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Podcast: Reshaping global travel programs with SAS’ Richard Clowes

June 20, 2024
By Andrew Sheivachman
Categories Innovation

Modern technology is key for global travel programs looking to provide better experiences to travelers.

For the fourth episode of The Travel Is a Human Emotion Podcast, Spotnana VP of Business Development for Content Distribution Johnny Thorsen spoke with Richard Clowes, Director of Travel Operations for international data analytics provider SAS, in early 2024 about the ways that global travel programs are evolving in 2024.

Clowes discussed why the corporate travel industry is at a crossroads, how travel programs need future-proofed technology, and the benefits of experimenting with new solutions.

Industry crossroads

SAS currently operates as a CTD in the U.S. while using partner TMCs for its international offices. This fragmentation leads to data inconsistencies that not only cause reconciliation and duty of care issues, but serviceability problems for travelers.

Clowes believes the industry has reached a point where travel managers must choose between legacy systems or new innovations.

If travel managers experiment with new technology through pilots rather than trying to implement broad program changes at once, travel managers can then decide whether to expand implementation more broadly across their organizations. Taking an iterative approach reduces overall risk while still moving toward more modern systems

“We’ve reached a crossroads, and that crossroads has two paths,” said Clowes. “Do we follow the legacy road, or we’ve got the new highway to go down. This is a year of experimentation and discovery. Which road do you decide to go down? Do you persevere with the old method and hope that it evolves? Or do you just wipe the slate clean and start with someone new who is making that road based on the current technology, not from the technology from 30, 40 years ago?”

Piloting new technology

SAS is currently piloting Spotnana, and in the first month of testing made more NDC bookings than its current solution had accomplished in the previous 10 months.

“I’m looking at it from the standpoint of a travel agent, a travel manager, and then also the traveler and the company’s perspective, too,” said Clowes. “It is fascinating and refreshing to see the concepts in play and to see what works and what needs some tweaking yet. We’ve still got a ways to go, but it gives me confidence in the future.”

Beyond access to NDC content, operating on a global integrated platform provides numerous benefits, particularly when it comes to company management.

“When management asks me a particular question, they’re never asking me, well how is [a trip] booked?” said Clowes. “They’re asking me, who is where right now, did that guy book that trip yet, and when does he arrive? Where is he staying? They don’t care, and they shouldn’t have to care [about how a trip is booked].

“…My vision for the future is such that it shouldn’t matter where the traveler is and what booking source that traveler uses. As a corporate travel manager, I need them to use the tool. But behind the scenes, I don’t care as long as we can service it.”

Future-proofed

Due to the fast pace of change in the travel technology ecosystem, Clowes believes that travel managers should rely on travel platforms that are equipped to adapt and evolve over time to meet shifts in the industry.

“I need to find that confidence,” said Clowes. “That’s where I’m shopping the market a little bit to figure out what the best tool forward is for us that can solve these problems and not just in the U.S. It has to be global for us, we’re a global company.”

To hear the full conversation, you can watch the full interview here and subscribe to The Travel Is a Human Emotion Podcast wherever you find your podcasts.