6 Success Strategies for integrating India into your global program

Globalising your travel program and integrating markets like India can be fraught with challenges.

Having a well thought out strategy, active engagement of in-country stakeholders and a clear “Go To Market “ roadmap can be your recipe for success.

 

The Challenge

In commencing your India integration initiatives , some of the top concerns you may be contending with would be around

  1. Demand for a high touch / low tech service delivery model in India
  2. Desire to maintain “Status Quo “ in view of “unique India specific needs”
  3. Limited MIS , Data & Analytics on the health of the program
  4. Absence of a structured employee CSAT & vendor performance scorecard

To navigate through this seemingly unsurmountable landscape & secure success , one would need to start by understanding the business travel market dynamics.

1. Understanding the market reality

Indian business travel market is amongst the fastest growing business travel markets worldwide. As per the recent GBTA study , the market stands at US$25B and is likely to growing north of 12% for the next 3 years . It’s the third fastest growing business travel market globally.

Despite the exponential growth in business travel , most corporations in India still regard business travel as a fulfilment activity rather than one that requires strategic focus and planning .

Further , in India , there is almost no supplier agnostic neutral industry body that shares knowledge and best practices on business travel. There are few recognized forums that allow this knowledge sharing between peer buyers with each company pretty much working standalone and navigating its own
challenges.

It’s not uncommon for travel agencies/TMC’s to offer a minimal transaction fees coupled with Free account management + Free Onsite staff or implants + Extended credit / on-account payment facility !

Success in business travel operations is still largely deemed to be securing the lowest possible transaction fees .

In many instances the fees & services delivered can be so skewed that the only way the travel agency/TMC can operate is apparently at a sizeable loss !!

It’s not uncommon for the travel agency / TMC to offer a minimal transaction fees coupled with free account management , free onsite staff (or implants as is more commonly referred to ) & extended credit period - as being the general operating model . Many international travel partners also have a very different technology, operating & service delivery model in country given the market reality.

Generally there is very limited engagement from the senior leadership in the business travel program. If you were to speak to many CXO’s in Indian companies , they recognize that travel is a big cost , however they are largely limited in their ability to drive change due to the largely opaque systems of operations and lack of quality data & analytics . Partnership models between buyers & travel partners are generally antagonistic and largely driven by lack of trust & transparency.

2. Understanding the “Unique “ India specific needs

Often , when you go into a market like India you are confronted by a
very strong resistance to change , internally from your in-country
stakeholders. Its important to take an objective neutral view of such
situations and understand the underlying drivers that fuel such
comment.

Its important to take an objective neutral view of such situations and understand the underlying drivers that fuel such comment...... Indian’s don't live on another planet !!

Yes - there are many operating situations in India that may appear alien to more evolved European & American markets . These have to be understood & taken in account when planning a transition .

The most important one being that of getting visae - Indian’s require a visa to almost all countries . Further consular requirements to secure such visa can be complex & requirements can vary even by the respective consular location where the visa is applied.

Further , most companies in India do not provide their employees with corporate credit cards, which is still largely restricted to very few organizations . Most companies still pay their travel agency/TMC using a cheque payment or on account model with limited lodge cards / purchase card implementation. This results in a separate eco-system of travel advances for domestic & international travel and on-account payments to suppliers.

While these realities exist , it would be correct also to point out that Indian’s don’t live on another planet !

The operating needs of Indian businesses are similar to other global counterparts . The penetration of mobile phones and internet in India is growing rapidly. Indian’s are very accustomed to buying travel online for leisure. They welcome technology & business models that makes their lives simpler.

3. Engagement with the India stakeholders

Given the size of your India program and the criticality of success , the next phase is to develop a robust & transparent engagement with your India team .This would require a multi level employee
engagement commencing with the India leadership team .

The best way to take this forward would be to do a short term assessment to

Evaluate the strengths & gaps in the current Indian travel operations.

  • Evaluate the commercial value of the local travel agency/TMC V/s benefits consequent on implementation of the global program partner
  • Establish service needs & expectations of local India team across levels of management & function

It’s important for your India leadership to share this mandate with the wider organization , which would also give confidence that your recommendation is based on solid facts & recognizes the needs of the Indian team .

Based on this assessment , a formal presentation to the India leadership team to secure their formal buy-in would be a major step in your future success .

It’s important for your India leadership to share this mandate with the wider organization , which would also give confidence that your recommendation is based on solid facts & recognizes the needs of the Indian team .

4. Operationalizing the Mandate

Getting the mandate operationalized is now the next big challenge .

A good way to start is to determine a roadmap with key milestones that need achievement in a time bound manner. A recommendation here would be to have a scheduled update with the senior
management / executive sponsor in-country at periodic landmarks so they are kept abreast of the progress.

Based on your evaluation , you will probably find that you will need to conduct negotiations with your global TMC partner to secure India specific operational & commercial expectations.

A strong level of account management support from your TMC partner would be required both globally and in-country to ensure that your internal initiatives are supported by your partner showing initiative & capability to deliver at a local level.

At this stage , it would be great if you could get your TMC partner to assign a transition team , which project manages the implementation with a project lead to keep track of all the moving parts.

Once the negotiations & commercial considerations are finalized alongwith the operational delivery , the stage is set for the actual program rollout !!

5 . The Moment of Truth - “Going Live”

Planning a smooth “Go Live” can be both exciting and nerve wrenching !! Getting to the moment of truth when the program transitions to the new partner / platform will require several components to work in tandem:

  • Structured Employee engagement Roadshows to socialise the changes in program management & operational processes
  • A robust user feedback & survey mechanism
  • A “Success Scorecard” that recognizes vendor program management , user feedback & success with business critical initiatives
  • Smooth de-implementation of incumbent agency/TMC , in phases 
  • Progressive rollout of new operations

The focus in this stage is to make the transition as free from “Noise & Smoke” as possible . It’s a given fact that something’s will not go as planned ....

The focus in this stage is to make the transition as free from “Noise & Smoke ” as possible . It’s a given fact that something’s will not go as planned .... While this is a reality , its important to have a tiered level of support & escalation so things can be resolved speedily and with minimum of fuss.

6. Tracking Success

While the most difficult was to get the program transitioned successfully , its important not to move your foot of the gas pedal !

Generally speaking , a program , especially in a market as complex as India should be monitored by you directly for at-least 6 months post the “Go Live “ .

This would include :

  1. Frequent scheduled meetings with your project leader & in-country support teams
  2. Close tracking of employee CSAT & Vendor “Success Scorecard”
  3. Consistent and scheduled re-training & refreshers so the employee user base gets comfortable & compliant with the changes desired
  4. Presenting an executive update to the leadership on performance , gaps & steps to improve
  5. Setting the agenda for the next set of important transitions related to business travel .

While the most difficult was to get the program transitioned successfully , its important not to move your foot of the gas

Securing success in complex markets like India requires a clear understanding of the market dynamics & unique user needs. With this as a starting point , you can set yourself up for success by implementing a phased rollout with specific tangible deliverables & Success Matrix .