Ivano Gallino is vice president of the Italian Association of Travel and Mobility Managers (AITMM)
There’s an Italian proverb, ‘tra il dire e il fare c’è di mezzo il mare’, which translates to the less eloquent English saying: ‘easier said than done’. It’s a phrase Ivano Gallino uses repeatedly as he describes the current state of play in Italy’s business travel sector – and the ambitious goals of AITMM.
Much like the rest of Europe, business travel in Italy continues to recover from its Covid-induced collapse, despite inflationary pressure and rising costs. Exact business travel volumes are difficult to measure, says Gallino, but he estimates the sector has recovered to “about 80 to 90 per cent” of pre-pandemic levels.
This is in line with the latest research presented by the Business Travel Observatory (established by Milan Polytechnic’s Travel Innovation Observatory and the University of Bologna), which studies the dynamics of the sector and predicts a return to pre-Covid spending on business travel by the end of the year.
It’s important to note, says Gallino, that the business trips of Italian companies are largely domestic and, therefore, the dominant mode of transport is still the company car.
Data from the Business Travel Observatory reported 19 million domestic business transfers in 2022 – 15.5 million of which were carried out on the road, 7 million in the air, and 3.4 million via rail.
But this might be about to change, Gallino hopes, as the acceleration of flexible work models has given rise to new traveller preferences and a renewed focus on reducing carbon emissions. “We are living in an era of great transformation,” says Gallino. “[We] must not be afraid to step out of our comfort zone and go on a learning area of discovery.”
For Gallino, this means reshaping the concept of mobility and, by extension, the role of travel and mobility managers.
In Italy, companies with more than 100 employees (and based in a metropolitan area, provincial or regional capital, or a city with more than 50,000 inhabitants) have a legal obligation to appoint a mobility manager, whose responsibility it is to oversee traveller movements and, more recently, smart working.
The decree first came into effect in 1998 as an attempt by the government to improve traffic conditions and air quality in Italy’s major cities. But the scope of the initiative has since expanded, Gallino explains, to align with the EU’s 2030 emissions reduction goals and the European Green Deal, which could see the continent become carbon neutral by 2050. Then, of course, the pandemic hit.
What does this mean for the country’s business travel and mobility managers? With mobility as a service (MaaS) gaining traction – and travellers demand greater flexibility – Gallino says the lines between mobility and travel are beginning to blur.
“Today, the mobility manager and travel manager are two distinct figures, one deals with travel and the other deals with relocation, regulatory compliance, etc …but [with the onset of smart working] mobility managers now also have corporate sustainability and traveller wellbeing as part of their remit,” he says.
Gallino adds: “Moving forward, an overarching mobility budget [that encapsulates everything from traveller safety and wellbeing objectives to carbon reduction goals and supplier agreements] might be more effective than a travel policy when it comes to encouraging the best and most-sustainable way to travel.”
And because the ‘mobility manager’ in Italy has more clout than the travel manager – thanks to the long-standing decree – Gallino expects to see a greater convergence of the two roles.
To wean road warriors off the reliance on a company fleet, he said mobility managers “could oversee a MaaS offering to employees, which could include subscriptions to public transport and access to car- and bike-sharing services”.
With the advent of mobility apps like Mobility iQ and Free Now (the latter of which has a corporate Mobility Budget solution that is available in Italy), Gallino believes multimodal business travel, booked entirely through self-service digital tools, could become reality “in the near future”.
“This new service, today intended for urban mobility, could also become a service for extra-urban and even global mobility in the future,” he says. “The same mechanism could be used to book a plane, a train… to even make an international or intercontinental flight.”
Pilot projects are already underway in cities like Milan, Turin, Rome and Naples, says Gallino, “to standardise an app or digital service that can be used [to book travel] across various cities”.
This is potentially a great moment of transformation for business travel but my fear is that the traditional actors in our industry are not yet ready to face it
The digitisation of cross-border travel is among the key concerns of BT4Europe, of which AITMM is a founding member, ahead of the latest update to the EU’s Multimodal digital mobility services (MDMS) proposal, which is due in the second quarter of the year.
“Of course, all of this will require standardisation, especially in Italy, which encompasses both fiscal and regulatory aspects,” Gallino said. Tra il dire e il fare c’è di mezzo il mare…
Gaps in technology integration present another hurdle. “This is potentially a great moment of transformation [for business travel] and my fear is that the traditional actors in our industry are not yet ready to face it,” says Gallino. “New [tech] players, especially in the mobility area, have solutions that are ready to be deployed – and these will [soon] also cover the wider needs of business travel.”
“Due to several factors – inflation, industry talent crunch and company consolidation – the whole ecosystem has changed, but unfortunately contractual and commercial models remain unchanged,” he adds.
A wider cultural shift among Italian corporates is also needed, says Gallino, to embrace automation and online booking tools.
According to the Business Travel Observatory, 47 per cent of business travel bookings in Italy are still made via traditional channels – 32 per cent through an internal agency/travel office and 15 per cent from an external agency via phone or email.
“Some CEOs and business owners are very resistant to change,” Gallino says. “So travel managers need to be prepared to have strategic conversations [with management], to explain the advantages and opportunities [of digital innovation] and to anticipate trends.”
Staff shortages at travel management companies in Italy, as in the rest of Europe, have made life harder for corporates. Gallino says the biggest challenge right now is rising travel costs, with many travel managers “struggling to make budget predictions”.
Equipping travel and mobility managers with the skills needed to do their jobs effectively – and formulating a path for professional growth – is another area of focus for AITMM because, according to Gallino, travel managers have “always been undervalued in Italian companies”.
To counter this, the association is currently working to establish a professional certification for travel and mobility managers that, once finalised, will see the profession regulated by Italy’s national standardisation body, UNI.
“Today we are writing the certification standard, defining the skills and specifying terminology, then we’ll need to create an exam and establish exam centres,” Gallino explains.
This work will likely take 12 months and, once complete, Gallino says the UNI standard will “very likely” be adopted as an international ISO standard.
Established in 2018, the association might be young, but it has big ambitions for the future of travel and mobility in Italy.
With membership spanning the Italian peninsula, AITMM hosts several regional events focused on education and training, as well as an annual convention, which this year will take place in Bologna on 9 June.
“The convention is a moment of celebration for the association,” says Gallino. “And this year we’d like to involve the public through a series of games and interactive activities… it will be unusual, dynamic, witty and an event that ensures people leave with a smile.”