Talking Travel at our Innovation Hub
Our clients are at the centre of everything we do. They are the beating heart to our business travel brains – a guiding force that helps to shape our services and mould our future. So, we hatched an idea.
On the 31 January 2023, we invited a few of our customers to the Marylebone Hotel in London for our first ever Client Innovation Hub Event. The goal was simple; we wanted to hear what our clients thought about our technology first-hand and find out what we needed to do better. This emphasis on client-driven strategy is fundamental to Gray Dawes, helping us craft our client-focussed roadmap that truly meets the needs of today’s business traveller.
One of the organisers of the event was Matt Lambert, Head of Product at Gray Dawes. We caught up with him to find out how the day unfolded and what valuable lessons were learned.
Hi Matt. It’s great to speak to you. Could you tell us a little bit more about the Client Innovation Hub Event?
Of course. We invited a range of our customers to the beautiful Marylebone Hotel to talk tech. What did they think of our existing technology? What did they want to see more of? What do they want technology to be able to do for them and their travel programmes?
It was all about finding out what innovation Gray Dawes could bring to the TMC market. Getting fantastic client insights to really drive our technology roadmap!
I was joined by a number of my colleagues across the IT and Account Management teams. Plus we had members of our Senior and Executive Leadership Teams there, too.
“On behalf of myself and Fiona, I just wanted to say thank you for including us in Gray Dawes’ Innovation Hub meeting. It’s great to see Gray Dawes so engaged with their technology and willing to collaborate to continuously improve, with a client focus. I thought the group were really engaged and enjoyed being part of it! I know we’re still in the early stages of our move to Gray Dawes, but with every engagement I am more and more impressed with the level of service, attention and skills Gray Dawes have. I look forward to continuing the collaboration.”
So, what was the initial idea behind the event?
We really wanted to get people together and talking openly. What was brilliant was that we had attendees from across the spectrum of our client base – from new customers to experienced industry heads – and a really varied collection of voices. That was exactly what we wanted.
As a company, we do communicate extensively with our clients, sharing news of what we’re doing and where we’re heading. And our Account Managers are great at talking to clients face to face on a one-to-one basis. But, as an IT team, we really wanted to engage personally with a passionate group, all together in the same room, to spark debate. Obviously, it’s been almost a year since we’ve been able to bring people face to face, so we were delighted to be able to do this in January.
And how did the event go?
The hub was a great experience. We knew there’d be fantastic input from our clients, but their commitment surpassed even our highest expectations. Everyone was extremely engaged, asking questions and firing ideas off of each other. It was brilliant to see how comfortable people were around the table.
We began by showing our audience some of our own tech innovations, to get the conversations rolling. They absolutely loved the refreshed look and feel of YourTrip[our online booking tool] ; there was a genuine excitement in the room when we unveiled the proposed design with its modern energy and slick, easy-to-use elements.
In fact, the group expressed a lot of positivity towards all of our core technology. They seemed impressed by how we package and deliver our products and, crucially, also by the nuts and bolts that make everything tick behind the scenes.
Then we opened up the floor and encouraged our clients to share with us the interesting tech they had seen, from AI inventions to imaginative online booking tools. Their feedback was eye-opening, and we left the event with our collective heads buzzing with new ideas. Without their input, I might have ended up getting carried away and investing in a load of technology that I thought looked cool but nobody else was interested in!
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“Just wanted to say thanks for having me at the meeting yesterday. It was good to have a round table meeting with like-minded people again. There were a number of interesting points raised, which I’m sure will have given both Gray Dawes and your guests some food for thought! I noted that you guys were certainly making a lot of notes. Thanks again for your hospitality.”
That’s great to hear! What were some of the top innovations mentioned?
There were a lot of conversations surrounding slick mobile solutions and apps – the ability to access travel information at the touch of a button was something that everyone agreed was important in the modern world.
It can be quite easy to think of mobile functionality as a bit of a tick box exercise. Some companies add mobile tech to what they offer just so that they can keep pace with their competitors without really taking the time to work on it and make it special – the importance of a native mobile user interface is crucial. With so many mobile apps in the travel space, it was a little bit of a surprise to hear it mentioned as one of the biggest demands in the room. But I think it was a demand for well though-out apps that actually add value to a journey, giving travellers access to invoices or important documents on the go, for example.
Sustainability initiatives were another big topic of conversation. The group were super enthusiastic about the future of green technology and the endless opportunities it might create for the industry. The importance of being able to tailor clients’ travel choices on CO2 and environmentally friendly options was discussed at length.
Lufthansa have a new initiative called green fares that take this on board. Passengers can pay an extra £70, for example, on top of the usual ticket price and the extra fee goes towards planting trees or other green projects. This, along with our own Legacy programme, is just one of many sustainable travel initiatives out there. And, of course, we took the opportunity to dip into how we can report on a traveller’s carbon footprint within YourData!
I can’t say too much about it right now, but we were super excited to give our audience a sneaky peak at our latest in-house innovation – the Gray Dawes PORTAL.
We’re confident that PORTAL is going to be a game changer for business travel management on both a national and global level. And the reaction it received in the room was fantastic!
We’re still in development and beta testing right now, but you’ll certainly be hearing a lot more about PORTAL very soon!
But what we must bear in mind is that a lot of people might say they want to travel green, but when they are presented with the option o, for example, travelling 7 hours by train to get to Edinburgh from London or hopping on a plane for an hour journey, are they always going to make the greener choice? We need to consider that too.
YourTrip is our very own online booking tool. Have complete control over your business trip, from your front door to the office and back again. Whether you need to book flights, accommodation, transfers or much much more!
What for you were the biggest takeaways from the event?
First and foremost, just how great it was to meet just some of our clients together in one place and face-to-face. They were really engaged and super knowledgeable – they had clearly booked lots of travel in the past and knew exactly what they were talking about.
It was such a great opportunity to have frank and honest conversations about our technology and we were able to showcase some of our new ideas first-hand.
The event also made me realise that we need to do it more often! Of course, our Account Management Team are always with our clients, but for us IT geeks, we rarely get out! The dream is to run the event for 50 or more people on a kind of “client board” that regularly meet to give us feedback. That way they can see how much X, Y and Z has changed since the last meeting, off the back of client recommendations. And, of course, given our development strategy, it’s our clients – and their ‘real life’ experiences – who drive this.
It would be fantastic to get to the stage where clients are fighting to get a space in the meetings!
Thank you to all the staff at the Marylebone Hotel, who looked after us so well. We couldn’t have asked for a better venue for our first Innovation Hub.
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