Flying High

Globetrotter Corporate Travel

The business travel sector has withstood the assaults of the GFC, the sluggish economy, and even the development of video-conferencing – and is still in good health, according to Globetrotter Corporate Travel.

Globetrotter is part of a buying group of Australian agents, which is in turn part of a globally organised group. This somewhat complicated structure is a feature of today’s travel industry – on one hand, pressure to consolidate for economies of scale and, on the other, the importance of personal service and individual contact with independent businesses.

The Australia-wide grouping is called CT Partners. Established in early 2004, the group is made up of approximately 15 of the largest independent corporate travel management firms in the country, with a combined turnover of more than $1 billion. These agencies are all among the strongest corporate travel agencies, and the umbrella organisation itself is 100 per cent owned by full members.

CT Partners is a member of Radius Travel, a US based network which calls itself “a global travel management company that designs and delivers programs unique to each multinational company through a worldwide network of best-in-market agencies.” There are around 70 members worldwide, including the largest travel business in China, CTrip.

So what does this do for Globetrotter – and for its clients? “We are all independent agents but form a buying group,” explains Managing Director, Fiona Prosser. This enables the agents to negotiate as a group and access the same sort of volume deals that the very largest multinational agencies can demand. CT Partners and Globetrotter use Radius for its global hotel programme, for consolidation, and for managing global accounts. Ms Prosser stresses that although Globetrotter has a travel management company within itself, there is a serious competitive element and there is no collusion between members of either network. “We do not share any information at all. We are all competitors,” she explains. Each member of CT Partners basically gets the same rate – probably the lowest rate available to anyone – on a room or a seat and can then negotiate directly and independently with its individual clients. There is no likelihood at all of CT Partners becoming closer than its present network, she says.

So what prompts a company to turn to Globetrotter rather than one of its partner-rivals in the same network? The answer – and the secret to success in the travel business, according to Ms Prosser – is service.

“At the end of the day, we all offer similar products and services, but the secret is in the delivery. We make sure we are the integrator for all the products and have all the technology available, but the rest is all around customised service. We work really hard to become strategic suppliers [to our customers],” she says. That boils down to a mix of cost savings and client satisfaction. Since no two clients balance those two factors equally, Globetrotter tries to excel in each sphere.

The last decade saw significant technological advances in systems and software in the travel sector. Yet in spite of all the new technology, the human touch remains pre-eminent in most customers’ minds. While simple bookings can often be handled with ease using technology, many professionals such as Ms Prosser believe that, “there is still very much a requirement for complex bookings to be done by real people.” Accordingly, Globetrotter offers client relationship managing, trying to understand as precisely as possible what the client needs to achieve with each booking or itinerary.

Once the confidence of a client has been gained, it can be maintained by consistently performing to a high standard. But Ms Prosser agrees that getting the foot in the door and obtaining the client is the hardest part. “It is extremely competitive out there. We work on very small margins and because the ‘bells and whistles’ of technology are today more or less accessible to all of us, the differentiators between the small, intimate travel agencies and the large corporate agencies have certainly minimised. So it comes down to how well you can demonstrate your value. It’s tough out there – very tough!”

She believes that even today, with so much technology at their disposal, Australian corporations large and small alike are not adequately geared up to buy their travel as effectively as they could be. Companies waste considerable amounts of time and money because there remains an impression that travel can be booked online quite simply and that outside agents are not needed. That may be true in many cases for a simple point-to-point economy return on a major airline, but if you wish to factor in such details as whether the executive being “travelled” may need to change his flight details at all, or if he or she needs a complete itinerary built around that basic flight, it is unlikely that even a good secretary or assistant is going to be as effective as a well-trained corporate travel manager. The value that a skilled corporate travel specialist can offer becomes more apparent when people understand that the travel specialist is the integrator of many different systems – such as HR, online booking tools, automated processes, and expenses management. “Really, the service fee is minimal compared to what you can save,” says Ms Prosser.

Globetrotter, like many of its rivals, has seen quite a few customers decide they could better do things themselves and book via internet, only to experience the after-effects of, say, an Icelandic dust-cloud, a Spanish train crash or a Bangkok blockade, and come running back asking for help – having realised the perils that await the unprimed traveller without a 24/7 backup emergency line. Many HR professionals have seen the benefits of not having senior executives spending a week in a dingy diverted departure lounge.

MICE – meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions – are handled by a division within Globetrotter called The Incentive Lab, which specialises in and works in conjunction with major conference and group events. For example, for the Australian division of a major carmaker, the company looks after all incentive travel including inbound to Australia from other divisions of that client. Incentive business, with travel among its ever-green most popular awards, is often more popular as a way of getting more work or more sales despite less than perfect economic conditions. A sluggish economy requires some priming and stimulus, and travel remains a great way of motivating customers or workers. “Our research among existing and prospective clients [indicates] that travel experiences are still the most sought after and inspirational award or prize,” shares Ms Prosser.

From its successful beginnings in Western Australia, Globetrotter has been growing quickly out east, with a heavy focus in Melbourne; there is also a Business Development Manager in Brisbane. “We have been lucky in that we have had loyal clients who have connections in Melbourne, and we have been able to leverage them,” shares Ms Prosser. “We have also been able to find some strong business development managers who have long-term existing relationships. We have tried to go for quality rather than volume in that area and now we are starting to see the rewards.”

She stresses that you do not need to be a multinational giant to take advantage of these skills and start saving money on your trips. The biggest growth in the whole sector is among SMEs who – perhaps because they are more nimble than a lot of major corporations – are lapping up the argument and seeing for themselves that DIY may not be the optimum route.

For more information about Globetrotter Corporate Travel, please visit http://www.globetrottercorporatetravel.com.au.

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