Capita Travel and Events: Redefining how organisations plan and book travel

Capita Travel and Events: Redefining how organisations plan and book travel

Businesses around the world are forecast to spend $1.6trn on travel in 2020*. As companies diversify and globalise, the need for joined up communication on national, regional and global levels intensifies, and the business travel market is growing steadily as a result.

However, as the business travel market continues to grow, so does the need for organisations to analyse how and why they travel, and therefore spend that money smartly. Tremendous leaps in the ability to gather and analyse behavioural data opens up the possibility for organisations to fundamentally alter the way they arrange meetings and associated travel and accommodation.

Enter Capita Travel and Events. Managing more than 2.5mn hotel bookings and over 62,000 meetings on behalf of customers every year, the UK firm has helped customers adopt smarter ways of booking and planning travel, to the tune of an average saving of 32% when it comes to air travel alone.

Owing to technological and behavioural expertise acquired over recent years and a 24/7/365 dedicated personal service delivered by more than 700 experts, Capita Travel and Events’ customer satisfaction rating of 98.7% is a near perfect endorsement of its work to this day.

Acquiring expertise – the journey to date

It was in 2005 that Capita entered the business travel market, observing how spend was generally being consolidated into centralised procurement functions within mid-large UK organisations. With far greater scrutiny being placed on travel management, Capita seized the opportunity to grow its existing expertise and present a different offering to the traditional market players.

A key observation made at the time was in the pattern of spending on travel – typically organisations were spending 50% on hotels and accommodation with the remainder split evenly between air and rail. Given the strong emphasis placed on air travel by traditional travel management companies (TMCs), the ability to find value across that remaining spend became a key focus.

The knowledge growth started with the acquisition of Lonsdale Travel in 2006, a company which served leading UK names such as the Royal Mail Group, Imperial Tobacco and Legal and General. Two further acquisitions came in 2010, with rail booking technology specialist Harry Weeks Travel and UK number one Hotel Booking Agency (HBA), BSI.

James Parkhouse, Capita Travel and Events CEO, explains the importance of the BSI acquisition in growing the company’s footprint: “Acquiring BSI in 2010 launched us into a much larger organisation, where we significantly increased management spend of specialist accommodation services.

“We had around £330mn in the personal travel budget, but more important was our ability to attract a big domestic footprint; accommodation programmes, UK rail, domestic air and large meeting and venues spend.”

The expertise acquired with BSI and Harry Weeks Travel created a combined entity able to break new ground in the business travel market, backed by the financial stability of the Capita parent firm. This position was strengthened two years later with the purchase of then BSI rival Expotel, bringing on board its highly sought-after event management firm, Venues Event Management – strengthening their event management capabilities and expertise.

In 2017 this capability was extended further through the acquisition of NYS Corporate, a York-based travel, meetings and events firm with its proprietary meetings technology, MeetingsPro.

A vital addition given the observation that meetings are a direct result of significant travel spend across UK organisations. Indeed, around 60-70% of all business travel relates to a meeting of some kind and this drove Capita Travel and Event’s focus on putting Meetings at the heart of travel.

Gail Bamforth, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer, comments: “NYS was important for us to solidify and grow our space in the market. It has enabled us to provide a much richer experience and information within meetings management to customers and partners, and to show equalisation in their meeting space.”

This was absorbed into what is now Capita Travel and Events, a single company renamed in 2014 that united all of this acquired expertise into one powerful offering. 

Next on the agenda was scale, and earlier this year Capita Travel and Events partnered with GlobalStar in order to cater for customers with multi-regional footprints. GlobalStar’s $14bn spending power combined with a multi-regional standardised technology platform not only offers customers access to financial benefits, but also a unified view of travel spend across multiple territories. 

Parkhouse adds: “The UK market had a genuine gap of provision. Larger UK corporates who were spending between £5mn and £20mn per annum had limited choice for the kind of spending they had.

“Corporates had to go to a global player or a smaller domestic TMC, who were often too small to cope with the scale of spending and procurement compliance activity.”

The how and why

Leveraging data to understand how and why employees travel is what truly differentiates Capita Travel and Events from traditional market players and is helping organisations avoid unnecessary travel. Beyond this, their ability to capture and analyse multiple data sources from across an organisation enables something really powerful, actionable insight into the how and why.

Parkhouse continues: “Trevor Elswood, our Chief Commercial Officer, and I attend many business reviews where businesses are spending millions per annum. And we often challenge this spend - How do they know they are spending wisely? Are they helping people make smarter decisions? Should people be traveling at all? If so, are they travelling safely? Will it add value to the bottom line of their business? Where are people meeting and how are they meeting? Is the meeting itself adding value?

“Our vision is not to become a company who just book travel and meetings for customers, but to be a trusted advisor on how to effectively manage travel, meetings and events spend in an organisation. We want to be a real enabler for customers to grow and develop their business and it is our vision to go beyond traditional travel and meetings management.”

Data has therefore become the key currency for Capita Travel and Events. Whether it’s using analysis to nudge customers to alter their behaviours or harnessing the power of gamification to create scenarios of reward and recognition, decisions on travel and meetings are being made with smarter foundations.

This paradigm shift is summed up by Elswood, who comments: “Recognising the total cost and impact of travel and meetings for an organisation led us to a new place. Organisations want control of both cost, governance and safety obligations, yet at the same time, the traveller is wanting a more consumerisation look and feel for their experience along with wellbeing, safety and security still a focus.”

Beyond the bottom line

Employee wellbeing, safety and security is an increasing factor in organisations’ decisions on meeting and travel arrangements.

By helping organisations optimise the frequency and location of meetings and providing round the clock support, Capita Travel and Events is removing pain points related to travelling for work.

This duty of care is another key differentiator, again facilitated by smarter processes and systems which are helping shape both the demand and supply of business travel services. Such services are provided constantly by dedicated teams out of six service centres across the UK, open all day every day.

To support this approach, Capita Travel and Events established an important partnership with Maiden Voyage, a component of Capita Travel and Events’ Lone traveller service, designed to ensure health, safety and security requirements are met by travel and accommodation suppliers. Maiden Voyage specialises in delivering a thorough hotel inspection service, ensuring female and lone travellers can arrive in the knowledge that their hotel will be comfortable and safe for them during their stay.

Capita Travel and Events also specialises in what it calls disruptive services, where it seeks to offer its expertise, advice and dedicated support to travellers in time of need, any time of day or night, be it extreme travel disruption or even terror incidents. 

“It is a little bit out of the norm for what is seen at a TMC, but not for us, we’re different,” adds Parkhouse. “We see a problem that needs to be solved and have the products and services that can solve it. Our customer-facing teams have to become far more adept and aware of their needs and how we can meet those needs.”

These needs may differ depending on who the individual traveller is, and Capita Travel and Events has not left this stone unturned either.

Bamforth explains: “We’ve employed a Head of Behavioural Science to work with us to make sure we have the same impact with the message we deliver to an amateur traveller and that of a novice traveller. That’s important to us and how we communicate to our customers and their travellers.”

People power

This highlights the importance of people, as well as technology, in delivering services that are not only efficient, but humanised and personal.

Central to communicating Capita Travel and Events’ cultural message to both employees and partner companies is The Engine Room, an engagement hub located in its Derby based head office, designed to educate people, partners and customers on the latest innovation, products and services.

Neal Poole, Director of Marketing, adds: “The Engine Room demonstrates everything that we do, how we do it and the value we create for our customers all in one place. From our products, services and propositions, including a full technology demonstration suite, the Engine Room really is the hub of our business designed to educate, train and develop our people, customers and partners.”

This is very much the domain of Chief People Officer Laura French, who explains how Capita Travel and Events nurtures employees from the outset.

“We use a blend of forums such as workshops, posts, quarterly surveys and questionnaires to identify key issues and indicate any priorities for improvement, as well as highlight areas of success and good practice,” she says. “The best ideas continue to come from our employees, who support us in implementing positive changes to our culture and working environment.

“For all new employees joining our teams we have a six-month onboarding period to help them settle in and learn everything they need. This is supported every step of the way by their manager, who has a six-month supporting plan too.”

Capita Travel and Events has also implemented performance management and development tool, Full Circle, enabling the documentation of performance objectives. This allows managers and employees to identify learning needs and skills gaps to further personal development, in alignment with company standards.

French adds: “We have created an environment where our employees can develop both their professional and personal skills, have purpose in what they do and enjoy working with like-minded professionals. We make things fun whilst taking what we do seriously, yet always maintaining our friendly approach.”

Looking ahead

Investment in people has been the cornerstone of Capita Travel and Events’ success to date, highlighted by the fact that in April it became one of four companies to be awarded a position on the Crown Commercial Service’s (CCS) RM6016 Commercial Agreement under Solution 4 (Travel and Venue solutions).

This involves providing the central government and wider public sector organisations with access to fully managed travel and venue services, and Capita Travel and Events is one of only three organisations able to provide a total travel solution.

It is differentiation like this that will continue to define success for the company in the coming years, and investment in people via the likes of the Engine Room will remain a key area of focus as it seeks to remain agile in an ever complex and evolving industry.

Selecting appropriate partners and their respective technological expertise is another vital component of these future plans, the importance of which is outlined by Bamforth: “Technology is moving rapidly, so we have to be on the lookout for new partners to make sure we are continuing to lead the market.”

This is reflected by Parkhouse, who concludes: “There are always new challenges, changes, emerging products, and new services and that can often take the industry into different directions. One thing we don’t do, is stand still.”

By being able to inform and influence the way in which customers arrange travel, meetings and events, Capita Travel and Events has differentiated itself from what was and still is a crowded TMC market. Through careful acquisition of specialist organisations and by building on the knowledge and nurturing of its own people, and investment in strategic partnerships and technology, the company has itself travelled a long way over the past 15 years to change the face of travel, meetings and events going beyond that of traditional travel management.

James Parkhouse