Come fly with me

It has been an ex­cit­ing pe­riod of growth for Cor­po­rate Travel Man­age­ment. The com­pany has demon­strated year on year growth since its in­cep­tion in 1994 de­spite re­cent chal­lenges in the lo­cal econ­omy. Jonathan Jackson spoke with CEO Aus­tralia & New Zealand

Business First - - CONTENTS -

It has been a good few years for Cor­po­rate Travel Man­age­ment and its CEO Laura Ruf­fles.

When Jamie Ph­er­ous left his high-fly­ing cor­po­rate job in the mid 1990s to set up, what was at the time, a small travel man­age­ment busi­ness, lit­tle did he know the be­he­moth he was cre­at­ing.

It started well for Ph­er­ous. On re­flect­ing upon win­ning his first client, he told the Aus­tralian Fi

nan­cial Re­view last year: “I’ll never for­get it be­cause you work so hard and you have one shot. I re­mem­ber to this day how ex­cited I was to get that op­por­tu­nity. And we also knew once we had that op­por­tu­nity, we were never go­ing to let them go and we were go­ing to look af­ter them. I re­mem­ber the very first time they phoned us to go first­class on trips around the world.”

Since then, CTM has en­joyed a me­te­oric rise that shows no signs of abat­ing.

Per­haps Ph­er­ous’ en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit rubbed off on the busi­ness and its staff as it con­tin­ued to grow and that is the rea­son for the com­pany’s con­tin­ued suc­cess, or per­haps it’s just a good idea that had a lot of legs. What­ever the rea­son, the $2.5 bil­lion in travel book­ings is a sub­stan­tial mea­sure for this $1.3 bil­lion capped ASX listed en­tity.

Sup­port­ing Ph­er­ous in driv­ing the com­pany’s growth strat­egy both at home and around the globe is CTM’s CEO Aus­tralia & New Zealand and Global COO Laura Ruf­fles, who was ap­pointed to the po­si­tion in March 2015.

When she joined CTM in 2010, it was still a small pri­vate com­pany with just 5% of mar­ket share and five of­fices across Aus­tralia.

Laura was a key player in guid­ing the com­pany through an ex­ten­sive growth pe­riod, hav­ing played key roles in sim­i­lar cor­po­rate travel busi­nesses in Aus­tralia and Europe.

Laura says the suc­cess of CTM is due to an un­changed value propo­si­tion.

“We of­fer a high value ser­vice and that hasn’t changed. The busi­ness model is fo­cused on how we can demon­strate a re­turn on in­vest­ment to our clients. If you need emer­gency as­sis­tance from the other side of the globe, there’s a fa­mil­iar voice on the end of the phone 24/7. If you need to make a last minute change to your trip while you’re on your way to the air­port, we can do that too.”

This is a ser­vice in­dus­try that has changed dra­mat­i­cally due to the rise of tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tions and CTM has em­braced each and ev­ery one it feels can en­hance its busi­ness.

So im­por­tant is the rise of tech­nol­ogy to cor­po­rate travel, that CTM has in­vested in its own tech de­vel­op­ment de­part­ment, CTM SMART Tech­nol­ogy, lo­cated in their Syd­ney-based ‘Tech Hub’.

“There has been a sig­nif­i­cant rise in tech­no­log­i­cal so­lu­tions for the travel in­dus­try,” Laura says. “It has come on in leaps and bounds. The tools avail­able to­day help peo­ple in cor­po­rate po­si­tions to make smart de­ci­sions, which de­liver value through in­creased sav­ings and greater ef­fi­cien­cies.

“We have de­vel­oped fore­cast­ing tools that show the best time to travel, across air and ho­tel, 21 days in ad­vance and tools which can track flights and de­ter­mine de­lays, mean­ing we can re-ar­range our cus­tomers’ busi­ness meet­ings in the event of an un­avoid­able de­lay. And we’ve de­vel­oped tools that can de­ter­mine which of our clients are trav­el­ling at the same time to the same des­ti­na­tion so they can ride share and save money.”

CTM places a high value on re­turn on in­vest­ment for its cus­tomers. Due to its size now, it has sub­stan­tial buy­ing power and ne­go­ti­at­ing prow­ess with its sup­pli­ers.

“In cor­po­rate travel, re­la­tion­ships are key. Be­yond sim­ply ne­go­ti­at­ing dis­counts on air, ho­tel and car sup­pli­ers, we utilised those re­la­tion­ships to de­liver close to $3m in waivers and favours to our clients in Aus­tralia and New Zealand last year,” Laura says.

With 82 of­fices in 53 cities, that’s po­ten­tially a lot of ne­go­ti­a­tion oc­cur­ring on a range of global ac­counts. How­ever the sys­temi­sa­tion that CTM has cre­ated as the com­pany has grown glob­ally means a seam­less travel ex­pe­ri­ence for clients across the world.

“We have an on­line cus­tomer por­tal that houses all our clients’ cho­sen travel tools in one place, and can be utilised in ev­ery re­gion in which they op­er­ate. Our on­line book­ing tools can be cus­tomised to in­clude high speed rail or travel that is spe­cific to lo­cal nu­ances. We feed as much in­for­ma­tion as we can back to our clients; in­for­ma­tion that en­ables bet­ter travel buy­ing de­ci­sions, and valu­able in­for­ma­tion about the places that peo­ple are trav­el­ling to. Weather, traf­fic, taxi avail­abil­ity, even ho­tel re­views are avail­able. The travel man­ager is ‘vir­tu­ally’ with the trav­eller ev­ery minute of the trip.

“If you go on a pri­vate hol­i­day to Fiji, you usu­ally go to a con­sumer web­site, but cor­po­rates don’t have that lux­ury; there’s no peer re­view site for cor­po­rate travel. So what we have done is built ho­tel re­views into the book­ing process, en­abling buy­ing de­ci­sions based upon val­ued and rel­e­vant feed­back. How fast was the wi-fi? How far was the ho­tel from the of­fice? This in­for­ma­tion can be crit­i­cal in mak­ing busi­ness travel ef­fec­tive.”

Tech­nol­ogy now plays a big part in the travel in­dus­try and CTM sees it­self at the fore­front.

Laura says just of­fer­ing book­ing tools isn’t enough any­more.

“We still use on­line book­ing tools, but when we see a gap in the mar­ket for unique func­tion­al­ity we will build it and in­te­grate it with legacy sys­tem to en­hance them, such as our SMART Fore­cast­ing tech­nol­ogy. These tools are cre­ated by our in-house tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment team who work with cus­tomers to give them the best user ex­pe­ri­ence.”

SMART Trav­eller Tracker mon- itors a trav­eller’s flight sta­tus in real time to see if a flight is de­layed, which then en­ables CTM to no­tify their on­ward meet­ings and push the time or even fix con­nect­ing flights.

Through these in­no­va­tions, CTM has con­tin­ued to im­prove its mar­ket share.

“We ex­pect cus­tomers to have ac­cess to real time data to act ef­fi­ciently. We are lead­ing the way in this field, and we con­tinue to win and re­tain our cus­tomers as a re­sult. Con­sid­er­ing how tech savvy trav­ellers now are, they should ex­pect to have live up­dates and be able to man­age their travel re­quire­ments from their smart­phone.

“There is a lot of legacy tech­nol­ogy in the mar­ket, but we have built a frame­work around that, that is more mod­ern and valu­able and rel­e­vant to each mar­ket.”

CTM is con­tin­u­ously look­ing ahead to emerg­ing client needs, and some­times de­liv­ers new tech­nol­ogy en­hance­ments each week.

“We have an ag­ile frame­work and can get through a sprint in one or two weeks. We cap­ture live client feed­back and when we see a trend emerg­ing we can quickly im­ple­ment changes. Some­times they have been im­ple­mented in the same day and are per­son­alised for the in­di­vid­ual user,” Laura says.

The in­no­va­tion comes back to the en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit that was the guid­ing light for the com­pany 20-odd years ago when the first seeds were sewn.

That spirit al­lows for agility and in turn that cre­ates a ROI for clients.

It also drives the high value ethos by which CTM con­ducts its busi­ness.

“We want to be the best cor­po­rate provider in ev­ery re­gion we op­er­ate in. To do that we must con­tinue to pro­duce great tech­nol­ogy that is first to mar­ket and de­liv­ers a demon­stra­ble re­turn for cus­tomers, sup­ported by our on­go­ing com­mit­ment to pro­vid­ing ser­vice ex­cel­lence and lo­calised sup­port,” Laura says.

“That is our pedi­gree and his­tory and it cre­ates a best prac­tice men­tal­ity.”

Which is vi­tal for trav­ellers who want a seam­less travel ex­pe­ri­ence.

Laura Ruf­fles

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