyweights who are rooted in service, add a sprinkle of innovation and a dash of some of the best talent around, all amid the backdrop of the pandemic?

You get TakeTwo Travel Solutions.

Rob Cope says, “our co-founders (Chris Thelen and Julie Cope) saw a great opportunity to return and do things differently.”

“Customers were articulating problems with incumbent TMCs and whilst Covid-19 exacerbated much of this, there has been a gradual decline in service delivery (even pre-Covid-19).

“We listened to buyers, began to conceptualize how we solve those problems and got to work on executing our strategy.”

We asked him how he feels about being part of a fresh new ‘start up’? Rob says, “it is incredibly exciting!”

“Start-Ups certainly bring certain challenges; things shape and shift in ways you never expect, but for us, we have a vision and that creates a very clear direction.”

They are doggedly aligned when it comes to their goals and ambitions in the business travel space.

Wanting to grow organically amidst the M&A noise that seems to have been rife in the industry of late, TakeTwo is dedicated to offering category-leading technology across multiple global markets – all underpinned by a bespoke service delivered by the absolute best talent the industry has to offer.

A compelling proposition.

Rob says, “our mission is to reinvent the traditional TMC. Rather than being a technology company selling travel, we feel there is a huge opportunity to utilise technology in order to be a more service-led travel organisation.”

TakeTwo wants to hand-deliver their travel management solutions into exciting markets around the globe too. “The United States is a key market for us, it offers up so much opportunity”, Rob says.

He continues, “we’re very much a transatlantic organization and the ability to provide a service-led global platform is really resonating with our prospective clients.

“We’re focusing on driving a consistent, more retail-centric, approach to corporate travel.”

But what of the challenges ahead and the regional differences? Rob says, “Each market has different challenges and opportunities of course, including those regional nuances.

“The fragmentation across the travel landscape is not something that frustrates us – in fact, it allows us to build out sharper points of differentiation whilst finding more space to innovate against our competitors.”

Technology vs Service or a match made in heaven?

Post-pandemic, we have all come to realise that things need to change across the industry. Whether that be in the world of true and tangible sustainability practices, or the adoption of efficient technologies aiming to propel TMCs into the future – there are changes to be made.

TakeTwo’s ‘hybrid’ approach focuses on “delivering bespoke service through best-in-class technology”, whether that be proprietary in-house solutions or via third party suppliers – Rob has no qualms in partnering with technology leaders to help deliver the required solution.

Arh – partnerships. Something we deeply value at Travelogix. We are predicated on innovation and collaboration, so could not be more aligned with Rob on this point.

He states, “We work very hard to develop long-term strategic partnerships with a small grouping of partners. Our ethos is very similar to that of Travelogix in driving innovation whilst being led by our customers in delivering the right solutions.

“There is some amazing third-party technology that we can access and we’re very happy to leverage those best-in-class solutions”.

He continues, “we’ve been entirely focused on developing our proprietary solution to deliver ‘service-at-a-scale’ and whilst new players are very much ‘software-as-a-service’, we’re very much inverting that to fit our company vision. We want to deliver the best service around to as many customers as possible and take premium beyond the boutique”

The thought that we “must continuously innovate to survive”, as Rob coins, is real, and a common topic for discussion as we continue into recovery.

Rob likens this constant need for innovation in our industry to mobile phone upgrades, saying, “for the purpose of this analogy, we need to continuously upgrade the ‘phone’ through our journey with the customer. We are conscious of the opportunities to switch handsets, so strive to continuously enhance the programme so customers upgrade with us and never feel the need to switch.

“Continuously adding value across the breadth of the travel supply chain and throughout our relationships. To achieve this, technology is key”

TakeTwo’s technology strategy is to “step away from the traditional pathways and challenge themselves to drive things differently”

Rob says, “our approach is to marry the absolute best-in-class service very much with the best-in-class digital solutions and tools – technology facilitates both.

“All TMCs talk about providing amazing service, but how many can truly differentiate with it? I am not talking just about calls and email SLAs, but genuine experiences with each transaction.

“We don’t believe the centre of the TMC world is a digital booking platform, but that service should always be the fulcrum to facilitate that plug and play approach with technology.”

But where does data sit within the strategy at TakeTwo? We know that now more than ever, data will provide crucial insights into not only a recovering industry but into passenger well-being and duty of care.

Rob states, “data is so crucial.”

“We have a responsibility to make it much more dynamic. Today, it’s treated in a very static sense with data transferred from profile to booking to invoice to expense. We can optimize so much more than the transfer of the data, leveraging much more across those spaces in-between.

“By way of recovery, data is fundamental. If we are not leveraging it to determine how we shape our pathway forward, we are doing something very wrong.”

And being the data geeks that we are here at Travelogix, we could not agree more.

Switching gears to service, and the value TakeTwo place on this element within the booking process, Rob tells us, “It is huge for the team here at TakeTwo – it is number one”

He continues, “from our perspective, we think the technology landscape is levelling. There are some amazing solutions that can be accessed, but the key point of difference will always be service.

“Even if an account has very high online adoption, there is still so much friction (particularly from a post-book perspective) that the service component is becoming even more critical.

“There’s access and availability to talk to someone quickly – but then the disconnect is in that agent understanding traveller preferences, traveller activity, intelligent retailing and being able to drive that personalization within policy and making sure it’s consistent globally.”

The state of things: the road ahead for the travel industry

As we documented in our Global Business Travel Report we published back in April with the mighty team at Advantage, we documented several reasons to be cheerful along with the change in habits for travellers and bookers alike.

There is certainly a buzz in the air this year, and we’re all for it!

We have seen a heap of positive news stories so far this year; January saw fully vaccinated passengers escape pre-departure testing before returning to the UK, France fully opened their borders to fully vaccinated passengers, pre-departure tests were scrapped by the Swiss late January, Australia re-opened their borders and the UK removed all in-bound testing measures in February, the EU dropped travel restrictions on March 1st and UK travel restrictions came to an end later that month as Heathrow, BA and Virgin removed mandated masks on their flights.

Travel is back.

Rob says, “I, like many others, have been buoyed by the rebound in corporate travel in recent months. It has been a tumultuous last couple of years, but we certainly seem to be on the upward curve.”

An upward curve is right. From the data we are seeing, we predict that the industry recovers in 2022 to 67.26% of the figures we saw in 2019, and uplifting on 2021 by over 75%.

We asked Rob about a recovering travel market in 2022 and what the future may look like for our battered and bruised sector.

Rob said, “I feel differently to Bill Gates!” (Referring to the New York Times’ Dealbook conference in November 2020, where Gates said: “my prediction would be that over 50% of business travel and over 30% of days in the office will go away”)

He continues, “people recognize travel is intrinsic to the growth and well-being of organisations and why we’re seeing such an earlier than predicted resurgence.”

“The interesting thing is how the last two years have changed the landscape – travellers and buyers have very different expectations for what they expect from corporate travel programmes; the TMCs that emerge best in the recovery will be those who innovate faster and recognize the need to handle changes driven by customers and travellers.

“I think travel activity will again reach pre-pandemic levels, but they’ll be some fundamental shifts along the way.”

The travel management landscape, as Rob tells me, is “interesting” at the moment with a seemingly clear split of providers; digital, enterprise TMCs and small-medium sized TMCs – all finding themselves in quite different terrain with different problems to try and solve.

Corporate and industry objectives in 2022

Duty of care and sustainability could not be higher on the agenda in travel this year. From COP26 and the myriad of global initiatives paving the way for a greener planet, through to robust duty of care platforms, like Geo here at Travelogix – there’s much to consider for the corporates at a time where the answers are closer than they think.

Rob says, “sustainability continues to be a key objective, though the lack of standardization is a continuing problem for TMCs, and corporates alike.”

“I think the biggest objective will be how corporates redefine KPIs and the definition of ROI and value from travel programmes. These have very much been focused on traditional metrics like cost savings, and whilst these remain important, there will be far greater emphasis on initiatives like wellbeing and purposeful travel.

“How TMCs begin to translate this into more tangible data that drives decision making is going to be a key battleground.”

In the TMC arena, Rob thinks that there “needs to be a standard” when referring to carbon reporting/data.

He said, “there needs to be more of a shift to synergize it throughout the programme – it is driven along in isolation. It’s spoken about independently, but it fundamentally impacts and touches many aspects of the travel programme.

“Data, and the accuracy of such, will always be a huge determining factor in the success of sustainability initiatives in the business travel space.”

In the important world of duty of care, there has been talk in the industry that this could be just the start of robust platforms and solutions that help remedy the duty of care question in a post-pandemic landscape.

Rob said, “I think it will extend beyond risk, crime and health dimensions and begin to encompass wellbeing and other similar traveller-led strands.

“One of the big shifts as a consequence of the pandemic is a shift to more hybrid working; corporates will begin to drive that as part of policy conversations moving forward.”

The impact of this can only be a good thing for the traveller going forward.

Lastly, let us touch on ancillaries.

We know TMCs need to consciously drive additional revenue back into their ecosystems. One way of doing this is through the personalization of ancillaries. Our good friends at Grapevine do this perfectly. They truly understand the personalization needed to keep bookings within the TMC ecosystem.

Rob comments, “I think TMCs need to take a much more retail-driven approach to corporate travel.”

“TMCs often see the corporate policy as a closed space to inhibit any personalization but there is plenty of opportunity within that framework.”

Understanding that booking behaviours have ultimately changed is key to understanding the direction in which direction the industry could head to.

We are seeing longer trips being booked and booking horizons extending out like old times. What opportunities may present themselves as a result of this change in traveller and booker behaviour?

Rob says, “In-trip services will become more crucial. Many TMCs are still very much behind the curve when it comes down to in-trip offerings.”

Blended business and leisure travel is also something to consider. With these booking behaviours changing, is the ‘bleisure’ mode of travel now becoming even more prominent?

Rob says, “There will eventually be more of a drift towards bleisure travel and this will become part of the corporate policy – the challenge with both in-trip servicing and bleisure on the TMC side is much more around how they begin to drive these as part of the day-to-day offering without creating much more additional friction.”

To wrap things up

Speaking with Rob for this interview, you very quickly understand his passion for driving TakeTwo into exciting new terrain, and moreover, his passion for the customer experience within the business travel industry.

The industry has shifted, our priorities have become more aligned and ultimately – there are a huge number of opportunities for reinvention and rejuvenation.

From the TMC landscape and technological innovation, to responsible travel with robust duty of care solutions and sustainability initiatives.

TakeTwo Travel Solutions have big ambitions. But they are not heading into things from a standing start, they have momentum due to their experience.

Their desire to build concrete supplier relationships and a market-leading technology stack should be applauded, of course. But when you factor in their true point of difference that underpins everything, you start to understand that their big ambition to ‘reinvent what it means to be a traditional TMC’ could very well be a reality.

And that point of difference is service. A bespoke level of service is often overlooked in a fast-paced technological TMC world.

Rob simply states, “we are relentless on reducing friction and enhancing customer experience across the breadth of our business.”

“For me, it is about how we make our customers feel the ‘TakeTwo difference’ from best-in-class service and category-leading platforms and solutions. Service is by far the hardest thing to quantify but the easiest thing to feel.”