Jamie Pherous founded Corporate Travel Management in 1994, building the company from its headquarters in Brisbane to become the largest privately-owned TMC in Australia. Today, he is managing director and took a moment to sit down with BBT to discuss the current business travel climate, as well as what the future brings for CTM
What are your thoughts on the idea that travel management is changing? How do TMCs fit into this shift? To what extent do you think technology is driving this change?
The travel management industry and travel trends are always changing. Technology is a key driver of this change – but it’s also the best way to solve problems that appear.
Key challenges for business travellers are mobility (making bookings, itinerary management etc), company compliance, hotel check-in/out, resolving trip disruption and security.
Key challenges for companies, on the other hand, are time spent on supplier negotiations, expense management, data analysis to drive change and company compliance.
TMCs have a critical role, as they are best positioned to solve the above issues for both traveller and company through technology offerings that support mobility, trip management, travel tracking, expense automation, rebooking disrupted flights, automated contracts and virtual experience.
While technology is important, it must be useful for the traveller. For us it is all about being customer-centric and listening to what people want and going away and building that. What we provide needs to make it easier for people to make decisions and get the information they need when they are on the move.
What do TMCs need to do to survive in a competitive market and a world in which companies are increasingly allocating travel management duties to internal staff such as PAs?
Innovation is the key to longevity. It’s important to be a disrupter, to be unconventional, to be always evolving, and to put user experience at front and centre of everything CTM does. We listen to clients and provide them with opportunities to deliver feedback. In this way, it is clients who drive development for CTM, not our competitors.
Internally, CTM is focused on continuing to empower our own people to be innovative and make good decisions.
We need to understand the difference between actual cultural value shifts (eg growing desire for craftmanship, organic, artisan) as opposed to what may be short-term fads (bag tags, gaming rewards, etc). We apply this to our business and our reading of the industry. It’s also about understanding generational changes – eg millennials prefer not to talk to humans unless essential. There will be a shift to complete smart phone ownership by end of 2018.
What other challenges have you heard about travel buyers facing, and how can their TMCs help?
The lack of hotel availability at preferred rate is becoming more of a challenge heading into 2018 and the challenge this creates for corporate procurement. The impact of the sharing economy is also having an effect, though our travellers’ trip is typically 1.8 nights and so the demand for services like Airbnb is very small at the moment. Buyers are also concerned about security and duty of care.
To what extent do you think travel is integrating with the MICE industry? Are their benefits to more integration?
Very much so. Event Travel Management is a division of CTM and the team can leverage CTM’s global travel buying power and world-class technology solutions to deliver exceptional events and value to our clients. The relationship is perfectly aligned for further integration, as it allows for complete end-to-end experience and can include incentive travel programmes into event management.
Consolidated technologies ensure travel and events are integrated in one place. Customers can register for your hotel at the same time as searching live flight availability, etc.
We live in an interesting, ever-changing geo-political climate. What impact does this (and the advancement of Brexit negotiations) have on the corporate travel industry?
It is an interesting time, but it’s important to try and separate what will have an impact on our lives and work and what is hyperbole. There are potential concerns for travellers to be exposed to risk in certain parts of the world, while it is also important to be aware of visa and immigration changes. The best way to deal with this is to ensure technology that delivers quick and clear communications with travellers and to ensure duty of care responsibilities are carried through.
Economically, we have been seeing some green shoots in the US economy as well as in Europe. The forecasts suggest the corporate travel market won’t change significantly into 2018, with demand growing slowly. At CTM, we believe our diverse business model allows us to take advantage of a global economic recovery. There are huge opportunities in the fragmented US market. Brexit may also throw up opportunities. Client activity post the Brexit announcement has largely recovered.