Paul Revel talks to Keith Graham, managing director of Belfast-based TMC Selective Travel Management...
Last year the TMC moved into a new HQ, the historic Murray’s Exchange building, a listed 19th-century former tobacco factory, as part of its expansion programme. The TMC, which also operates in Dublin, has more than 100 staff.
Why are you expanding the business?
The last year has been very successful for us. In mid-2015 we won a share of the Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium contract. We are one of six suppliers. This is now merged with the London Universities consortium; the total framework travel budget is estimated at £100 million.
And since then there has been further multi-million pound contracts with other universities. Local government was another big contract for us this year, for the Northern Ireland civil service departments, agencies and public bodies.
Is the RFP process a massive use of your resources?
It is a big resource; we have a bid writer here that spends a lot of his time doing it. But I think from our experience [with the university frameworks], it’s picking and choosing what you want to tender for. A lot of TMCs will go for absolutely everything that comes through. In an RFP there are certain institutions that are not going to suit your pitch.
An institution could be spending £2 million but only £500k is with the TMC and the rest is maverick. So from a labour perspective it’s a massive achievement to get that spend into the TMC. You gauge it, is that procurement team going to engage with you? If it’s a tick-box exercise and if they’re not going to work with you getting people on-board it’s a waste of your resource.
How do you differentiate from other providers?
It's clear we're not a call centre. I don't want to be perceived as a massive call centre with everyone with headphones on. The bookers are dedicated to you as a client. They'll get to know your likes and dislikes, and build a relationship pretty quickly.
I think that's where we're being successful. It's the flexible approach, we’ll adjust our offering. In January this year we changed the way we offer out-of-hours service: we have a core team of homeworkers on our payroll, who are not just there for emergencies. They continually work through the night, and have full access to our systems and can provide full TMC services at any time.
To what extent is duty of care a factor for you and your clients?
It’s the big issue at the moment, and it’s gotten closer to home. I was at a conference in London recently and a woman asked me how we could help with duty of care. She said in times of need for DoC she just needs to put one phone call into her TMC.
I said: ‘If your TMC is so great at being proactive, why are you contacting them for your DoC needs?’ What we do is contact the traveller on your behalf, you shouldn't have to do anything. If your TMC is working from a proactive perspective, they're analysing who's on location in those areas, contacting the travellers and then reporting back to you that issues are resolved. It’s that mindset which is becoming more prevalent among the corporates that we see.
And its about education – one girl had ‘maverick’ booked her own trip to Brussels and was stranded, caught up in the bombing scenario this year. They asked us to help, which we did. When she came home, we got her to go out with us to the whole of the university and tell her story: this is a reason why you don't book maverick, so that you can be serviced and people know where you are.