12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
A LOOK AT HUNGARY
Travel management flourishing
Hungary is a substantially different place since the overthrow of the repressive Communist regime in 1990. Certainly different enough for Michel Boda, head of sales and account management for American Express Hungary, to say: “Many people in Western Europe do not know what has happened in the last 15 years in this country.”
One of the big changes is in travel management. Under the Communist, travel was for the minority. But with the liberalisation of the economy and the arrival of multi-nationals, things began and have continued to change.
Amex which set up in Hungary in 1991, now regards itself as offering its main clients a full TMC service complete with up to date technology. The new attitudes to travel management were clearly driven by the multi-nationals but Hungarian companies and now the SME market have begun to realise the potential benefits.
But Mr Boda points out that it is a small market. “The market is smaller than in the UK. You may call a company in UK an SME but here that is a huge company. Some of our SMEs are so small, one or two people, that they don't need travel management.”
Nevertheless, he estimates that his big clients have an annual travel spend, counted in US$, of six to seven digits while his biggest Hungarian companies have a spend of around five digits.
Mr Boda describes a market where all major companies have a travel policy and while there may not be a full time travel manager, all will have someone, from finance, procurement or the traveller's personal assistant, who will liaise with the TMC on bookings.
For discussions on travel policy, airline deals and spend, Mr Boda deals with the head of the company or sometimes, in the case of multi-nationals, a travel manager based outside Hungary.
From the agents' side, Amex provides full MI in whatever form, detail or frequency required and charges fees for its services. Malev, the national airline now pays 1% commission which was cut from 7% earlier this year.
But Edina Nagy-Biro, Amex's travel operations manager, said:” WE talked with our clients about that change and what it would mean for them. They could understand this and so it did not have such a big effect.”
Technology is also well advanced with Mr Boda being able to offer his clients most of the Amex range of IT. “We have a central reservation system based on Sabre and called Turbo Sabre which has been designed for the central and eastern European market.
“We can use this for all reservation for air, hotels and car rentals. We are not lagging behind the rest of Europe.”
But there are gaps, like the absence of self booking tools. “They are still not on the market for us but they will be available. We would expect it to be soon, in the near future,” he said.
Clients also do not seem to have full online process from booking to reporting. “I know that some companies have this tool but I don't know if they have here in Hungary. We do not provide a full tool like that.”
But Mr Boda said that a growing number of companies, including Hungarian ones, were using credit cards. “More and more companies are issuing their travellers with individual credit cards. They are aware that they can save money through process by using these cards,” he said.
Low cost carriers
As in most European countries, business travellers in Hungary are faced with the choice of a full service airline or the cheaper low cost carriers. Ms Biro said that companies, including multi-nationals all wanted the cheapest fare and it was, as ever, the trtavcel budget which was first t be cut in tough economic times.
But while some companies are going for the no frills operators and dong the air bookings themselves, Mr Boda said that while many tried, many were also returning to the full service carriers.
There were many reasons including straightforward ones like the low cost carriers not going to the main airports. But he acknowledged that it was a deep change. “Until recently, the majority of business travellers still used the regular airlines. But that will be changing. What has happened in the UK will happen here with more business travellers using the low cost airlines.”
Joining the EC
But perhaps the biggest surprise – or rather proof of the progress that Hungary has made since 1990 – is that joining the EC in May was no major event, at least economically. While countries like the Baltic States regarded it as a great leap forward and a n opportunity to attract investment, Hungary took accession in its stride.
“We have had steady growth here, subject to the waves of the international political and economic mood. Business just carried on as before,” Mr Boda said.