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.