1 November 2022, London Marriott Hotel County Hall
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Russia ripe for development, but patience needed. ABTN editor Simon Warburton looks at one of the world's sleeping giants.
While ACTE rightly celebrated the fact that the travel industry is a $200bn business last week in Munich, there are vast swathes of the globe that still remain seemingly impervious to change.
The western world and the powerhouses of Asia are highly attuned to the sensitivities and need for travel management, but the developing regions still appear resistant to change.
And the most glaring example of this is surely Russia. While the other so-called BRIC countries - Brazil, India and China are probably some way behind Russia, the Federation is in that curious limbo state of possessing increasing economic muscle, but seemingly reluctant to harness it to the highest degree in terms of travel management.
Russia is starting to post some startling growth rates, powered by its continuing energy boom and the eyes of the world are turning towards it. Whether this financial clout trickles down to the masses is a moot point ” but in and exbound travel to Russia and the former Soviet Union Republics is expanding as never before.
A raft of airlines is beating a collective path to Russia's and the former CIS States' doors - Lufthansa led the way some years ago - but now direct services are increasingly available from Western European carriers such as British Airways and KLM.
And Russia itself has a staggering 200 airlines - some are the rump from the break-up of the monolithic Aeroflot - which still remains the most powerful Russian airline - while a vast number of others compete in a country that spans an extraordinary 11 time zones.
One Russian travel manager was brutally honest about just far his country had to catch up during the ACTE conference - there appears to be an innate suspicion of anything that is not either typed or even handwritten on a piece of paper. E-ticketing is virtually unheard of and the heritage of Russian bureaucracy appears to permeate just about every facet of the travel management business.
What there is of it. And even where it does exist, it's limited and clunky; an average Russian TMC would hold around 42 different airline stocks of printed airline tickets.
Then there are the practicalities of just getting into Russia for the business traveller. The horrors of Sheremetyevo are well documented and justified. I once queued for three hours at Sheremetyevo Immigration manned by just two people as five flights - BA, Swiss, Lufthansa, Iberia and KLM - arrived simultaneously.
The lady in front of me burst into tears, I was asked by a Swiss of all people, ”to step outside” and discuss further my objection to him pushing in, while Customs sliced open every single box (for an exhibition) I was carrying. And my luggage took three days to arrive, having been sent to Santiago by mistake.
And in order to even get this far, the business traveller has to endure the tortuous process of obtaining a visa, which for anyone who has undergone it, is a tedious and time-consuming business.
But all this gloom is not necessarily set in stone. Russia is changing - and for the better. A new EU-Russia visa deal is reportedly under negotiation, particularly for multiple-entry visitors.
Airlines are falling over themselves to move to Domodedovo - Moscow's shiny new airport with a direct city centre train link to beat the capital”s notorious traffic snarls - and immigration is a doddle.
Aeroflot is logically, the most advanced of the Russian airlines and is implementing corporate agreements - but the others need to catch up fast. Perhaps it is as a result of the Russian flag carrier's SkyTeam membership, but it certainly understands the business traveller - and TMC - needs far better than others.
Hotels are improving, but are still terrifyingly pricey, propelling Moscow to the unenviable status of the world”s most expensive city. (And I thought that was London) Building work needs to proceed apace to cope with demand and the lack of hotel rooms may well have cost Moscow any chance of hosting the 2012 Olympic Games.
But Russians have an indomitable spirit; their history has pushed them as far as very few other peoples on earth, yet they can be enormously generous and warm-hearted. Western travel management practices are eyed with wariness, but there”s no point in European travel companies barging in and insisting their way is best. There is genuine TMC and business technology opportunity in Russia, but companies need to commit for the long haul.
Yes, there's a heck of a lot that could be better in Russia, but the vast opportunities and can-do attitude of the Russians themselves, make the country ripe for investment and development.