September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
BBT editor Paul Revel talks to Graeme Milne, general manager of Corporate Traveller about the latest trends for SMEs
Corporate Traveller offers travel management to SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises); businesses spending £50,000 to £2 million a year on travel. Why does Flight Centre have a division specially for serving SMEs? Corporate Traveller has actually been around for 20 years. In 2005, Flight Centre globally branded all of its corporate travel divisions as FCm Travel Solutions. But we realised that one size does not fit all – and this became our philosophy; offering a service to someone who spends £100k needs a different approach to someone who spends £10 million. So we relaunched Corporate Traveller in 2009, we said let’s get the brand back on a global level and really focus on making sure our key customer measurements are in place, and that we’re looking after the right people and properly.
How do SME customers’ needs differ from big companies? The big guys have routes they fly all the time, and route deals in place. For us, SME travel seems to be far more varied. Our key strategy is knowing our customers and what they need. You’re working with people individually, you need to know them – for example, where they live, so you’re not offering them Luton when they’re a few minutes from Gatwick.We’ve got a big push on having a blended approach, we don’t believe 100% of travel can be booked online, it’s not cost-effective. There’s a lot of travel that can be booked online and will save you money, but you need to ensure both methods are working well.
Why would a policy of online booking be different for smaller businesses?I think it’s understanding what bits of your travel programme should be booked online and what shouldn’t. With bigger companies you need strategies to make sure everybody’s got access to online booking tools. But in smaller companies with only a few transactions going online, you’ve got to look at whole cost of implementing and training with an online booking tool. If you’re only doing a few journeys and you’re not a regular traveller, an email to a travel consultant is just as quick. Time is also a factor – the time employees spend online researching trips. And with all the choice out there, and extras – such as wifi in hotels – to consider, sometimes what looks like the cheapest price isn’t. We employ experts and we train them heavily – the guys booking for you understand what your company policy is and what makes your company tick.
How can smaller businesses get good corporate deals? We’re part of Flight Centre; one of the largest global travel companies with annual sales of more than £8.2 billion. This is one of our strengths, and where we specialise: we appear to our customer as a small friendly travel agent, but actually we’re one of the biggest travel companies in the world – so we use that negotiating power and the combined spend, collectively for our SME clients.
What are your clients’ biggest concerns at the moment? They’re concerned about having 24-hour assistance and expertise. There have been a lot of high-profile situations where people have been left stranded. I think CSR of staff travelling round the world is a high priority, and more and more people want to make sure their travel is managed. It’s apparent to companies that when travel is not managed, it’s impossible to know where your people are, and how to get them home.From our point of view, we wanted to improve our ability to answer calls in any situation. So we’ve invested in a Cloud-based phone system, which means staff can log-in to a ‘virtual call centre’ from any phone. We recently had to evacuate one of our offices because of a suspect package – and our staff were answering clients’ calls within five minutes of the evacuation.
Many statistics indicate there is a large amount of unmanaged travel happening, and a lot of this in the SME sector – what is your view on this?No question that’s the case: the majority of businesses we go out and see, people don’t have a managed programme. When we talk to them it’s not just about cost-savings, but about time-savings and duty of care – what happens in the event of an ash-cloud type situation, where is the backup?
Is this situation changing? Yes, I think so. Since 2008, when everybody thought the world had ended; as a company Corporate Traveller has doubled in that time. I think more people looking at costs, but more than that – a more detailed review where they’re spending money. The costs are not coming down, with all the taxes on aviation – and I think there’s a switch to a better understanding of the tighter control on costs, coupled with duty of care, that can be gained when travel is managed by professionals.
And that’s good news for your business?Our last financial year [to July 2012] was exceptional, with 37 per cent growth and we’re expecting 10-20 per cent this year. I believe SMEs will continue to see the value with booking with experts – as long as we can show measurable results.