Travel

Corp Travel Giant’s CWT’s secret to managing labor shortages

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Travel management firms are facing challenges helping their clients deal with massive travel disruptions this year, an inevitable side effect of the industry’s own struggle with labor shortages. CWT needs to be staffed as quickly as possible.

Matthew Parsons

Corporate travel agency CWT is refocusing on how it hires to bounce back from the pandemic downturn, a period in which it went bankrupt and changed its own CEO twice.

The Minneapolis-based agency wants to return to growth mode, according to its new chief account officer, after a $1.5 billion refinancing deal in September.

“The biggest challenge is how to deal with this surge in demand,” said Nick Vournakis, a 22-year CWT veteran who took over in January this year.

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CWT is currently reviewing how it rewards employees by looking into its reward and bonus schemes. Vournakis said the agency was also able to bring back the laid-off capacity after the “rebuild” of the pandemic.

“We need to figure out how to be a more aggressive and preferred employer,” he said. “Layoff is quite common in the industry and so the competition for skilled people is also fierce… it’s important to make sure we have the right economic conditions in terms of competitive pay and potentially variable pay.”

During the coronavirus crisis, the company also invested in technology to enable front-line employees to work remotely, and in the latest phase of the pandemic, it piloted predictive analytics company Zytlyn, which directs resources where they are most needed. The platform predicts future demand for travel to and from specific routes by overlaying historical CWT booking patterns, assisting CWT with resource management, supply requirements and capacity planning.

Vournakis said one of the challenges is staffing call centers despite the industry’s continued focus on introducing new technology to the business travel sector. CWT now wants more frontline employees to answer phones, and Vournakis said competitors have been optimistic about encouraging customers to use digital channels for bookings.

“Getting the answers to these questions from a human, not a machine, is very important. There are very few digital tools that effectively make changes to trips and routes,” he said. “We need to make sure we have all the necessary infrastructure, our front line, our people and technology to support the travel renaissance… People are calling you.”

Industry crisis

Travelers are starting to feel the pain of a widespread shortage of staff, and airlines in both the US and Europe are trying to deal with it. Flight attendant strikes are also likely to affect operations later in the summer, which could result in more calls from business travelers looking to rebook as their schedules change.

CWT is not the only one addressing this issue. The recently acquired division of American Express Global Business Travel Egencia…

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