Globalizing your business travel program & integrating emerging markets like Indiacan 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.
Further such markets have unique complexities and challenges. It’s important that you have a knowledgeable in-market business travel consultant/ India expert like ProKonsul who can reconcile local market complexities with the requirements of a global business travel program implementation and ensure an effective equilibrium.
In India& the broader South Asia region, ProKonsul is the exclusive supplier agnostic neutral business travel consultant actively involved in sharing knowledge and best practices on business travel. ProKonsul has been successful in developing multiple business travel events & forums that have facilitated knowledge sharing between peer buyers and industry leaders.
In commencing your India integration initiatives, some of the top concerns you may be contending with would be around
- Demand for a high touch / low tech service delivery model in India
- Different service delivery & operating models for International & domestic travel
- Varying degrees of technical maturity of self-booking technology, expense management & payment systems
- Desire to maintain “Status Quo “ in view of “unique India specific needs”
- Limited MIS, Data & Analytics on the health of the program
- Absence of a structured employee CSAT & vendor performance scorecard
- Strong resistance to change
To navigate through this seemingly unsurmountable landscape & secure success, one would need to start by understanding the Indian business travel market dynamics. Always consider employing an external business travel consultant who can help you navigate the road ahead to achieve success.
1. Understanding the market reality
Indian business travel market is amongst the fastest growing business travel markets worldwide. The market stands at US$40B approximately and is likely to growing north of 10% YOY for the next 3 years. It’s the fastest-growing business travel market globally.
Despite the exponential growth in business travel, most corporations in India still regard business travel as a fulfillment activity rather than one that requires strategic focus and planning. 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 travel agencies/ Travel management company to offer a minimal transaction fee coupled with Free account management + Free Onsite staff or implants + Extended credit and on-account payment facility !- as being the general operating model.
Many global travel management company’s have a very different (and truncated) technology, operating, fulfillment & service delivery model in India versus their global offering.
There is very limited engagement from the senior leadership in the corporate 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. It’s important to take an objective neutral view of such situations and understand the underlying drivers that fuel such comment.
Engaging a business travel consultant or India expert like ProKonsul allows you to understand the underlying dynamic and take a neutral impartial view of the issue at hand as also develop relevant market-specific responses that work for all internal stakeholders.
Yes – there are many operating situations in India that very different from 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 many 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. This requirement poses additional challenges when planning a self-booking tool (SBT) implementation. These would need to be thought through and planned to ensure an effective migration.
Many companies in India do not provide their employees with corporate credit cards, which is still largely restricted to very few organizations. The preference to work with foreign exchange advances or equip employees with a foreign exchange advance using a debit card that is preloaded with a certain quantum of currency.
Most companies still pay their travel agency/travel management company using a cheque payment or on account model with limited lodge cards/purchase card implementation.
This results in a unique eco-system of travel advances for domestic & international travel and on-account payments to suppliers with attendant reconciliation challenges. There are still organizations that do not implement automation in business travel expense management which poses additional challenges. While these realities exist, it would be correct also to point out that
Indian’s don’t live on another planet!
Enterprise business travel in India has just remained behind on innovating and accepting new ideas. this has been driven in part by the industry being unable to verbalize and ideate value as also the buyers focusing on the lowest common denominator and not realizing the old adage “ if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys” … What’s required is the need to understand issues, socialise the change and drive an effective transition
3. Engagement with the India stakeholders
Given the size of your Indian business travel 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 is to work in collaboration with a business travel consultant / India expert like ProKonsul and do a detailed objective assessment that includes
- Survey the Indian employees to get a sense of employee satisfaction with the current program/ establish a vendor service delivery parameter and key expectations form a new implementation
- Establish service needs & expectations of local India team across levels of management & function
- Evaluate the strengths & gaps in the current Indian business travel
- Evaluate the commercial value of the local travel agency/Travel management company V/s benefits consequent on implementation of the global program partner
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 to your India team that your recommendation is based on solid facts &recognizes the needs of the Indian managed business travel program.
4. Operationalizing the Mandate
Getting the mandate operationalized is now the next big challenge. This is the most critical part of your project and having an in-market business travel consultant / India expert like ProKonsul can significant contribute to your success. A lot of your success requires balancing your global objective with local business needs, cultural and operational nuances and being acutely sensitive to the underlying sentiment amongst your users.
The first step of the process would be to build a clear commercialization plan that outlines landmarks, tracks milestones establishes a baseline of service delivery. Start with smaller pilot groups in SBU’/ regions, establish success and then widen the scope of the project.
Periodic CSAT surveys and benchmarking travel management company’s service delivery standards are crucial.
A project plan with scheduled check- in’s and sign-offs is imperative. Additionally, 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 travel management company partner to secure India specific operational & commercial expectations.
A strong level of account management support from your preferred travel management company 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. The assumption here is that you intend to perpetuate an existing relationship rather than approach a new vendor through an RFP – which may require a different approach.
Your travel management company must assign a transition team, which project manages the implementation with a project lead to keep track of all the moving parts. A note of caution – Account management service delivery and project management can be widely different in-country versus global standards even with global travel management company’s. Be sure that you have effectively evaluated the process as also the candidate who will be responsible for this from your vendor.
Once the negotiations & commercial considerations are finalized along with 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 through CSAT Surveys
- A “Success Scorecard” that recognizes vendor program management, user feedback &success with business-critical Initiatives
- Smooth de-implementation of the incumbent travel management company, 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 …. While this is a reality, it’s important to have a tiered level of support & escalation so things can be resolved speedily and with the 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 stage requires active management and involvement of your entire team as also you’re an in-market business travel consultant, who oversees the progress as also mediates challenges through their knowledge.
This would include:
- Frequently scheduled meetings with your project leader &in- country support teams
- Close tracking of employee CSAT Surveys & Vendor “Success Scorecard”
- Consistent and scheduled re-training & refreshers so the employee user base gets comfortable & compliant with the changes desired
- Presenting an executive update to the leadership on performance, gaps & steps to improve. Further active involvement of your in-country executive leader is required to drive string positive and unambiguous messaging to ensure project milestones are driven
- Setting the agenda for the next set of important transitions related to business travel.
Securing success in complex markets like India requires a clear understanding of 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.
Welcome to India !!!