By KARRYON @karryontravel10 May 2018Say hello to the people of the industry who’ve chosen to work in ‘travel for life’ and see the travel industry as a fun industry . These are the ultra passionate, much-loved folk that continue to inspire others by going above and beyond in their everyday roles.This week we catch up with General Manager of FCM Travel Solutions Australia, Melissa Elf who was in Sydney this week launching Sam (Smart Assistant for Mobile) A.I to Australian corporate customers.Find out who inspires Melissa and what are the corporate airfare trends plus where the industry will be in 3-5 years. How have you seen the industry change in the past 12 months?There has certainly been more focus on the customer journey and how as travel providers we enhance that experience or that journey for our customers. While corporate travel programs used to be based on a B2B (business to business) environment, now we are seeing technologies and service styles become more integrated to ensure there is more of a B2C (business to customer or traveller) element in the mix. Who inspires you within our industry? Flight Centre Travel Group’s COO Melanie Waters Ryan. She’s a strong female leader who has achieved a great deal for our company. Melanie began her career as a retail travel agent, before progressing to team leader roles at Flight Centre’s busy Toombul and Indooroopilly shops. As her career progressed, Melanie successfully took on a variety of management roles in the company’s retail, wholesale and human resources (Peopleworks) areas. Roles included national training manager, land contract leader, global human resources manager, brand leader of Great Holiday Escape and leader of the Infinity wholesale brand. What’s the latest news from Flight Centre?Flight Centre Travel Group yesterday announced the arrival of Sam (Smart Assistant for Mobile) for our Australian corporate customers at btTB GBTA in Sydney. The launch marks the availability of the Sam app to our Australian corporate customers of FCM Travel Solutions (large market corporate travel provider) and Campus Travel (academic travel management specialist).FCTG’s business travel specialist Corporate Traveller and entertainment and sports travel brand Stage and Screen will make Sam available for clients in the latter half of 2018.Sam is an award-winning mobile travel assistant app, which as a company we are very excited to add to our Connect Technology suite.NOTE: For more info on Sam, check out yesterdays breaking news. How does it help agents?– Sam complements the role of our travel managers / consultants and helps support their customers (travellers).– Sam’s capabilities benefit both parties:– Sam uses AI (artificial intelligence) to reduce the number of tasks thus save time for a busy travel manager eg. simple requests such as looking up flight information through to communicating travel disruptions– Sam is built to instantly answer common questions a traveller may have – allowing the traveller to get on with their journey rather than make contact with their travel manager– However, for more complex enquiries that require the expertise of a travel manager / consultant, Sam provides a direct line to the travel manager – which is what you want when there is an emergency.– Coming soon will also be a direct chat feature – allowing the traveller to easily / discretely start up a chat with their travel manager / service team. What kind of travellers do you feel will adopt this technology?Road warriors will definitely use Sam and enjoy the immediacy of the real-time information the app provides. Road warriors need to be kept informed on everything from weather at their destination, to traffic delays and gate changes – to have all of this information served up to them from a single voice is going to make their lives a lot easier.From a generational perspective, Gen X’ers and onwards are very text oriented so they will enjoy the chatbot environment Sam offers and I believe we’ll also see the baby boomers will also adopt this technology. What are the corporate airfare trends in Australia?After taking a look at 4D’s preliminary data that has been released for the 2017 period, I’m not overly surprised by the initial stats. Domestically corporates do tend to buy fares last minute and need flexible conditions for their fares. The marginal movement in the international economy tickets is reflective of international travel being flat for companies. In general companies were and still are looking to maximise their dollars and cut costs. It’s not just in certain sectors either, across the board companies are looking for more opportunities to save. We’re seeing travel bans being introduced and international travel remains flat. Travel is one of the first categories a company will look at to improve their bottom lines.Additionally, in the international space there is high competition, and travellers aren’t as loyal to any one carrier as they may be in the domestic space. It comes down to what is the best price and value for my particular journey Where would you like to see the industry in 3-5 years? I’d like to see that while the industry continues its focus on innovation and technology, that it also continues its focus on enhancing the customer experience and maintains the ‘people element’. I’d like to see the industry work on evolving both streams – technology and people to ensure there is greater integration and that both streams aren’t treated separately. FCM is a firm believer that it is the combination of technology and people that provides the best experience and expertise for our customers. What message would you share to a student entering the travel industry for the first time?I would press on the importance of customer service and how customer service that is personal, genuine and empathetic to the customer is the best kind of service. The travel industry is a fun industry – it’s something we like to talk about, to do and to be involved in. Travel, whether it’s leisure or business travel will always be a part of our lives and it really is an exciting industry to work in. What has been your most memorable trip?Habitat for Humanity in Cambodia where we had 75 FCM participants from across our leadership team attend. We raised $120k and built 6 homes for families affected by AIDS that had no housing. That was definitely a memorable experience that helped with team building, cohesiveness, confidence and made people proud of what they had contributed to the project. If you could travel anywhere on any budget, where would it be?Machu Picchu in South America. CAREER: Brisbane based Directors Role: Travel at 60CAREER: Vital Travel Consultant: Team based role full of LIFEHave you met Melissa on your travels? Other stories you may likeBOOK THE FLIGHTS! A wild Ibiza-style summer party is coming to BaliCelebrity’s new all-suite Galapagos ship is sustainable & has glampingDID YOU KNOW… Switzerland has 65,000km of hiking trails?