BBT talks to the travel manager of luxury outlet shopping giant Value Retail
Tell us about Value Retail’s travel programme, and what’s been the impact of recent openings in China?
Value Retail has created and operates 11 luxury outlet shopping destinations in Europe and China. The addition of the two Villages in China [in Suzhou and Shanghai] has brought additional long-haul travel and hotel requirements for the business’ travel patterns, across Europe and in China. Value Retail has approximately 500 frequent travellers travelling to and from the Villages in Europe and China.
Their business trip objectives vary from internal meetings and events to meeting with clients, such as our brand partners and conferences for the travel trade, luxury retail and hospitality sectors. We work closely with the world’s leading luxury and lifestyle brands, and a network of over 400 travel and tourism partners that include airlines, luxury hotels, financial services companies and travel providers. We also have a strong focus on the MICE sector; we welcome companies of all sizes to host their corporate events in the Villages.
Give us an outline of your travel policy and what levels of compliance you achieve
The wellbeing of our colleagues is at the forefront of our policy. For example, it is important for all our travellers to arrive refreshed after a 14-hour flight to Shanghai, ready to focus on tasks in hand. All our colleagues can access and understand our core travel policy, which is communicated via our intranet and through regular communications. We achieve over 90 per cent compliance with our travel policy.
Our colleagues at Value Retail fully appreciate the importance of all we do as a central travel function. Their safety and wellbeing is of paramount importance to us. The experience of every employee matters. At all stages of their travel there is personal engagement to ensure effort- less travelling. Our colleagues are mostly working while in transit, and so at every opportunity we aim to ensure they are not distracted from doing so.
What do you see as the key challenges facing travel buyers today?
As the sector moves towards recognising that personalisation becomes ever more important, and expected by more and more travellers, one of the travel manag- ers’ greatest challenges is how best to facilitate this for their colleagues or their clients. Completing the whole cycle of the journey means engaging with multiple touchpoints, multiple suppliers.
Creating a uniformly wonderful experience is therefore not easy. It only takes one bad experience to undermine the whole traveller journey. Working across multiple markets while finding solutions that fit all is also a challenge. Trying to change the focus of suppliers from one of corporate efficiency to prioritising the travellers’ interests can sometimes be a challenge.
Has the China connection created any challenges?
China is now the largest traveller market, overtaking the US. The country has opened up in terms of travel in a way that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. It has rapidly become a more sophisticated market: this means we are working with many more bespoke suppliers, including DMCs, hotels, and airlines. Preparation is key to creating a good lead time required to get visas. And, as you can imagine, our TMC colleagues have gained some expertise in securing visas for our travellers.
Anything you would change about the travel management function today?
We all benefit from collaborating more effectively, so I would say having a more joined-up approach, and that includes having more integrated relationships across products and services.
What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in travel management?
I would advise them to gain as much experience as they can across all areas of travel. They should welcome change and have a positive ‘can do’ attitude, forging as many relationships as possible.
Come the weekend, how do you relax?
What would you like to have more time to achieve? At the weekend I love to spend time with my family and friends. I enjoy keeping fit either at the gym or Ashtanga yoga. Where time permits, I love to travel and explore new locations with my family. My favourite destination is California. Any additional spare time is spent working towards my CIPS qualification.
Value Retail claims to be the world’s only company specialising exclusively in the creation and operation of luxury outlet destinations, with 11 ‘Villages’ welcoming some 37.4 million visitors a year. Best known in the UK for Bicester Village – currently undergoing a major expansion – the company has four destinations in Germany, two each in Spain and China, and one apiece in Belgium, France, Italy and Ireland.