India’s corporate travel is considered as one of the fastest growing travel markets globally. According to reports it’s a US$ 30 billion market and growing at 11 per cent year-on-year which makes it a very lucrative and important market to get into. At the same time it is also one of the markets which is going to be disrupted the most over the years. And therefore, today in the larger travel & tourism arena, the corporate travel market is the new buzzword that the industry wants to know more about.
South Asia’s biggest travel industry event SATTE partnered with the global powerhouse in corporate travel industry Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) to do an impactful discussion on Technology that brought together some of the top corporate travel industry minds in an engaging session on the sidelines of SATTE 2019.
Moderated by Varun Bansal, Co-founder, Airlines Technology, the session on “How Technology has Changed the Travel World” had Sandeep Shastri, Regional Director - South Asia, Sabre Travel Network; Rajdev Bhattacharya, General Manager & Global Head: Travel Services, Wipro Limited and Vikram Shukla, Head Strategic Alliance, Dnata India. The keynote address was delivered by Ranjeet Oak, Chief Business Officer – Holidays, MakeMyTrip.
Keynote: Customer focused innovation
Setting the stage for an engrossing panel discussion Oak in his keynote address said that many of the businesses that we see today did not even exist four-five years ago. And today there are unicorns and billion dollar companies standing in many of the verticals by creating a business models that has disrupted the traditional approach in which the business was conducted by leveraging technology. He further said that what it has also done is that it has kept the consumer in the focus. The end consumer has been at the center of every of these breakthrough ideas that has come out.
“I think it’s a very crucial time for all stakeholders within the corporate travel segment to come together and say how we can look at the consumer one more time and build value for the consumer out of the entire value chain that exists today. It is probably the right time for us to start asking ourselves questions that are we pushing the envelope enough or not,” Oak stressed.
Talking about his ideas of two heroes, namely the ‘corporate traveler’ and the ‘corporate’ itself, that he used to explain his points, Oak said that a large number of times a corporate traveler is not taken into account whenever there is any kind of product that is built out. He pointed that the travelers’ priorities, needs, reasons for being the business traveler, mobility, last minute changes and challenges etc. needs to be rightly understood and accordingly addressed and delivered. Commenting on the second hero, i.e., the ‘corporate’, he said that today the corporate want their employees to have choices, but with controls, and therefore such solutions need to be created or developed and delivered. Furthermore, he outlined that the corporate also want to ensure that travel experience of their employee is hassle-free so that it doesn’t interfere with their productivity.
Technology: The enabler
While sharing GDS’ perspective on how new technological innovations have helped companies in this space adapt and evolve, Shastri said, “If we go back five-seven years the core focus of GDS was to provide a stable reservation platform for airlines. One of the changes since then, and I find it amazing, is that how new solutions have evolved.” Shukla insisted that instead of viewing technology as a “disruptor”, it should be view as an “enabler.” “It has really supplemented the way we do business,” he said. Coming from the corporate side, Wipro’s Bhattacharya said that technology is all about control, convenience and visibility as it provides greater choice.
So how has technology influenced the consumption? Bhattacharya says, “Ten years ago anything I wanted to do personally was a pain. If I had to buy a Railway ticket I had to go early, stand in queue and etc. And anything from office was easy. And then technology switched. Anything I want to do personally would happen in a jiffy and anything through office will have to go through compliance and all. And now, it is very difficult to tell a guy, who is used to doing everything online, to go through 15 steps to get a ticket or hotel reservation. He is frustrated. So we need to understand that the consumer behavior has changed between Gen X and Gen Y. You need to give these guys things in simplified steps and on a platter.”
Acknowledging that technology has ushered a massive change in the way travel is being purchased, Shastri also argued that the brick and mortar agencies are there to stay and will not be fully taken over today by online agencies as Gen X and older will continue to look for human touch. “And I think both have to make sure that the technology is serving their need and the customer is benefitting from it,” he further added.
Shukla pointed that the technology has covered a lot of things like online booking, auto ticketing, auto cancellation, but there are gaps that remain. Bhattacharya pointed that people tend to overestimate technology for what it can do in the next one year, and really underestimate what technology is going to do in the next ten years. And corporates and suppliers need to focus on that.
Commenting on the cost part of technology, Shukla said, “It’s very interesting. We find ourselves in a market where people are not willing to pay for technology. Fortunately or unfortunately most of the applications that we download are for free. So when we take solutions to our corporates and we ask them to pay for it, they are obviously not very comfortable with the idea, because it’s like who pays for technology. I am not paying for an Uber app or an Ola app.”
Quoting Uber CEO Dara Khushroshahi, Shastri pointed that it’s like an armed race when it comes to investment in technology which is huge. “As an example sabre spent about a billion dollar making sure that from technology stand point we are able to deliver. Investment in technology will go up. And there is a challenge. Customer will want it free of cost. But I think that’s where company like ourselves are there by making sure that we support that growth from a technology perspective.”
Sharing his idea on handling challenges that the industry faces in terms of acceptance of technology or lack of willingness to pay for it, Bhattacharya suggested that the ecosystem need to be developed first as lots of problem cannot be solved inside out, but outside in. Citing cab aggregator Uber’s example he said that first the ecosystem was created and then taxi drivers jumped in.
While concluding the session, Bansal opined, “I think technology has totally shortened the definition of generation also. Probably ten years back I would say a generation gap is between my father and me. Now that is changing every year. Technology is something evolving and what could have evolved in the last hundred years, probably we will see double of that growth in the next ten years.”