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Corporate Travel Management

“We remain very dynamic,” Laura explains. “Our value proposition is quite simple – we value high customer service with each customer’s requirements being essentially unique. It is really important to be able to offer personalised service for booking travel and this is a differentiator for us in this marketplace. At the same time we continue to innovate, building technology our customers want because it saves them money and time and doesn’t require training. The third thing we do well is to demonstrate a constant return on investment to our customers. For every dollar they spend with us, we give them back cost savings.”

CTM was recently again recognised as the ‘best national travel management company in Australia’, the most coveted award for any corporate agency. The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) national travel industry award has been won by CTM in nine out of the past eleven years. Laura says the award highlights the continued validation by Australia’s travel industry of CTM’s service focussed approach.

“To be awarded these honours by Australia’s travel industry is clear proof of the continued and consistent success of our value proposition, focusing on highly personalised service and constant innovation for our clients. I would like to thank everyone at CTM who works every day to make this happen,” she says. “It is every team member at CTM and each of our customers’ support that allows CTM to be regarded the best in the corporate travel industry. Every customer and team member should take enormous pride in sharing this magnificent award. It is through delivering superior technology, cost savings and service every day, for our customers in every office that sets us apart.”

With the ease and popularity of travel websites, some in the industry believe the agent is an endangered species, but Laura is confident the corporate sector is very different from consumer travel. “In the last few years especially, companies have become much more cost-conscious and because travel is such a big spend they need more control over it – it needs to be managed.” You need to negotiate and enter into good deals, and you can’t do that if people are simply going off and doing their own thing. A travel management company (TMC) can track all manner of data which not only gives them some control over what staff are spending, how and why, but also provides them with better opportunities to reduce costs by plugging into the best corporate deals.

In terms of growth, the scale of business travel between Australia and New Zealand was a major factor in prompting CTM to acquire a company in the latter in 2010. Many had tried this route before and Laura knew it needed to be done differently if it was to be more successful than other ventures. “It was simple. We spoke to our top customers, who told us they would use us [for trans-Tasman travel] if CTM could deliver the same service and technology in New Zealand as we deliver in Australia.” It worked, and the recipe was repeated in North America with an acquisition, followed more recently by two more (the latest being the acquisition of Pacific Northwest based TMC USTravel). The acquisition, effective 1 July 2014, positions CTM as one of the top ten TMCs in the US and expands its North American network to over 17 cities across seven states.

The formula is now spreading to Asia. Last November, CTM took a majority stake in Westminster Travel, an award-winning travel management and services provider with offices in five Asian countries / territories (Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Macau and Taiwan). It has been operating for some 40 years, achieving compound annual growth in NPAT of 19 per cent over the last five years. Employing 700 staff, Westminster Travel offers one-stop travel management across corporate, wholesale and leisure services and was listed on the Catalyst Exchange of the SGX in 2009. It has won the Best Travel Agency in Hong Kong award four times in the past six years. The policy has been noted by corporate clients who appreciate being able to consolidate their purchasing into a larger grouping: “We are now being invited to make regional travel bids that we were not even near before. In fact we have also been invited to some global bids too.” Although Laura stresses the company grows more organically than by buying up rivals, these acquisitions are also helpful to existing Australia-based clients because it opens up new avenues for efficiencies in various new territories.

Laura and the whole CTM team are very proud of their new technology initiative, SMART, rolled out earlier this year. This is a “centralised travel management platform that not only centralises all of your travel tools in a 21st century platform but is flexible enough to grow with you and your company’s ever changing requirements into the future.” More simply, it is a portal which puts before the customer – management and the actual travellers – a whole suite of useful electronic goodies, among other things consolidating numerous disparate booking sites and engines into a single user interface for speed and convenience. The whole of SMART has been engineered specifically by and for CTM and its customers, who get their own login. “It’s all new architecture,” says Laura. “We don’t have any legacy in terms of old systems. It is a hosting platform for travellers who can use it any time, anywhere and on any device without training, and it delivers a return on investment in terms of productivity as well as cost savings to the corporation.”

CTM’s Chief Technology and Marketing Officer, Tom Clark, says the early response was extremely positive. “We are very pleased with the progress we have made in such a short period of time,” he shares. “Our approach to technology is delivering compelling insights and outcomes to our customers. Many of the applications we are launching are entirely new to the travel industry. We are excited about where we are going.”

Many of the functions of SMART actually address peripheral elements of corporate travel which are often overlooked but can add up to substantial costs; one example is taxis. SMART has a function where a client company can tell its travelling staff about colleagues arriving at a certain airport at a certain time – so if a colleague is doing the same, they can share a cab to town and save money (the program can send the colleague an SMS the night before they travel to inform them). Travel alerts are an integral part of the suite. Another element of the suite gives travellers the opportunity to comment on things like hotels to share with their colleagues – is it comfortable and is the breakfast buffet tasty, sure, but more importantly, where is it and does it have free Wi-Fi? Knowing that a specific hotel is $10 a night more expensive than another choice but a five-minute walk from the local office – and thus saving 30 minutes and a $40 cab ride – is the kind of useful information you won’t find on Tripadvisor or Wotif.

“It is a portal,” says Laura. “Within it we have many widgets – reporting, taxis, risk – which corporates can turn on or off. I believe corporate travel has lived with legacy systems for a long time and has been more or less in the dark ages, but the demand is for consumer functionality to be combined with the corporate policy and control.” Laura says this also resonates with the clients’ staff members who are doing the travelling – they appreciate the chance to air concerns and have a say in their bookings.

SMART is, says Laura, the start of something big in terms of changing the way companies, travel agents and business travellers interact. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach and the functionality is being added to on a bespoke basis for customers. CTM will remain busy developing the technology with huge plans in FY15 for new features and products while the group goes about expanding into Europe, its next destination for acquisition and market share. It’s a travel company that, like its customers, is constantly on the move.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 18, 2019, 3:27 AM AEDT