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Murari Mohan Jha

Murari Mohan Jha

India is set to become one of the largest markets when it comes to corporate travel. Jet Airways has catered to the corporate segment for over two decades. Gilbert George, Head, India Sales, Jet Airways speaks about the evolving corporate segment.

 

How would you explain the current status of corporate travel market in India? What is the growth prospect?

India is the world’s 9th largest business travel market witnessing double digit growth (12%-15%) over the past few years, fuelled by a healthy business climate on the back of robust economic activity. As per reports, Business travel is expected to continue growing at a CAGR of 12% through 2020 and if this trend continues, India could well become one of the top 3 business travel markets, after China and the US, in the next decade.

What sort of inefficiencies you see in corporate travel management today in terms of compliance, approvals, etc.?

An increasing proportion of organisations today have well-defined and structured travel policies. However, potential for inefficiencies exists whenever the lowest logical fare becomes the guiding mantra, ignoring or outweighing the concept and advantages of overall value. At such times, higher actual costs may end up promoting inefficiencies.

Do you think the corporates are using the mandated tools for booking? If yes what is the percentage? And how can as a vendor / Support system you can add value to this for increasing the adaption rate?

The concept of a centralised travel desk is followed in/by most large format organisations. Self-booking tools are also becoming increasingly popular with an increasing number of them. Compared to international bookings, which could involve complex itineraries comprising codeshares/ interline, the adoption rate for domestic bookings is significantly higher (70% +) for organizations that have the booking platform.

Corporate guests comprise nearly half of Jet Airways’ traffic. As a long-standing partner to most leading organisations for over two decades, Jet Airways understands their travel requirements. Over the years, the airline has adopted a host of measures such as using a simplified platform, crafting easy to understand policies and commercials, as well as the role and importance of value-added benefits such as meals, preferential seating, baggage, frequent flier mileage and itinerary changes etc., to encourage and enhance adoption by end users, in line with their internal policies.

How important is it for Corporate to have strict Compliance Policies? Do these policies support your relationship in the corporate or create showstoppers for your marketing efforts?

If a carrier is a Preferred Partner, compliance ensures that the partnership is indeed win-win for both sides, implying robust business for the airline and unique benefits for guests.

However, customers sometimes draw up contracts with multiple airlines that dilute the strength of the partnership for tactical, short term gains. Such developments have the potential to dilute the benefits offered by a full service carrier. The term lowest logical is often misconstrued and tends to be interpreted as the lowest fare- logical or not.

How important is Duty of care in your view? Are your systems and policies in sync with that of corporate to support them in achieving high level of commitment to Duty of care?

Duty of care is of prime importance. As an IATA carrier, hosted on the GDS and having mature policies, we have been committed to our clients for over two decades in helping them achieve their commitment to Duty of care

Do you think time has come to use digitization and AI to support day today repetitive activities for better support and deliverable to corporate segment? Are they any initiatives you are taking towards this?

Jet Airways has been a pioneer in embracing technology and leveraging it to deliver superior and differentiated experiences to its guests. Over the last 25 years, the airline has introduced several industry and guest first initiatives including Web check-in, Mobile check-in, a fully functional mobile app, as well as a booking engine where corporate clients can manage bookings, ticketed even through brick and mortar agents. Global linker - a platform for small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) acts as a ‘linked-in for business’.  The airline has the biggest social media following in the Indian aviation sectors using its proprietary channels for Customer engagement, for eg, #Jetinstant - a twitter-based platform, facilitates seamless check-in and manages basic flight enquiries. Jet Screen is a Jet exclusive in-flight entertainment experience allowing guests to stream over 330 hours of content on their personal devices, when travelling in its narrow bodied aircraft across the domestic network.

How and where do you think predictive analytics help?

Predictive analytics helps in forecasting future trends, flight loads, seasonal and directional imbalances, industry vertical growth, buying behaviour, efficacy of loyalty programs, channel and segment growth, growth markets.

Global tourism offices and departments could be completely out of touch with current development and future outbound tourism realities in India’s case. Let’s take example of China to understand the future outbound travel from India. After all, the two countries are not only hailed as the Asian giants and boast of almost the same populations, but also in many ways there is some sort of unanimity that India’s already into a period of economic growth in which China was, say 15-20 years ago.

 

Outbound travel from China developed faster than anybody expected. What was initially estimated to be a 100 million outbound travel market by around 2017, almost happened in 2013 itself when China recorded over 98 million outbound travels. Of course it officially entered the 100 million club, and sits alone there, in 2014, reaching about 117 million, a staggering growth of about 19 per cent. Between 2010 and 2014 it recorded mind boggling growth of 17-18 per cent to 20-21 per cent at times, something no foreign destination estimated.

 

Besides, what makes this growth yet more staggering for the global destinations is the fact that the share of Greater China regions, Hong Kong, Macao as well as Taiwan, continued to dwindled as more and more Chinese opted for long haul travel!

 

In case of India, the UNWTO projection a few years ago estimated that the country will be a 50 million outbound travel market by 2020. Now despite a robust growth of around 11 per cent year-on-year in the last three-four years, India was still just under a 22 million outbound travel market at the end of 2016. And its looks highly unlikely that it will even touch 40 million by 2020 as for that to happen it needs to grow at a rate of little over 15 per cent year-on-year between 2017 and 2020.

 

However, we expect the current wave of economic growth that is projected to further gain pace and steadily growing share of population whose income are increasing to result in a kind of latent demand for outbound travel that will begin to unleash itself in the next five to eight years in somewhat similar ways to the massive growth that the world witnessed in outbound travel from China between 2010- and 2014.

 

Now that brings us to the point that is the NTOs doing enough to establish their destinations in India. Tourism offices are not opened overnight. Many, NTOs, went to China late. There were yet others who were already there but were not active enough; others loosened their purse in market development activities in reaction to the massive Chinese outbound travel growth.

 

It’s high time NTOs pressed on the lever. Quite likely that India is the world’s second largest outbound travel market, say in just 10 years! 

Tourism has emerged as a major contributor to any country’s economy and employment generation. Having realized this, countries and cities are going aggressive with its marketing and promotional activities in overseas markets. We have seen cities and regions like Florida, California, Queensland, New South Wales, Flanders and South West Germany amongst many others have established their own or representative offices in various countries including India. At a time when these cities are so proactive to drive foreign tourist arrivals, India is shutting down its overseas offices which were mandated to create awareness through aggressive destination marketing about India’s tourism product.

Although the Union Govt is considering having a tourism promotion desk in embassies, we, at T3, feel that it is the high time for State Tourism Boards to come forward and have direct or representation offices in major overseas source markets. Few states like Kerala and Goa have been organizing roadshows in overseas markets, but then having a permanent presence in major source markets will definitely bring desired and better results.

No doubt, all states are gung ho about domestic tourism market but the fact of the matter is that 60% per cent of domestic tourist numbers are pilgrims. Majority of the pilgrims do not spend much on their religious journey due to various reasons. Business travel is booming in India due to consistent growth in the economy. On leisure tourism front, there are only few states and pockets in the country which are getting in good numbers. Mostly foreign tourists are going to Golden Triangle : Delhi-Jaipur- Agra and Kerala and Goa while India offers a plethora of tourism products for every age brackets and segments.

We are of the opinion that opening direct offices in the overseas market will provide ample opportunity to understand the requirements of the market that can help in formulating a suitable marketing strategy to drive traffic from that country to respective states. States can do this as many states have good marketing budget and this will be a wise investment as ROI will definitely be too good.

Very recently, the Ministry of Tourism also urged states to come forward and join hands with the Ministry for promotion and marketing to make it more effective with wider reach. This is truly a good though process and states can partner here. However, having a direct or representation office will enable states to have focused strategy to promote their tourism products in an effective manner.

Known for the world famous Amazon rainforest and Machu Picchu, Peru is witnessing a northward growth from India market. In the first two months of 2018, the destination has already witnessed a staggering growth of 36.9 per cent as compared to last year.

Speaking about the growth from India market Luis M Cabello, Economic and Commercial Counselor of Embassy of Peru in India said, “The response of the Indian market has been great. According to the statistics received from the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (MINCETUR) of Peru, the tourist arrivals of Indians to Peru has grown a record 36.9 per cent in the first two months of 2018, in comparison to the same period in the year 2017. This record-breaking growth is a sign of the growing popularity of Peru among the Indian tourists, who are evolving in their tastes, and in the look-out for exclusive experiences. Similarly, the growth of the number of Indian tourists arriving in Peru, for the period of January to December 2017, in comparison to 2016, has been a promising 22 per cent with the total number of visitors from India crossing 7200.

This Latin American destination is known for various attractions and products such as sustainable tourism in the Amazons, historical tours in Machu Picchu and the Inca cities, cultural immersions with local tribes in Puno and Lake Titicaca, adventure sports like sand duning in Huacachina, and trekking in the world-famous Inca Trail amongst others.

Cabello added, “The destinations are myriad, but to highlight some: Lima, Nazca Lines, Ica, Cusco & Machu Picchu, Arequipa & Colca canyon, Puno & Lake Titicaca in the South of Peru. Northern Peru is home to some of the grandest civilizations, dating back to before the Incans and adrenaline-pushing beaches which attract surfers from around the globe. The Mancora beach in Piura boasts of the world´s longest left wave and Trujillo is a beautiful colonial city with mouth-watering gastronomy and postcard-perfect buildings.”

In 2018, the destination started the year by promoting itself in India through participation in SATTE, one of the leading travel and tourism exhibitors in India.

He further said, “2018 has begun on a very promising note with a participation of the first-ever Peruvian Tour operators´ delegation at the annual tourism fair of SATTE in New Delhi. A total of ten Peruvian Companies participated in this year’s editions of the annual B2B fairs, starting off the year with punctual meetings between the Indian and Peruvian operators. Thereafter, a FAM trip was organised for some of the key Indian operators who travelled to Peru and are set to participate in the annual Peru Travel Mart in Lima. The Commercial Office of Peru in India hopes to see the fruits of these networking sessions in the numbers of Indian tourists next few years. For the second half of the year, we will be looking at promoting Peru in both the B2B and B2C segments with some plans which are in the pipelines.”

Earlier in 2015, the regional Governments of Cusco and Karnataka have signed letter of intent to promote the world famous Machu Picchu and Hampi. “The Letter was signed with the aim of promoting cooperation and collaboration between private, non-governmental and academic institutions, with the aim of strengthening the ties that already exist between our nations,” Cabello said.

A better outlook for global economy coupled with fast changing innovative technologies, rise of the sharing economy and the growing importance of millennials in business travel are driving the growth of corporate travel globally, including India. The economic parameters prevailing in the country is helping India to emerge as a big market for corporate travel and players in the segment have geared up to realise the potential this sector offers. Also, with passing time, corporate’s focus on safe and smooth travel for their executives, increasing demand from corporate travellers and consistent change in travel technology amongst others has further pushed this segment to become more evolved.

According to American Express Global Business Travel Forecast for 2018, India’s burgeoning middle class and solid economic growth will cause demand for travel to surge throughout the year. This is consistent with the latest report from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) which revealed India’s annual growth in business travel spend is at 11.4 per cent, the largest rise among the top 15 business travel markets globally. Moreover, the Indian airline industry is growing at an even faster rate as favourable government policies, growing affluence, increased trade, and an aging transportation infrastructure are driving demand. International departures for business purposes are expected to increase by about 5.4 per cent from over 157million in 2017 to about 166 million in 2018. Studies suggest that corporate travel market in India presently stands at 10th position across the world, with probably the highest growth rate. In the last decade, this segment has grown from 20th position to 10th position.

According to a report by consultancy firm KPMG, India is now a US$ 30 billion business travel market and is expected to more than triple to US$ 93 billion by 2030. “In 2015, India saw a 15 per cent increase in business travel spending, which will grow with a CAGR of 12 per cent through 2020 to six per cent by 2030. This increase in all possibility will be greater than the increases in business travel growth in the next three largest countries combined, including South Korea, Italy and Brazil. Twelve years from now (by 2030), India will likely be amongst the top five in business travel spending,” the report stated.

Policy Compliances

Citing its own survey, Ashish Kishore, Managing Director, American Express Global Business Travel, India says Indian business travelers were identified as being the most aware of company travel policies of the six countries surveyed. “Despite this, 66 per cent of Indian business travelers reported not booking within policy all of the time. Workers can often believe they are making sensible decisions which save their company money when they book outside of travel policy; however these can result in false savings. When employee’s book outside of company policy, this travel is not tracked, and can affect the overall negotiating power of the company during their next contract review,” Kishore adds. 

Sandeep Dwivedi, Chief Operating Officer, InterGlobe Technology Quotient, says that business travel is mostly the second biggest expense for any company, besides payroll. “Business travel happens so that these companies can expand their domain and move across geographies. However, on the very basic level, executives fail to adhere to company travel policies, initiating compliance challenges, thereby increasing their expenditure. As most Indian organizations are moving towards creating customised technology suited to their business travel, it is necessary that they include the company travel policy compliances in the booking flow to minimise complexities,” he opines. 

Ranjeet Oak, Chief business officer – Corporate, MakeMyTrip also echoes the similar opinion. “For most organisations, business travel spending is the second largest expense, and includes a tedious process allowing a certain amount of discrepancies and reimbursement issues to crop up. From a large organisation point-of-view, the travel policy management is required which may add a level of complexity into the system and lengthen the requisition process. Few organisations set up a travel desk to manage travel needs but this could constrain resources for many businesses. Small to medium scale businesses do not have adequate bandwidth or additional resources and support to manage such corporate demands and that’s why business tools backed by technology can help fill that gap,” Oak says.

Evolving technologies

The use of data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are key advancements that are taking place in the overall travel sector. Similarly, corporate travel segment is witnessing the entry of new tools and ways to cater to business travelers needs. Self-booking corporate travel apps are making their way in the organizations, especially the SMEs who typically have limited travel requests.  “We see significant potential in new technologies such as AI for business travel, and our recent research with ACTE revealed that 32 per cent of travel managers in “younger” organisations are interested in using AI to understand and influence business traveler behaviors.  Given the enthusiasm with which the industry has adopted innovations like mobile apps, it is only a matter of time until the use of AI and chatbots in managed travel becomes widespread. Currently, few have actually deployed such innovations, and while there is major scope for digitization and AI to improve customer outcomes, this will always need to be balanced with the need for human interaction,” Kishore says.

Dwivedi opines that more and more businesses are looking for self sufficient, custom made technology that answers their travel choices with minimum hassles. “The intervention of ‘SMART’ has become a necessity for fast track, real time and error free travel choices. The adoption of this smart technology enables travel desks of companies to be self-sufficient. The technology also helps to communicate transparency between the travel provider and travel buyer,” he adds.

According to Oak, business travel often involves unplanned flights, last-minute hotel booking, which can be hard to pull together at a short notice. “Hence, corporates are now taking to new travel tools that drive savings, efficiencies, compliance and traveller safety, all in one. For most organisations, travel and expense spending is a huge expense besides the regular payroll. Unexpected corporate trips create a lot of hassle viz multiple bookings from different vendors, unexpected travel expense, timely approvals, appropriate choices and reimbursement issues. The new corporate travel booking tools are solving these issues by deploying technology, taking the hassle out of booking and expensifying,” Oak adds.

Kishore says that their pre-trip booking tool, Expert Approval, helps companies increase travel policy compliance, and can deliver systems which require senior approval when travel is booked outside of company policy. “Many of our clients globally use automated systems for booking travel, with great effect. However, such tools are not foolproof and need to be combined with other approaches such as education, and even incentivization to increase compliance,” he adds.

According to Dwivedi, business travel management tools should also be made adept to corporate traveling compliances.  “This would make the softwares deliver efficient and error free travel choices- thereby reducing huge number of cancellations, refunds and reissues- which take up a significant amount from the corporate travel budget,” he says and adds that Travelport is one such GDS provider which has tapped through the opportunities presented by current travel market and delivered tools that satisfy its demand. “With Travelport Smartpoint, corporate travel agencies have access to, not just more content, but to more features that help to sell more and earn more by offering corporate booking tool. This tool provides corporate travel agents with seamless and unified workflow by syncing the traveller profiles to the booking engines combined with intuitive application mid office. It has a Business Layer Automation feature along with audit trails of each entry,” Dwivedi says.

MakeMyTrip forayed into corporate travel space in August last year with the larger objective of capturing the majority of the SME corporate travel segment as SMEs are contributing to 70 per cent of the corporate travel business. “MyBiz works as a self-booking tool to cater to smaller companies which have not had many affordable options, up until now. We largely focus on the fragmented travel segment, which is over US$ seven billion (corporate SME) market for just flights and hotels. MyBiz helps them get the same advantages that large companies get for their business travels - giving choice to employees, keeping control with employer while providing savings & benefits for corporates as a self-booking tool,” he adds.

However, the awareness of corporate travel is low in India because the Tier II and III cities do not have enough corporate in the first place. “The sector can improve awareness within the developing cities by conducting awareness campaigns-wherein streamlined software can be demonstrated to lower business travel costs. Players of the industry are working towards this,” Dwivedi says. 

Analytics

Primarily, corporate travel seems very simple however in reality it is a lot more complex. Here, it becomes important to track and analyze the experiences of business travelers. With detailed data and analytics, corporate can not only learn about demands and behaviour of the traveller, but is also able to identify the loopholes in payment systems, expenses, related risks and more. A lot of time and monetary savings can be made by observing the travel patterns of employees by analysing this data. It helps the organization to pick the right travel-planning platform, streamline the booking process and even provide personalised services. For several years, American Express Global Business Travel has mined T&E data to understand traveller’s behaviour, and aide future decision making. “Using predictive analytics, companies can mine and analyse troves of T&E data, for example, at scale to enhance decision making, from driving spend patterns to managing negotiated rates or preparing for rising hotel costs. Machine learning advancements have the potential to strip the laborious aspects of analysing data for travel program managers, allowing them to spend more time taking action. Machine learning and predictive analytics are complementary but separate technologies. Machine learning is better suited to transforming or extending data sets to make them more useful, while predictive analysis allows businesses to improve the way they use these transformed data sets to deliver value,” Kishore says and adds that GBT’s Premier Insights will take the masses of data and allow “what-if scenarios” so travel managers can be ahead of the game and influence behaviour. “You could predict what the savings would be if every individual in your company adopted advance purchase behaviour or booked premium economy on a certain route,” he adds.

According to Thiagarajan Rajagopalan, Founder & CEO, Tripeur, analytics provides valuable insights into employee behaviour such as when they apply for travel approval, where they are booking, what choices they are making, how many exceptions they are seeking and how much they are spending on travel. “By acting on these insights and by providing real time feedback to the travellers, companies are able to keep the compliance rate high. As far as our customers are concerned, we see more than 90 per cent compliance in using mandated tools. Only in emergency situations, the customers tend to go elsewhere to book their travel,” Rajagopalan says and informs that the Tripeur system allows a corporate in defining and monitoring commitments to various suppliers. “While supplier negotiations and contracting happens offline, the system allows the corporates to manage them effectively. Thus, if a corporate is over-delivering for a supplier while under-delivering for another, the system can automatically move business to supplier B from supplier A,” he adds.

Duty of care

Duty of care is a critical concern for travellers and organisations. With the rise in global unrest, businesses are increasingly adopting various measures and processes to ensure safety of their business travelers. “At GBT, we encourage businesses to adopt proactive planning, take the lead on duty of care and not wait for a crisis to occur. High levels of duty of care are essential elements of business travel planning. For companies with many travelers on the road, an automated system makes the most sense since you do not want to be wasting time making dozens of phones calls manually. Our most recent research with the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) showed more than a third (37 per cent) of travel managers saw a rise in enquiries relating to traveller safety. But it appears that a significant number of organisations do not have the systems required to quickly address these concerns. More than a quarter (27 per cent) of travel managers claim not to have had a detailed emergency plan in place,” he adds.

Germany witnessed over 852,000 visitor overnights from India in 2017, reflecting a 13.8 per cent growth over 2016. “We expect five to eight per cent growth in 2018. Our goal is to reach one million overnights by 2020 and two million overnights by 2030. We are hopeful to achieve this,” Romit Theophilus, Director, German National Tourist Office (GNTO) - India, said.

He informed that Germany used to be mainly a business destination for India few years ago but gradually leisure has also picked up. “Germany is actually quite popular as a leisure destination also. Out of total Indian arrivals, 40 per cent is business, 20 per cent each for VFR and leisure respectively and student and others comprise of 20 per cent. For us, Germany has become a very captive destination for Indian student due to its quality of education and value. The average spend per person per trip in Germany is 2363 euro compared to the average for Indian outbound at 1900 euro. Germany is very affordable destination. Currently, India stand at number five source market in Asia for Germany,” he informed and added that Germany as a destination is number one in schengen and number two in Europe for India. “We are currently number two just behind Europe. Switzerland is right behind us,” he informed.

For 2018, Germany has selected 'Culinary Germany - More to explore' as its core global marketing theme. “Food forms an integral part of any travellers itinerary. With over 5,000 beers from 1,300 breweries, 300 types of bread, 1,500 types of sausage, 13 wine regions, 292 Michelin-starred restaurants and 3,000 to 5,000 Christmas markets Germany is sure to satiate any travellers appetite,” he said. 

Elaborating more, he said that GNTO India office will organize various consumer engagement activities with influencers/bloggers, social media channels in the market in the coming months. “We will also be launching a game of matching German and Indian cuisines on facebook as well as cookery events,” he added.  According to the Quality Monitor survey of the German tourism industry, four per cent of international holidaymakers come to Germany specifically for the variety and quality of its food and drink. “The sector, therefore, contributes at least 3.2 million overnight stays to Germany's inbound tourism,” he informed.

Adding to its cherished status of being a favored leisure destination amongst Indians, the GNTO India Office now boasts of over one million followers on its Facebook platform.  “We had envisioned that our Facebook page would be the hub for interactions and discussions on all things related to travel to Germany and we are happy to see the popularity of the page amongst Facebook enthusiasts. With engagement rates of 16 per cent on an average, the page has become the regular haunt for travelers looking at exploring new experiences,” Theophilus said.

On the marketing front, GNTO India Office spends 40 per cent of its marketing budget on B2B segment and remaining is earmarked for B2C.

Ashish Kishore, Managing Director, American Express Global Business Travel, India shares his perspective about corporate travel market in India and how his company has been contributing to make this more organized.

 

1.  How would you explain the current status of corporate travel market in India? What is the growth prospect?

In our 2018 Global Business Travel Forecast we predicted that India’s burgeoning middle class and solid economic growth will cause demand for travel to surge throughout the year. This is consistent with the latest report from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) which revealed India’s annual growth in business travel spend is at 11.4% – the largest rise among the top 15 business travel markets globally.

Despite some missteps in 2017, the Indian economy is the fastest growing in Asia, with its GDP growth set to top 7.4% in 2018. However, the Indian airline industry is growing at an even faster rate as favourable government policies; growing affluence, increased trade, and an aging transportation infrastructure are driving demand.

2.  What sort of inefficiencies you see in corporate travel management today in terms of, compliance, approvals, etc.?

In a recent survey that we commissioned into traveler behavior and compliance, Indian business travelers were identified as being the most aware of company travel policies of the six countries surveyed. Despite this, 66% of Indian business travelers reported not booking within policy all of the time.

Workers can often believe they are making sensible decisions which save their company money when they book outside of travel policy, however these can result in false savings. When employees book outside of company policy, this travel is not tracked, and can affect the overall negotiating power of the company during their next contract review.

3. Do you think the corporates are using the mandated tools for booking? If yes what is the percentage? And how can as a vendor / Support system you can add value to this for increasing the adaption rate?

Our pre-trip booking tool, Expert Approval, helps companies increase travel policy compliance, and can deliver systems which require senior approval when travel is booked outside of company policy. Many of our clients globally use automated systems for booking travel, with great effect. However, such tools are not foolproof and need to be combined with other approaches such as education, and even incentivization to increase compliance.

4.  How important is it for Corporate to have strict Compliance Policies? Do these policies support your relationship in the corporate or create showstoppers for your marketing efforts?

In our most recent survey, India was the only country where business travel policy compliance increased when the policies were more relaxed rather than strictly enforced. It’s an interesting revelation and suggests that Indian employees prefer autonomy and flexibility when arranging business travel, and that the company bottom line may be the better for it.

5. How important is Duty of care in your view? Are your systems and policies in sync with that of corporate to support them in achieving high level of commitment to Duty of care?

Duty of care is a critical concern for travelers and organizations. With the rise in global unrest, businesses are increasingly adopting various measures and processes to ensure safety of their business travelers. At GBT, we encourage businesses to adopt proactive planning, take the lead on duty of care and not wait for a crisis to occur. High levels of duty of care are essential elements of business travel planning. For companies with many travelers on the road, an automated system makes the most sense since you do not want to be wasting time making dozens of phones calls manually.

Our most recent research with the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) showed more than a third (37 per cent) of travel managers saw a rise in enquiries relating to traveller safety. But it appears that a significant number of organisations do not have the systems required to quickly address these concerns. More than a quarter (27 per cent) of travel managers claim not to have had a detailed emergency plan in place.

GBT’s Expert Care is a tool that greatly assists with employer duty of care obligations. The platform enables organizations to track employees in real time, and to send them alerts and communication via text when required. These tools integrate well with existing duty of care policies, enabling companies to have visibility over their employees while on the road and to adequately support them when they need it most.

6. Do you think time has come to use digitization and AI to support day today repetitive activities for better support and deliverable to corporate segment? Are they any initiatives you are taking towards this?

We see significant potential in new technologies such as AI for business travel, and our recent research with ACTE revealed that 32% of travel managers in “younger” organizations are interested in using AI to understand and influence business traveler behaviors.

Given the enthusiasm with which the industry has adopted innovations like mobile apps, it is only a matter of time until the use of AI and chatbots in managed travel becomes widespread.

Currently, few have actually deployed such innovations, and while there is major scope for digitization and AI to improve customer outcomes, this will always need to be balanced with the need for human interaction. During travel disruptions in particular, our Travel Counselors often need to adapt quickly and provide peace of mind to travelers to put them at ease and solve their challenges.

7. How and where do you think predictive analytics help?

For several years we have mined T&E data to understand traveller behaviour, and aide future decision making. Using predictive analytics, companies can mine and analyse troves of T&E data, for example, at scale to enhance decision making, from driving spend patterns to managing negotiated rates or preparing for rising hotel costs. Machine learning advancements have the potential to strip the laborious aspects of analysing data for travel program managers, allowing them to spend more time taking action.

Machine learning and predictive analytics are complementary but separate technologies. Machine learning is better suited to transforming or extending data sets to make them more useful, while predictive analysis allows businesses to improve the way they use these transformed data sets to deliver value

For example, GBT’s Premier Insights will take the masses of data and allow “what-if scenarios” so travel managers can be ahead of the game and influence behaviour. You could predict what the savings would be if every individual in your company adopted advance purchase behaviour or booked premium economy on a certain route.

The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) forayed into India market 6 years ago. Since then, ACTE has been conducting forums, seminars and events in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. Greely Koch, Executive Director, ACTE, talks exclusively with T3 on the current status of corporate travel market in India.

 

How do you explain the current status of the corporate travel market in India?

Right now, it is very exciting.  We have been here since 6 years. Over these 6 years, we have seen numerous changes.  Six years ago, corporate travel was done primarily by the multinationals that have offices here.  We are now seeing that more and more Indian based companies, as they spend more on travel, getting to understanding the proper corporate travel management processes.  I think that been the biggest change over the years. The market is exciting as we very strong focus on corporate travel management.

You have been imparting education on corporate travel. In India, 70 per cent of the corporate travel is from unorganized sector. What could be the way forward to educate these SMEs as well?

We actually had some meetings with TMCs and what we heard is that SMEs are now paying closer attention to travel management. And it is going from just being about lowest fare and rate today to how we make our travelers more efficient. How do we make it more productive when travelling? That’s a big shift that we started to see. When we focus on our education for the event, it is not only about what is  going to be happening down the road but to get ready for but it also about what to do for today. We just can’t do one event. We have to continuously work with the market place.  We have to continuously to get people together.  So, we do our bit differently to meet those needs.

What kind of trends do you see among Indian corporate houses in adoption of tools and mechanism that delivers efficiency in managed travel?

We are seeing several trends in corporate travel segment and these are: transparency, efficiency, productivity and safety. We are seeing more transparency in the market when it comes to pricing to commissions to money flowing amongst all the different suppliers. On efficiency, we are seeing more and more booking tools being adopted, new technology being adapted with regards to content availability. In the past, most of the contents were only with GDSs. Now, we see hotel and airline content. Some of these are direct and some of these are from third party. So, this is bringing more complexities but these complexities are bringing more options and opportunities.

On Safety, there are more concerns about traveler’s safety whether one is within the country or outside the country.  Knowing where your travelers are, tracking your travelers, being able to provide a system to them that we generally did not see six years ago. And the final one is productivity and that is making it easier for whether you are a travel booker or travelling themselves. For a travel booker, you want to make it easier for them to make the reservation, understand the fares and class and for the traveler you want to make them efficient when are on the road. Whether they need more information such as gate change, flight delay, flight cancelation, ground transport etc..  Whatever the case might be but there is a need to equip more power in travelers hand through their mobile devices so that they can be more productive.

What is the kind of inefficiencies that you see in corporate travel management today in terms of compliance, approvals in developing economies like India?

The most significance inefficiency still revolves around the booking process. Some companies are so focused on class that they have pre tour booking policies that this trip must be approved by manager. And, I was listening to one supplier and they said that they track the number of approvals and those which are declined. They said that 99 per cent are approved. That is one of the biggest inefficiencies we have. So by the time they get approval, those fares could be gone up and in the plan higher fare. So, one of the inefficiencies still revolves around the booking process, managing to get approvals, authorization as the trips beginning to start.

What trends do you see corporate buyers engaging disruptive technologies on the ground transport and lodging side?

When Airbnb, Uber came around several years ago, companies tried to treat them differently. They wanted to have one policy.  But what companies found is really different from cost, need, safety and security perspective. So we saw companies treating them differently. On the ground transport, we have seen companies develop policy that says that if you feel safe, you can choose whatever method you want for the trip you are taking. Companies are basically saying traveler to decide what is the best. Not one size fits all. Innovation has really helped with safety.

On lodging, companies need to examine from the security perspective. I heard stories initially that a female made the reservation and she had to go to pick up the key of flat in a pub. Nobody knows who has the key and it is a concern. So companies would say that it is not that we do not use them because some companies have very good procedure. Maybe they get together for their sales meeting at a different environment. Hence, companies have to look at that a little bit differently and come up with something with different reviews. When you add these different factors in, travel program today becomes very complex. Because you are adding new technology, new provider and new content. So, a lot of complexities have come in the travel program. We did a survey in last October talking about ‘Simplifying your travel program’ and when we looked at the rating what buyers were focused on , the first focus was on cost, duty of care, safety and security, rates. They were not focused on traveler’s satisfaction and travel program simplification.

How technology advancement brings change in the way corporate travel is managed? Is it simplifying it making it more complex?

The survey shows that it is making a more complex. But now, we are seeing that newer technologies bring more value. So, in the beginning we saw all these different content sources. Now, we see new technology aggregates different content. Technology being used to simplify what had become complex. We are seeing new technology on traveler tracking tools make it easier for traveler to say a quick yes or no. The new technology helps in getting the exact location. So, technology now a day make it simpler but we still find that technology continue to track data, safety and security.

What is the vision for ACTE for the next two years?

We are celebrating our 30th anniversary and our message is really been to bring the buyers and suppliers together in a format to have debate and dialogue about the issues and on challenges that we are facing. We make sure that both sides are talking to each other. To make sure that buyers are saying their needs and suppliers are providing them. We make sure that everybody knows two sides together. We are here to help you make your program successful. We are the super connectors to bring together buyers and suppliers and the corporate travel on a robust path. We need to make sure that ACTE is stronger in India. We are also looking at webinars for India market as well.

You have tied up with ITB Asia. Is there any plan for India?

We do these kind of tie ups where we have common philosophy. Last year, we partnered with CAPA in India. At ITB Asia, we have seen a lot of people partnering with us. We need to make sure that we have common values. If we can find that kind of partner, we can do this in India as well.

Rakesh Bansal, CEO, Amadeus India talks about the growth and development of the company as well as share his perspectives as how technological innovations are driving the travel and tourism growth

Amadeus India, wholly owned by Bird Group, has continuously been enhancing its online product offerings for the benefit of the travel industry. It has been developing both air and non-air products and solutions as per the needs and requirements of travel agency partners. Excerpts from Interview:

You have recently completed over two decades in India. How has the journey been so far?

The journey has been very successful. A lot of initiatives have been taken since the beginning. The way it started and the way it has evolved today where anyone can use Amadeus from anywhere anytime, from your mobiles, laptops, PCs. We have been a consistent market leader although. We have worked with top players such online, TMCs, consolidators, retailers, SMEs in the market place and we have been able to grow their business and grow together.  Our market share is consistently been at 50 per cent and we are bigger than all other combined together in the market. We have consistently been growing our market share. Even at the global level, we have been continuously increasing our market share. There has been substantial growth in all fronts.

How are you better than your competitors?  

Our main USP is technology. We are technologically most advanced system. We are the only GDS which are 100 per cent on open system which means we do not use or rely on any of the legacy systems. If a travel agency wants to use our system, they do not have to invest anything. We provide bandwidth on demand. Being an open system, we can scale upto the desired level overnight to cate to the requirements of our partners.

What are the major product developments in last 2-3 years?

Innovation and customer satisfaction remain the core building blocks of our travel solutions for the travel industry. First of all, we have the Amadeus web services which is considered the most reliable, accurate and very fast response. It is an Application Programming Interface (API) that delivers individual Amadeus functionalities via SOAP/XML messages and integrates travel-related functionalities into any application. We also have Amadeus Master Pricer technology that provides the cheapest bookable fares and the most convenient itineraries, over a wide choice of airlines in less than a second.

Is Amadeus also working on ancillary services for airlines?

We are moving into ancillary services for airlines in a big way. Globally, the need from the airlines is to increase the revenue on the ancillaries. Amadeus has partnered with airlines and developed specific programmes and solutions which make the sale of ancillaries on the Amadeus system very easy and fast. For travel agencies, it is additional source of revenue and it offers more choices and greater satisfaction to customers who can buy anything on a single click. Merchandising is growing faster. For some airlines it is growing quite fast. There are some airlines which use Amadeus merchandising solutions. Even Air India, LH, BA, Air France Groups, Emirates, Etihad to name a few have ancillaries available on the Amadeus system.

The Govt recently launched the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) to connect tier-II & III cities. How Amadeus India is going to tap this potential?

Amadeus India is one of the largest GDSs in the country. We have the network of 45 offices all across which we are further expanding in tier II and III cities. So all the smaller cities which are coming up under RCS, either we already have offices or we will expand to cater to the need of the travel agencies there to ensure that more travel agencies in those areas are connected to our system. Amadeus is reaching out to all nook and corners of the country. 

Many airlines are going directly to consumer and put a nominal fee if the booking is done through GDSs. How do you see the future of GDSs?

GDSs have always been very efficient distribution system for the airlines across the world. And, airlines have always been having the direct presence on their websites. This is nothing new. It is airlines prerogative to choose a distribution channel which they want and everybody want to maximize the reach of the distribution channel. What we can say is Amadeus is one of the most efficient distribution channels available to airlines and it brings to them a lot of reach.

Moreover, booking tickets is not the only value proposition for Amadeus. We provide a lot of ancillary services to airlines like back office system, automated workforce, quality control, and so are a lot of additions that Amadeus is providing apart from airlines content which help the travel agencies to do their work faster. If certain function can be automated through GDS, then it brings more productivity.

Are disruptors creating value additions to GDSs?

There are a lot of new players coming into the market. Some of them use the GDS’s services especially on the flight side. On the hotel side, currently GDSs are also evolving to new requirements. Traditionally, the non-air content at GDSs was in much smaller percentage. With the advent of new players on the hotel, GDSs have also upgraded on hotels. In fact, there is an uptake on hotel bookings on GDSs.

What is the share of air and non-air content at Amadeus India?

Air is definitely much higher and predominant. On hotel front, Amadeus has launched the new booking programme ‘Amadeus Hotel Plus’ that enables content directly from hotels as well as from aggregators. This brings wider reach to hotels and hotel aggregators and we have now a lot of aggregators on Amadeus now. I would say 85 to 90 per cent of the hotel content which is available on these platforms is also available on Amadeus. We have tied up with hotels and aggregators.

How are you creating awareness about your products in tier II and III cities?

Amadeus has very defined and established training programmes where we keep on educating our travel agencies about new technologies, products, entries, functionalities. We also have an IATA certified institute. When e-ticketing was introduced in India, Amadeus trained almost 50,000 CISF personnel to make them learn about how to read and validate the ticket. 

How many LCCs are coming on Amadeus India’s platform?

We are talking to them. We explain to them our value proposition. We hope that they will be joining our system in near future. Globally, we have a lot of LCCs on our platform. We will continue to enhance our services and grow with industry.  

The recently concluded 64th edition of India Travel Congress of Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) is set to bring back the lost glory of Jammu and Kashmir as tourism destination on global tourism map. Organised in association with the Ministry of Tourism, Jammu and Kashmir, the 3 - day convention from March 27-30, 2018 at the Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC), Srinagar witnessed the presence of over 600 delegates from various parts of the country. TAAI Convention was back to Kashmir after a gap of over three decades.

The theme of the convention was ‘Incredible Tourism’-Integration, Inspiration and Innovation’. The inauguration of the convention saw the presence of Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti; Tourism Minister Tassaduq Hussain Mufti, Minister of State for Tourism Priya Sethi; senior cabinet members of J&K government such as Abdul Rehman Veeri, Syed Basharat Bukhari, Abdul Haq Khan, Syed Altaf Bukhari; senior officials of state tourism ministry; office bearers of TAAI and members of travel and tourism fraternity of the country and media.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti during her address to the TAAI conference in Srinagar made an emotive appeal to the people across the country to visit Kashmir and help heal the wounds here. Sunil Kumar, President, TAAI, said:  “TAAI has been for long been committed to understanding tourism in the country with a focus on changing it towards the better and evaluating trends to be better synced. We are very confident that once this convention concludes successfully, the visibility of Kashmir as a tourism destination will multiply many times and this would result in more tourists coming to Kashmir. That is our goal, that is our desire and that is our prayer,” Kumar said and added that the convention offered visibility, connect and opportunity to Jammu & Kashmir. It emphasized that Kashmir is a safe place for tourists and such large MICE events can be held here. It offered J&K with a huge connect with the industry media and the world.

Elaborating on theme, Kumar said : “Tourism consistently multiplies, opens new avenues for all of us and as industry stakeholders its extremely important that we are able to bring in very strong integration. Inspiration is very important. Our own children today not connect with us. Consistency of legacy is challenge therefore. Therefore, we must inspire the new generation to be connected with the industry.”

Tassaduq Mufti, in his address,  said that Jammu & Kashmir offers a variety of attraction to tourists in terms of the regions, cultures and cuisines. He suggested that the stakeholders have to act as guardians and conservationists for the preservation of the same while promoting tourism. “Jammu and Kashmir needed TAAI more than they need us. It is great to have TAAI delegates here. They organize things very efficiently. I hope we do well with them this year,” he said on the sideline of the event. “It is a historic conference. We could not have hoped for better start to the year. I do look forward to long and enduring partnership with TAAI and hope we have a good year and years to follow,” he said. Priya Sethi spoke about the diverse tourism products of the state as well as proactive measures taken by the government to promote tourism in the state.

 “You have to create alternate stories. Unless you don’t create points of focus elsewhere, the problem of negative promotion will persist. However, just promoting through the mainstream media is not going to be effective in the long run. The idea is thus to encourage positive stories about ourselves and encourage discussions,” Sarmad Hafeez, Administrative Secretary, Jammu and Kashmir Tourism, said during the press conference earlier in the day.

Delivering the keynote address at the inauguration, Aditya Ghosh, President of the InterGlobe Aviation Limited which operates IndiGo, said if the state government lowers sales tax on the aviation fuel and keeps the Srinagar airport functional 24×7, it would draw more tourists to the state and also help create more jobs in the sector.  "Andhra Pradesh reduced the sales tax on aviation fuel from 26 per cent to 1 per cent. In two years, the state saw an increase of 250 per cent in air travellers. I suggest the state government should reduce the sales tax from 26.25 per cent to one per cent. If it does not work as it is expected to, you can always go back to previous rates but give it a try," he said and added that if the airport remains functional 24×7, what stops us from parking planes here, starting early morning and late night flights. Urging the government that it should lay emphasis on providing an enabling environment rather than creating infrastructure for tourism, he said once the environment for tourism is conducive, the private tourist players would themselves create the infrastructure.

Kumar, in his valedictory remark, announced 2018 as ‘Visit Kashmir Year’. He said that TAAI chose Kashmir as the venue for the event to revive the tourism in the region. By holding the convention in Kashmir, he said that TAAI wanted to send a message across the globe that the valley is a safe place to visit and also remove any negative perception about the place. 

 

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