Companies in India are increasingly looking for ways to minimise trip disruption and ensure the safety of their employees when incidents occur. Vishal Sinha, CEO, India, Carlson Wagonlit Travel speaks about how Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) can support organisations with travel risk management.
How would you explain the current status of corporate travel market in India? What is the growth prospect?
India is still in the relatively early stages of adopting managed travel, but there is far more awareness today than there was a decade ago. India continues to be a very price sensitive market and therefore driving savings remains one of the key considerations for many corporate travel programs.
That said, corporates are getting increasingly alert and sensitive towards the need for traveler safety and security, compliance to internal policy and external regulations, and also to a certain extent to the comfort and convenience of their travelers. These form critical elements of a mature travel program anywhere in the world, and we see some encouraging trends in India as well.
As far as growth is concerned, India is forecast to remain the world’s fastest growing major economy over the next few years, with GDP growth projected in the range of 7 to 7.5 percent. Naturally, this is expected to translate into a lot more business travel in the years to come. The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) forecasts continued double digit growth in business travel spending in India, making it the fastest growing major business travel market in the world, which is definitely exciting for us.
What’s equally exciting is that this growth is likely to be driven by Indian companies and SMEs. These two segments present an enormous opportunity for us, since a large part of this market is still “unmanaged” in the true sense of a corporate travel program. Recognizing this, last year we launched an exclusive offering for SMEs – CWT For You – to meet the unique requirements of small businesses, and we’ve seen a great response so far.
With a focus on costs and driving profitability, a lot of India companies are looking for solutions to stretch their travel budgets further and CWT is in a strong position to help them achieve this by providing state-of-the-art technology, data and analytics solutions.
At the same time, changing demographics and the growing adoption of technology have resulted in a lot more ‘self-servicing’ among younger travelers. India has one of the youngest traveler populations in the world. Close to 60% of the travelers from CWT’s clients in India are millennials, and they account for almost half of all trips taken. Millennials – more so than other generations – expect a business travel experience that is technology-driven and more closely resembles their leisure travel booking experience. Our mobile and self-booking tool offerings, as well as a 24x7 servicing environment, provide the “anytime, anywhere” support that this generation expects.
Going forward, we believe that travelers will look for far more personalized solutions and services. With the large technology and data capabilities that we already have in place, we are well-positioned to provide companies and travelers with personalized solutions that suit them best. And through RoomIt by CWT, our dedicated hotel distribution division that launched last year, we’re also working on ramping up our hotel offer by giving our clients around the globe access to more hotel content across all channels – online, offline and mobile.
What sort of inefficiencies you see in corporate travel management today in terms of, compliance, approvals, etc.?
Often in business travel, managing costs and improving the traveler experience are often seen as competing objectives. But this doesn’t always have to be the case. There’s tremendous potential for companies in India to use data and technology to achieve both these objectives simultaneously.
One such area is with pre-trip approval processes. Companies in India can have some of the most complex and lengthy approval processes in the world. It’s not uncommon here for an employee to have to get four or five levels of approval before they can travel. Ironically, we’ve found that in the end most trips do get approved, particularly for domestic travel.
Given this insight, it might make more sense to automate and simplify pre-trip approval processes. This could result in a better booking experience for travellers, and it can also save the travel program money because airfares and hotel rates might increase significantly while the traveller is waiting for their trip to be approved.
In fact, some of our clients have recognised this opportunity and approached us for support. We’ve been working in partnership with these clients and jointly investing in developing bespoke technology and solutions to improve their pre-trip approval processes.
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?
In the context of business travel, duty of care refers to the obligation of an organization to take responsibility for the safety of its employees when they travel for work.
Travel risk management, on the other hand, refers to the procedures a company has in place to respond quickly to risks faced by its employees during business trips. These risks can include severe weather, political unrest, lost passports, and anything else that may cause disruption to travelling employees. Travel management companies like Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) can support organisations with travel risk management.
Companies in India are increasingly looking for ways to minimize trip disruption and ensure the safety of their employees when incidents occur.
One of the key elements of travel risk management is being able to track travelers.
With many Indian companies expanding their operations nationwide and even overseas, they’re going to have a lot more employees traveling for work. It’s going to become trickier for them to keep track of where everyone is and ensure they are safe. The good news is that today we have a lot more tools and technology to help us track where travelers are and contact them quickly when an incident occurs. However, these tools are only effective if all the data about travelers’ flights and hotel bookings are captured in one place.
This is where a travel management company like CWT comes into the picture. Most of our clients require that their employees make all their travel arrangements through us, and this allows us to collect data on where each person is traveling to, the dates of their travel, which flight they’re on and which hotel they’re staying at. When an incident takes place, we can quickly generate a report through our CWT AnalytIQs tool which shows us all the travelers from a given company who are in that city and where they are staying. We can then contact them to see if they are ok, and make alternative travel arrangements to evacuate them if necessary. Through the CWT To Go mobile app, we are able to update the impacted travelers on the situation, and any changes we make to their travel arrangements also appear on the app.
One of the key challenges is that travelers sometimes break the rules, and instead of booking through the TMC they book their flights and hotels through various websites online. Booking data for these “rogue travelers” often doesn’t get captured by the TMC. When an incident takes place and we try to track all the travelers who are in that city, these travelers won’t show up in our tracking reports.
How and where do you think predictive analytics help?
There is a lot of opportunity for predictive analytics to improve corporate travel programs.
One area where it can be applied is in predicting behavior. Human beings are surprisingly predictable and travel managers can use this to their advantage. For example, adherence to travel policy is a function of demographics, job grade and travel experience. It’s not rocket science but when modeled correctly it can generate savings and improve efficiency. You can nudge non-compliant travelers to change their behavior.
Compliance is not the only behavioral predictive application – travel preferences, personalized booking experiences and auto-generated predictive itineraries are not all that different from what services like Amazon or Netflix are doing today.
Another application would be in predicting spend. The key here is to understand how travel expense correlates with the business itself. Companies can identify the key performance indicators for their business, use historical data to correlate those with travel expense in each cost center, and then get a prediction on those KPIs.