By Claire Ollivier, Senior Director, APAC, Advito
This is the first in a series of blog posts where we share our perspective on corporate travel in APAC.
My entire career has been linked – in some way – to travel. I started in sales with Starwood Hotels in Paris, served as a key account manager for InterContinental Paris Le Grand and then as an advisory services consultant for American Express Business Travel. I made the move over to Advito five years ago, in 2012. Since then, I have worked my way up to my current position as the Senior Director of APAC. My goal is to grow our business in this region.
But first, I would like to better understand this region. Along with my colleagues, I spent a lot of time this past summer engaging with numerous travel buyers and travel managers as well as all sorts of suppliers. We attended several industry events and were able to pick up on a couple of recurring topics that seemed to be on everyone’s mind across the region.
Technology seems to be the hottest topic by far… and there are differing technology perspectives. Travel managers face the huge challenge of selecting the right technology for their organization. With such diverse territories from India to Japan and from China to Australia, an inconsistency in distribution and an appetite for automation, there is no perfect online booking tool (OBT) that will fill every organization’s need.
And the problem only gets more complicated with the added objective of integrating solutions into an end-to-end process. When it comes to payment and expenses, for example, travel managers are left with an even greater selection challenge, between countries where “cash is king” and others where travelers show an appetite for virtual wallets and modern payment solutions.
But the interest in technology is not limited to what is (or is not) available today. With such a wealth of data being captured and exchanged in the travel world, artificial intelligence and machine learning offer many promises to the industry. Opportunities (will exist) to let robots serve as free agents to offer added-value services, provide pre- and post-sales support as well as after-hours support for travel agents. These robots could also support, engage with and provide valuable information post-booking for customers. It is commonly agreed on that robots will not completely replace the human workforce; there is no silver bullet and customers will hesitate to book complex and high-value services with chatbots.
To finish with technology, travel managers are open to apps for their managed travel programs. Many managers are still looking for holistic solutions that offer bookings, itinerary management, changes and cancellations, and support with a link to travel and expense (T&E) management. This functionality will all need to fall within the scope of the managed travel program. BCD Travel offers its own app, TripSource, and we are using technology to offer alternatives to travel via Total Collaboration Management.
Video conferencing can take the place of in-person meetings[/caption]
Talking about technology brings us to another buzzword: travelers! Yes, travelers are on everyone’s mind as travel programs bring their focus back to travelers. This means a couple different things.
First, a traveler’s quality of life while on the road. Travel managers debate if they should address and if so, authorize bleisure (business + leisure travel) in their travel policy. The youngest part of the workforce (young adults in their 20’s and early 30’s) is the main driver for this trend as they add more personal time to their business trips. They claim this extended travel makes their trip even more successful. A relatively close topic to this one is spouse travel, and the questions raised are in terms of insurance, liability and additional expenses.
Even more important than a traveler’s quality of life is a traveler’s safety and security while on the road. With restrictive immigration conditions in the U.S., recent H7N9 outbreaks in Northern China and Hong Kong, the missile crisis in the Korean Peninsula (and Japan), traveler safety is a top concern. Travel managers need to address this topic and make sure they have the right recommendations in place. Unfortunately, more than half of travelers say they travel without specific contact information to use if faced with a crisis.
Many travel managers recognize that travel policy is becoming more relevant as a human resources tool in terms of talent recruitment, retention and motivation. We offer Traveler Engagement services to not only improve traveler policy compliance, but also drive program savings.
These topics will stay top-of-mind for me as I continue my work throughout APAC. Be sure to subscribe to Out front, the Advito blog, for the latest perspectives on the travel industry both regionally and globally. In the meantime, I wish to all of you who celebrate it a happy Mid-Autumn Festival!