In the early days of computing, it was often said that “No one ever gets fired for buying IBM”. What lies beneath this phrase is that large, multinational companies often prefer to work with global suppliers – they like the reassurance that large companies with a similar global footprint can offer.
Yet too often, choosing global suppliers has often been at the expense of good service on a local level and that is as true in the business travel sector as elsewhere in the corporate world.
It is something that global hotel chains have reacted to by introducing niche, boutique brands that offer more personalized and locally focused product and service.
Organizations are now recognizing that the same is true with travel management companies and that global does not have to be traded off against local service.
Global vs local travel programs
The choice of centralization vs de-centralization can be reflected in the decision-making between global or local travel management company. Some global companies offer a consistent, centrally-managed service; others are local, independent organizations which are part of a global consortium.
A global travel management company offers many management benefits such as a single platform to simplify data consolidation and analytics and a single main point of contact. Your decision-making should also address one or more of the following issues.
Bigger does not always mean better in choosing global partners. Geographical coverage is important but having the right people in local markets is more so. Many travel management companies claim to have branches in a large number of countries. It is important to check whether these branches are owned and controlled by the parent, have aligned service and product offerings or are effectively a box-ticking exercise to say they are represented in some particular market. Ultimately, a travel buyer will want to know that they can rely on their travel management company partner, wherever they are in the world, to deliver good service, be tuned in to local requirements but also have the systems in place to allow consolidation of data and standardization of process.
Functionality can vary among technology tools and global distribution systems (travel management companies and agencies’ source of inventory, schedules and prices) according to region. In Asia the technology should ideally take account of consolidated fares which are commonly used there. Some of the most popular self-booking tools in the US are not as suitable for AsiaPac. American travel is predominantly domestic so foreign exchange capability and passenger profiles are not always adequate for international travel bookings.
The process standardization and data requirements of multinational travel buyers means that having common technology platforms is vital in order to support global needs, but it is also important to be able to customize that technology to reflect these specific local nuances.
Global companies still need service on a local-level, understanding and support that’s sensitive to the local culture and individual needs. North Americans are accustomed to automated tools. Asian and Middle Eastern travelers prefer human contact. And where travelers find they need to speak with someone, they expect to do so in their own language. The culture and fit between the travel manager and the account manager at the travel management company should not be overlooked. If anything needs a “glocal” approach it is this – you want the reach and buying power of a global organization but coupled with an account manager in your local market who understands your individual needs. An account manager in your local market who really understands your business is always going to be better than someone sat in a distant call center reading from a script.
Every office will have a unique profile of frequent vs occasional travelers, popular city pairs and socioeconomic environment. For example, both South Korea and Switzerland are thriving, popular business destinations but both also rank among the worst places for female employment. Fewer female workers means fewer female travelers so their special needs are not likely to be high on the agenda.
What to look for in a travel management company
Global, then, no longer has to mean impersonal and desiring better data and standard processes does not mean compromising on the local needs of businesses and their travelers.
The mantra “No one gets fired for buying IBM” needs to change. It should now be that “No one gets fired for meeting the local requirements of travelers while having the support of a truly global network”.