“Flexibility is in danger of becoming a buzzword,” argues Kelly Jones, ATPI’s Director of Sales & Account Management for Asia Pacific.
Although flexibility is often cited as an essential piece to the maritime travel management puzzle, it’s in danger of remaining an abstract concept as it can mean so many things to so many people – and in doing so seems like an unattainable feat for crew managers across the globe.
We asked Kelly to share her experience of flexibility in the maritime industry and, in doing so, offer insight into how shipping organisations can add flexibility to their travel strategy in a practical and realistic way.
What does flexibility mean in the context of maritime travel?
“Conditions in the maritime industry are liable to change and given that plans are heavily dictated by political influences, extreme weather or on the ground unforeseen circumstances, then one way of viewing flexibility in a shipping context is the ability to react to these changes, and the situations that they cause, very quickly without there being too much of an effect on the productivity of a vessel,” explains Kelly.
“Getting someone onto a plane quickly is one thing, but there is a host of ‘behind the scenes’ processes and rules and regulations around visas and permits that need to be taken into account – getting these sorted requires another layer of flexibility to a travel programme.”
What does a flexible travel solution look like in the shipping industry?
"First and foremost, a flexible maritime travel strategy must ensure that a partner can provide 24/7 access to all of the information that a vessel requires to effectively manage its travel,” says Kelly. “Timing is crucial in the shipping sector and so speed of response is top of the priority list.”
“It’s important not to base an entire strategy around cost,” Kelly points out. “In fact, in the event of an emergency or sudden change of plan, cost can become less important to many maritime organisations – it’s all about getting your people on board so that they can do their job. ”
However, Kelly also highlights that although cost is not a vessel’s sole priority when looking for a travel management solution, flexibility should also be extended to fare sourcing; “Working with a travel supplier who can source fares globally provides the best chance of securing favourable rates.”
What can maritime organisations do if they’re looking to add more flexibility to their travel programme?
“The best way to add flexibility to your travel strategy is to think as far ahead as possible,” Kelly says. “This is going to become even more important as airlines’ inventory gets tighter.”
Kelly explains: “Many people think they’re bound to a booking once they make it and so are reluctant to book too far in advance – but it’s actually the opposite. Marine fares are incredibly flexible and can be changed quite easily and so there’s everything to be gained by trying to increase lead times.”
“As a crew manager, understanding the makeup of your crew will help with adding flexibility to your travel strategy, as you’ll be aware of how sanctions and visa requirements will impact travel plans.”
Kelly concludes; “What people really need to be discussing if they want to achieve a more flexible travel programme is their vessel’s total cost of travel. This is the motivation that sits behind our workflow management system, ATPI CrewLinkTM and ATPI Door to DeckTM. It provides a complete picture of how an organisation’s crew are travelling, including ground transportation and port agency costs. If crew managers have access to this kind of data, they’re more informed and are best placed to identify areas in which flexibility can be achieved at the least possible cost.”