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
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.