With UK business travel gross sales of £1,227m in 2017, Carlson Wagonlit Travel has again been ranked number one in Buying Business Travel’s guide to the top travel management companies in the UK – click here to see the full listings.

Under the leadership of Johan Wilson, vice-president and country director, UK & Ireland, CWT has more than 1,000 emplyees located in the UK. 

At second and third places, respectively, were American Express Global Business Travel (with an estimated £1,039m in UK sales last year), and HRG (estimated sales of £1,005m). As the two companies weigh up their proposed merger, these positions mark a reversal on last year’s positions.     

Cause for concern
Each year, we ask TMCs in our survey about their biggest concerns for the year ahead.

Concerns about direct booking with suppliers and the effect of the introduction of IATA’s NDC are clearly keeping TMC bosses awake at night. With more TMCs implementing NDC-capable booking tools and GDSs beginning to look at wider adoption, this is likely to continue.

Increased competition is also an issue. One-third of TMCs replied to say they are worried about undercutting by rivals and low margins. TMCs continue to be concerned about recruiting skilled staff. Some are growing academy programmes to develop staff skills as a result.

Targets for the future 
The annual survey also quizzes TMCs on their outlook for the year ahead. Last year, one in nine expected growth of 5 per cent or less; this year that figure has dropped to one in twelve. 

Two-thirds of TMCs expect this growth to come from new customers. Many are hoping clients will spend more on business travel in 2018, while some believe growth will come from selling extra products and services to existing clients.

Almost every TMC we surveyed said winning new business was a priority. However, three-quarters of those asked also said they were focused on improving their product and service offerings during the year. A significant number said they were looking at winning new business in areas outside transient business travel, such as meetings & events and executive leisure.

We again asked our respondents on what fee basis they charged clients. Every TMC in our survey charges some of its clients on a transaction fee basis, and the proportion of all transactions for all TMCs that answered this question stands at 91.1 per cent. Half of respondents said they were remunerated on a management fee basis on some of their business, down from three-quarters of TMCs that worked in this way in 2016.

Mergers and acquisitions
Reflecting the general state of the market, one-third of TMCs responding to this question said they were looking at mergers and acquisitions – the highest proportion in the history of this survey. 

In May last year, US agency Travel and Transport purchased Statesman Travel, continuing its European expansion and creating a group with global sales of US$3.5 billion and 1,600 employees.

The same month, Capita Travel and Events added NYS Corporate to the long list of acquisitions it has made in previous years.

Travel Leaders Group had a busy year, buying luxury specialist Colletts Travel in February before merging with Altour International in the summer.

As the year came to a close, Gray Dawes continued on its own acquisition streak by snapping up CTM.

How the survey is compiled
The annual BBT ranking of 50 Leading TMCs is compiled from information supplied from TMCs during a two-month period in March and April each year. The information is gathered through a comprehensive questionnaire that we review each year for its relevance.

The survey includes questions on financial performance and transactions, and we are very grateful to TMCs for providing the information that is vital for creating this ranking. 

Some TMCs are unwilling to supply us answers to every question for this supplement, including the key financial statistics that we use to rank TMCs. A few years ago, we took the decision to include all of the major TMCs in this ranking, regardless of whether they supplied the necessary information.

This means that for a small handful of TMCs, we have to make estimates of certain key figures, notably the gross sales figure, rather like the compilers of The Sunday Times Rich List do. Where the figures are estimates, these are clearly marked.

We make these estimates as rigorous as possible. This involves looking at Companies House accounts, analysing air spend figures from IATA’s Billing and Settlement Plan and taking note of public statements about changes in client spend and turnover.

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