BBT talks to Chris Thelen, chief executive of the restructured Chambers Travel Group, which has been rebranded into five separate units:travel management, technology, elite & private clients, consultancy and events. The company says this rebrand is part of an ambitious growth strategy
Where do you see the growth opportunities for Chambers?
In the UK, we are placing even greater emphasis on the SME market, with a target of 50 per cent growth over the next year. We’re also aiming to win £28 million in new business from larger clients, spending £750,000 or more. In the case of meetings and events, we are looking for 38 per cent growth in the next 10 months, so it’s not a “little sister” any more. Consultancy is another area of major growth – the consulting side presents huge opportunities for us.
How will you achieve these levels of growth?
We want to grow organically. We want to grow our market share – we have got the strategy, we have got the technology, we have got the people, and we have got the experience. Obviously we would consider acquisitions – I don’t want to survive, I want to thrive – but having looked at a few opportunities, I just haven’t had a good feeling about them.
What do you see as the key factors to success?
It’s all about the clients, about establishing what they want, about understanding their needs. Take technology: we have a range of products, developed inhouse, but they’re not fixed – we are constantly customising the product to make it work for our clients. I am still very passionate about our customers, and I have a great team who are equally passionate about moving the business forward.
How you think changes in distribution, such as hotels and NDC, will impact on you and your clients?
If IATA goes ahead with NDC then it will have a fundamental impact on the industry as it will provide much less transparency - how can losing the ability to do comparison shopping be good for the customer?
I see the current distribution model continuing for another three years before we see any significant changes. I personally don’t see the end of GDSs yet. All I see currently is airlines trying to catch up with the low-cost model of luring passengers with seemingly low fares, but consumers end up paying a lot more by the time they land at their destination.
Looking forward, how do you see technology changing the landscape of managed travel?
The corporate travel industry needs to listen to the consumer – ie: the business traveller and the booker – and develop products that are intuitive, convenient and intelligent. Chambers has embraced web mobile in a big way because travel tools need to work across the widest range of appliances possible.
Most corporates have a company lockdown policy, meaning they do not allow employees to download apps onto their mobile business devises. But with web mobile tools such as our new portal myCT, there is nothing to install or download. Business travel technology needs to be easy to use and accessible because consumers want convenience at the touch of a button so that they can be more productive on the move, between meetings, or in quiet time, on any device they choose to use.