With a sector so full of policies and process, it's hard to imagine innovation and corporate travel in the same sentence.
But, travel executives from the corporate world were recently forced to really think about innovation, disruption and what they mean for the sector especially if you don't embrace it.
The discussion, which was part of the ACTE/CAPA event in Amsterdam last week, kicked off in an interesting way, with the moderator, WebInTravel's founder and managing director Siew Hoon Yeoh, asking panellists to highlight a news headline that caught their attention recently.
Topics highlighted by the panel, which included representatives from Microsoft and Travelport, ranged from the threat of tech startups to Lufthansa's distribution cost charge.
Group Manager for strategic sourcing at Microsoft's travel division, Georgie Farmer, points to a study by Dell revealing 78% of companies feel threatened by digital startups.
The general message from the panel was the industry should be opening its arms to startups for their fresh ideas and the expertise they can bring in certain areas.
Oce Technologies procurement account manager, business travel, Huub van Rumund says:
"I dislike the word disruptors, they are innovators, don’t be afraid. We should innovate too as travel managers, not be the people who are just helping procurement managers/budget managers.
"If we do that we will help our travellers, if we do that the ROI will be much higher than just saving a few dollars on a ticket to Munich."
Nok Air CEO Patee Sarasin points to the volume of startups in Asia right now with small areas of expertise saying that it sometimes feels "over-crowded" in terms of knowing that they all do.
Later in the session, he talks about innovation as something no one else has thought about and taking the risk to invest. He cites Nok's initiative to sell tickets through 7/11 stores as a good example.
The theme also made it easy for Travelport to talk about its startup accelerator with senior vice president and managing director of the air commerce group, Derek Sharpe, touching on one company that helps airlines deal with disruption and passenger rebooking.
Sharpe cites it as a great example of embracing startups and technology from outside of the travel industry.
Another startup, Phillippines-based Cape, an app to book standby tickets, is going through Travelport Labs latest accelerator class.
So, if those are good examples of the industry embracing innovation and change, what happens when it doesn't?
Van Rumund provided a good headline around Lufthansa's direct connection with Siemens which acts as a good example. The direct connect is in response to the airline's DCC announced last year, levying a charge on GDS bookings.
Huub says car giant Volkswagen will soon follow and it's a question of watching which airline will follow Lufthansa's solo lead.
"It's for the industry to innovate and help the corporate travel management community solve issues."
In a frank response, Travelport's Sharpe describes the move as an "example of ultimately what happens if we don’t get in right."
"Let’s be honest, it has not signed a deal with Lufthansa because of great technology and the great enablement it provides. It's because of a big financial stick that Lufthansa used to beat them with, to push them into that direction. They felt they had to.
"That’s probably a failure of us in terms of partners in the ecosystem, not to be in position to say we collectively can provide technology and solutions that will support the airline and travel management companies.
"This is an example where the airline did not get what it wanted or needed, it's an example of what happens when it goes wrong."
After this came lots of talk around fragmentation and the need for collaboration and integration as well as a little on personalisation.
Farmer points to MS Labs which is trying to develop a more joined up experience for travellers and as part of that has developed Tripism - a crowd-sourced information and advice app for corporate travel.
"It's people sharing their own informatin about best practice - a TripAdviser of the corporate travel industry for our own community."
Some final wisdom came from PwC Strategy& partner Stefan Stroh who says that if the industry can't work things out then someone will come in from the outside "with a better user experience that forces others to play with them."
"If the industry is not evolving, there will be a player that disrupts."
NB: Innovation image via Flynt for BigStock
NB2: Reporter's attendance at the ACTE/CAPA event in Amsterdam was supported by Travelport.