The Buyer’s View

Staff shortages have been evident throughout the travel industry and across Europe, with much made of slow response times and declining service at some travel management companies. Some commentators have gone as far as to suggest larger TMCs will be concentrating their efforts on their larger customers right now, leaving SMEs more prone to slipping standards than others.

The U.K.-based SME travel manager said critical travel had continued during the pandemic “when service was fantastic” but now “travel is coming back in a big way and service is considerably worse.”

The company’s travel manager, who wished to remain anonymous, has had a change of account manager foisted upon them and seen response times stretch out, but did not attribute that to their diminutive nature amid a sea of large corporates at a U.K. top-10 TMC.

“I don’t necessarily think we’re having a tougher time of it than larger companies,” the travel manager said. “But from talking to other travel managers, some do feel that TMCs might be deprioritizing smaller customers so they can focus on bigger companies.”

The buyer’s previous account manager is among innumerable TMC staff to have jumped ship this year as agencies outbid each other in the race to recruit experienced hands. 

“We appreciate the rapid return of business travel has caught a lot of people out. Every TMC is having to adjust to the additional work involved in every booking right now. What’s been interesting is the different communication levels among TMCs,” they explained.

“Ours has been quite transparent about staffing issues but only after we started jumping up and down about it. Now they’re letting us know what they’re doing and how many staff they’ve recruited each week, but it takes time for [new staff] to learn about us and our particular needs.”

The company, which initiates most bookings by email, said response times at the TMC have stretched out considerably. “We’re used to sending an email at, say, 8 a.m. and hearing back by 1 p.m. Right now, it’s often more like 1 p.m. the next day. Our normal [service-level agreement] is a two-hour response, but we’re not going to penalize them. They’re taking action and being transparent,” the travel manager said.

“All TMCs are in the same position and our travelers are generally sympathetic of what’s going on. [Travel disruption] is all over the press at the moment.” Has serviced slipped to a level at which it is considering its future with the TMC? “We’ll probably extend [our contract] again. For us, it’s important to maintain continuity and confidence for our travelers as we get going again.”

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