Amex GBT’s Reimer discusses:
- Aggregating demand to drive SAF production
- A “slow burn” for NDC interest
- Clients’ push to consolidate meetings and transient spending
American Express Global Business Travel earlier recently announced that Google has joined its sustainable aviation fuel program, giving an additional boost to the SAF contracting and purchasing platform it launched last year in partnership with Shell and Accenture. Amex GBT EVP of global and multinational clients and managing director for the Americas David Reimer chatted with BTN executive editor Michael B. Baker during the Global Business Travel Association’s convention in Dallas in August about the program’s development, as well as the progress of its New Distribution Capability pilots and growth from the meetings and unmanaged travel sectors.
BTN: What does the addition of Google mean for your SAF program?
David Reimer: That comes off the back of Bank of America, Aon and a number of other customers we haven’t declared publicly. It’s encouraging that something we started a little over a year ago is being recognized by some of the world’s largest companies, and also some of the world’s best travel programs, and it’s helping them get to their sustainability goals. It’s continuing to build momentum and be a meaningful part of how we help customers and a meaningful part of how we lead the industry from an ESG perspective.
BTN: The challenge with SAF has been the high cost of production and meeting demand. Where do we stand in terms of making it easier to produce and more readily available?
Reimer: Why we did this was to match supply and demand. We felt we could contribute to the industry and our customers if we could start aggregating that demand. To the extent we can prove we can aggregate that demand, that gives the producers some certainty that there is a demand, and you drive production. It’s one of those things that if we don’t start, we’re already behind. Our hope is that one year in, with already an impressive list of customers, we can continually add to that and accelerate the number of customers, and that’s what drives change. People will always to some degree be fearful about doing something different, but we are doing something different, and we’re doing it to change the industry and help customers achieve their objectives.
It’s also of interest outside travel departments, making sure we’re extending that reach and working in partnership with travel teams in their own organizations, with chief sustainability officers, to make sure they understand what we are doing and the role we can play.
Companies are looking for help in how to get to net zero [carbon emissions] in 2030, and we have something innovative and different to talk about. We’re not claiming victory. We have a big role of play and more to do, but we want to be that company that’s helping aggregating demand.
BTN: How are your NDC projects progressing?
Reimer: NDC has been a little bit of an interest, but it’s not getting a huge amount of mind shift from clients. They trust our leadership and what we’re doing, and they appreciate the updates, but I don’t think it’s keeping them awake at night. They understand it’s going to be a slow burn and that we are investing in it. We have NDC connections working across three countries at the moment, so we’re doing that where we need to be. We see it as continuing to emerge, but at a slower burn, and that very much lines up to where our customers are at. That’s probably a little different than a lot of what you read, so getting that validation from clients that we’re in the right spot is refreshing.
BTN: What level of use are you seeing?
Reimer: We have 1,500 customers where we’ve switched it on, and they have access to that content. We’re focused on it, but it’s not a huge part of our business or our customers’ at this point in time. We’ve set up a separate part of our business to specialize, to invest and make sure we’re leading in this space. Hopefully, at some point, there will be more transactions that come through, and we want to be ready for that, but I don’t think we’re going to dramatically see half the business shift over to that.
BTN: To what degree are meetings and events driving demand growth?
Reimer: Large meetings have been a big part of our growth. We’re seeing customers think about how to consolidate that into their transient program. In terms of pushing demand, people still have a need to meet. Meetings are a critical part of doing business. Post-pandemic, people want to bring their people together. People are still dispersed. Companies are trying to get people back to the office, but some people went remote and stayed remote. Meetings are that way to build customer culture. Connecting in person has never been more critical. We understand the business and importance, and we’re seeing that manifest itself by people wanting to spend time together.
Customers also are thinking about how that’s connecting from a meetings and transient point of view. We’re seeing many best-in-class companies bring that together, not only to make sure you have a full handle on duty of care [but also to get a] better handle on experiences for employees and customers [so] you have the ability to consolidate and have a broader view of actually what you’re spending, how you’re spending and are there ways to get more bang for your buck. It’s ultimately being more strategic around the category.
NDC has been a little bit of an interest, but it’s not getting a huge amount of mind shift from clients. They trust our leadership and what we’re doing, and they appreciate the updates, but I don’t think it’s keeping them awake at night.”
BTN: What is your role in helping with that consolidation?
Reimer: From an experiential point of view, from a sourcing point of view, from a data perception, those are the key areas, and a [perspective of] winning your customer. The type of solution you put together, the customer service you back that up with and delivering against those three things I just mentioned are critically important, not only from a demand point of view but from a retention and new growth perspective. We have a broad array of customers across different industries, so being able to share that best practice and bring that to life for customers and their programs is also a big part of that as well.
BTN: Are you seeing a move to get employees back to the office among your clients?
Reimer: There’s definitely a push to get people back into the office, and that’s been there for some time. What that push looks like has changed. There’s acceptance form some companies that people will remain remote, and companies are now OK with that. For some companies, they’re pushing for partial in-office. I’m not aware of a lot of companies forcing people to be in the office five days a week. That seems to be a structural change, and I think it’s going to stick. At best, I see companies trying to mandate three days a week in the office, but that’s probably more of the extreme end versus the normal.
BTN: Your recent earnings call mentioned significant growth among previously unmanaged customers. How are you reaching that segment?
Reimer: As companies have growth, they need a greater level of sophistication in a couple of areas: to provide a great employee experience, to have a duty-of-care program and a greater level of sophistication in how they’re measuring spend. Part of what we do is actually helping companies understand you can achieve those objectives through a managed travel program. Out of a $1.4 trillion industry, there’s a huge opportunity for growth to the extent we can innovate with the solutions we have, whether it be with Egencia, our Neo or Neo1 platforms, where we have a tool set that is fit for purpose and ready-made. Not only do you get the advice and expertise, but you have the technology that can bring that travel program to light for someone who didn’t understand what travel management was. There’s a huge responsibility.
To hold that company’s attention, you have to provide an experience that’s pretty spectacular. It has to work, it has to provide a great experience, and it has to have the right content. Underpinning that experience with the technology, with the right marketplace, whether that be through hotel and air, and having those solutions, is a huge part of that proposition for us. We’ve continued to grow what we’re offering in that space through our airline partnerships, the unique content we have, whether it be through the partnerships we have with Booking.com or Expedia more directly, that’s a really important part of what we do and remains a future part of our commitment.
BTN: What are your investment priorities related to technology?
Reimer: We’re always investing in our technology either that’s directly in the Egencia platform or the Neo platform, continuing to build out and integrate AI solutions into our core offering, so we’ve spent more time integrating pieces of our 30Seconds to Fly acquisition into our core business. Also, from a servicing capability, making sure we have a tool set for our agents which is best in class from a servicing perspective, where they have the information they need and can service the customers with informed knowledge and in a real efficient manner to provide a great experience.
BTN: What is your strategy for attracting talent?
Reimer: We’ve doubled down in making sure we’re continuing to source the best in the industry. Where we’ve put more attention and focus is in the skill development and coaching of our agents to make sure they’re at the levels our customers expect and we would expect. We’ve spent more time and money in that area, and that’s an important part of that servicing solution. To get the best talent, you provide them the best experience from an employer perspective and supply them with the best tools to do their job effectively and provide them with the training and coaching so they can continue to grow, develop and be the best within the industry.