Author: Kevin White, Vice President, Mastercard Enterprise Partnerships
While the outbreak and spread of Covid-19 has impacted all sectors and geographies, the travel and tourism industry has been hit particularly hard. 2020 saw estimated losses of 120 million direct tourism jobs and around 1.2 trillion USD in tourism export revenues.
As travellers faced unprecedented restrictions which forced trip cancellations and led to mass refunds, the sector saw chargeback rates surpass revenue from future bookings. As the situation unfolded, the pandemic shone a spotlight on legacy payment processes that couldn’t stand up in crisis. The situation highlighted the critical role that B2B payment processes play in operational adaptability, liquidity and survival, and an urgent review of B2B payment strategies is now top of every travel organisations agenda.
The B2B Payment Landscape Pre-Covid: Across the travel ecosystem, multiple B2B payment methods allow travel agents and travel suppliers to pay for the elements that make up traveller itineraries. Over recent years the merchant of record model has risen in popularity. With this model, the travel agency acts as the merchant of record, accepting traveller payments, authorising transactions, and supplying bookings. Most travel agencies arrange secondary payment to various suppliers by leveraging manual payment methods, such as cash/bank transfers.
The reliance on manual processes leaves travel agencies exposed and without payment guarantee. While this is not new, it wasn’t until Covid-19 hit that attention to such outdated practices was prioritized. Accepting the challenges associated with manual payment processes is no longer an option, and organisations across the travel sector are now urgently re-considering the payment strategies that underpin their business. The question is, how can payment technology better support the merchant of record model?
The Future of B2B Travel Payments is Virtual: Industry-wide payment digitisation will enable travel agencies and travel suppliers to interact more efficiently and more effectively. In contrast to manual payment modes such as cash/bank transfers, virtual card numbers (VCNs) allow greater payment visibility, flexibility and protection for all parties. Accepted everywhere traditional cards are taken, Mastercard has long pioneered the use of VCN technology for B2B travel transactions because the single use digital card numbers simplify reconciliation while providing enhanced payment protection. It’s this innovation that is at the heart of the Mastercard Wholesale Travel Program, a solution specifically developed to address the challenges travel organisations face.
Enhancing Protection & Driving Growth: It’s never been more important for the industry to come together, which is why events like World Travel Market and Travel Forward are more significant than ever. By coming together, we share experiences and learn from each other, ensuring that no travel organisation is left behind as the sector advances together and emerges from the global pandemic stronger.
Mastercard believes in the power of partnership and is collaborating across the sector, combining expertise and capabilities to ensure that payment technology is helping travel businesses navigate challenging times while supporting future growth. Throughout my recent interactions with those at the heart of the sector, four key priorities stand out that form a framework for advancing a more resilient future:
- Accelerating payment digitisation: Even at the best of times, travel organisations have faced slow and unpredictable payment flows due to legacy manual payment processes. Replacing administrative heavy methods that experience lengthy settlement periods with VCN technology will positively impact businesses across the value chain.
- Advancing pricing transparency and flexibility: The travel industry is made up of a complex global network of businesses, so B2B transaction pricing based on geography serves only as a barrier to profitability. Through the Mastercard Wholesale Travel Program, organisations are provided with a standardised pricing structure that bundles more than 150 fees into one fixed price for all travel transactions, realizing mutually beneficial and predictable economics to suit specific products and markets to benefit all parties.
- Mitigating risk and enhancing protection: While profit margins are tighter than ever, it is essential that risk is reduced, and protection is increased for commerce to continue to flow across the sector. VCNs are powerful tools in the fight against payment fraud as they offer increased security through unique numbers that are generated and used for each individual transaction. The rapid expiry of the technology also enhances security and limits data breach over physical cards and paper-based or manual payment methods.
- Increased collaboration: Mastercard and its partners are working to create a more robust and agile travel ecosystem in which everyone benefits. This involves engaging travel suppliers and travel agencies in identifying challenges; co-developing solutions grounded in day-to-day realities and sparked by innovative thinking; aligning on pricing and operational issues; and implementing partnership agreements that deliver mutual and shared value.
The global pandemic has provided a wakeup call for all industries and the travel sector is no exception. There is increased awareness that the ecosystem has never been more connected – it thrives or fails together.
As we advance through the last few months of this year and look ahead to the next, businesses across the travel value chain are approaching the future with a collaborative and innovative mindset. Prepared to collectively review and refresh whatever processes and platforms held them back and advance innovations that support an inclusive recovery.
As travel organisations look to lay foundations for growth anchored in effective B2B payment strategies, Mastercard remains firmly by their side — ensuring that payment technology is playing its part in advancing a more resilient future for travel organisations large and small.
About Kevin White, Vice President, Travel Industries, Mastercard
Kevin White is Vice President, Travel Industries within Enterprise Partnerships at Mastercard. In his role, Kevin is responsible for developing and launching differentiating solutions for partners in the B2B travel space. These solutions range from digitalized payments and providing efficiencies for travel agencies and travel suppliers, new technologies for better interfaces and leveraging big data for insights on the travel ecosystem.
Prior to joining Mastercard, Kevin’s spent almost 14 years in the travel industry holding positions at leading travel brands such as lastminute.com, Global Hotel Alliance and AMResorts. These previous positions spanned across sales, marketing, distribution, and loyalty all with one key factor – building successful partnerships. This diverse experience now coupled with technology and payments has enabled him to deeply understand the travel ecosystem and its associated opportunities.
About Mastercard B2B Travel: Mastercard’s B2B Travel team collaborates with travel industry partners to advance digital solutions that minimise operational cost, enhance transaction protection and support pathways to enhanced sales for organizations across the value chain. Visit: mastercard.com/b2btravel