The recently concluded Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) IntelliCon Regional Conference in Delhi-NCR received a better response from the corporate travel segment compared to earlier conferences. The one and half day educational conference delved deep into the challenges and opportunities that corporate travel sector offers. The conference witnessed the presence of as many as 130 delegates from across the value chain.
It began with an educational session exclusively for buyers that were attended by over 30 buyers. Jyothi Varma, Regional Manager, South East Asia, ACTE kickstarted the session introducing ACTE as a catalyst for change by providing high level learning and idea exchange opportunities throughout the travel community. Varma posed a question asking panelists: Have the role of travel managers transformed with the rising purchasing power, ever changing technology and corporate’s thrusts on reducing travel cost? Are we going in a right direction? How travel managers are handling the last minute demand from travellers and what is the expectation of a corporate buyer from a supplier? Responding to these, panelists opined that business travel represents substantial costs, and controlling these costs and finding ways to reduce them is central to the professional role as travel managers. They agreed that there is a clear shift in way of travel buying. Earlier, the procurement team at corporate was looking at hotel rates and not location which many times created inconvenience to travellers. Today, the procurement department is engaging the travelllers at every level in the procurement process and travel buyer’s success is determined by traveller’s satisfaction. Summing up the session, Varma said that organisations are gradually falling under increasing pressure to minimise the expenses associated with travel and to negotiate global deals with travel suppliers. Travel policies within organisations are common with cost reduction being top priority for a large majority of the organisations.
Speaking on the sideline of the conference, Benson Tang, Regional Director, Asia, ACTE, informed this was the 5th year of ACTE’s presence in India and 2017 is a milestone year. “My plan is to push further for ACTE’s global conference in India. As of now, I have pushed forward only proposal recommending India as a host country for our 2018 global conference. We had a discussion on the subject with Indian Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma and we received an encouraging response from him. Now, it is up to the Board Members of ACTE to consider this proposal. Board Members can veto the proposal as well,” Tang said adding that ACTE organised its annual global conference in China in 2016 that was attended by over 600 professionals from across the world. “For India one, we are talking about brining 1000 travel professionals under one roof,” he added. He informed that the global conference brings together key decision-makers from both the corporate travel buyer and travel supplier at one platform offering ample exposure to the destination on the global corporate travel map.
Talking about India, Tang said that India is one of the most important markets for us. “Our membership is increasing. We have a full time professional and we will continue to put more resources in India. Our plan of hosting global conference in India tells how important India is,” he said.
The second day started with a keynote address on ‘Today’s Challenges, Tomorrow’s Future’ from Sunil Kumar, President, UFTAA and TAAI. Kumar said that the growth of corporate travel in India is fuelled by growing businesses in India. He opined that the way corporate travel is growing, pricing and buying options will influence travellers behavior in coming days. Therefore, industry needs to prepare a pool of skilled professionals who can cater to the growing demands of corporate and the effort of ACTE is laudable here, he added.
After the keynote address, the day saw three interactive sessions titled as Hybrid Booking Solution - The Perfect Combination?, The ‘PAY’ Landscape of 2017 - A 360 Prospective for Travel Managers and First Party Data + Third Party Data = Magic.
Speaking on the hybrid booking solution, panelists said the combination of an innovative, integrated online travel platform and a complementary human support team is the only way to provide business travelers with the easy-to-use online tools they are looking for and the essential offline support they inevitably need.
The panel on Pay Landscape highlighted the role of virtual cards and mobile payments in the world of corporate travel. While travellers are able to pay their expenses seamlessly and companies and travel managers can track movements, reduce fraud, and overall exert more control over the spending of employees, the reality is much more complex. Virtual cards, or the creation of unique credit card numbers for each business trip, and mobile payments through various app services are yet to become ubiquitous in corporate travel due to a variety of challenges. If certain card schemes are not accepted by merchants, employees are forced to use either their own personal cards or cash. This adds to the complexity of the reconciliation process of the expenses within accounts management. However, panelists were optimistic that latest technologies like artificial intelligence, mobile applications, and the Internet of Things should enhance the customer’s experience to remove pain points from travel.
The third panel discussion on Data highlighted the importance of data quality and reporting requirements. All panelists agreed that having big data is nice, but the real value lies in the extraction of meaning from it. Companies are finding commonality in raw, unstructured data and then analysed it for their business purposes. What is needed is to have a proper ability of big data technology to enable to find intelligence in vast amounts of data presenting a clear, massive opportunity to reshape the way consumers are marketed and sold to in travel.
The last keynote address was delivered Subhash Goyal, Member, National Tourism Advisory Council, Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India where he talked about the rapid pace of growth of Indian economy leading to an increased business and corporate travel. He urged the audience to gear up to tap the potential of the growing demand from corporate travel sector.