How a global TMC adapts local business travel nuances to create consistent customer experiences in Asia’s evolving travel landscape

Beginning with the revolution in mobile technology taking root way back from pre-pandemic days to now, FCM has always recognised that the era of personalised travel would one day dominate. Over the years, FCM spruced up its corporate travel offerings, creating a range of services to assist business travellers in enjoying less stressful and more productive business travel.

Within a rapidly evolving business travel landscape in the current environment, there is a heightened focus on the business traveller and their experience, as well as ROI optimisation for every business trip.

FCM leaders in China, India and Japan revealed during a recent FCM Th!nk Singapore event, struggles with the pandemic in their respective markets and how they ensured consistently top-notch customer experiences for their customers and travellers.

Market: China

General manager: Calvin Xie

China’s borders remain tightly shut, even as its most recent two-month lockdown of Shanghai was lifted June 1. Calvin holds high hopes that China will soon resume direct flights with North America, Europe and Australia, although passenger load ratio for international travel in China still stood at 40% in May.

The domestic market, on the other hand, epitomises agility and flexibility. “Before, we would always educate clients to book their tickets seven days in advance because it's cheap and it embodies better travel behaviour. But this no longer works. Nowadays, many of our travellers tend to book only one day or even a few hours in advance due to the uncertainty and frequent itinerary changes,” said Calvin. He added that there has also been a distinct shift from air travel to land – namely rail or private car transport – travel.

Throughout the entire pandemic period, FCM China’s dedicated service model has been focused on assuaging Chinese travellers apprehensive about travelling overseas. Its in-house 24/7 customer service teams provide travel bookers and travellers with updated and timely updates on travel restrictions and regulations for any destination, as well as end-to-end support for domestic and international travel.  

Calvin and his team have also been hard at work modifying the FCM Platform, FCM’s global proprietary technology, for the Chinese market, pouring in much investment. Its open-ended platform allows reporting, data flow and duty-of-care processes to be carried through consistently and aligned with FCM globally. The local Chinese business traveller is top of mind in the platform’s localisation. Payment via WeChat Pay or Alipay? Check. Comparisons between China rail and air ticket prices on a single page?

Check. Alignment of expense or profile management integrations with your company system? Check. 

Market: India

General manager: Punit Puri

India’s corporate travel recovery has been on an upward trajectory. The month of March saw India closing at 107% of pre-COVID levels with extensive pick-up to key international destinations that included the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Domestic destinations included Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Chennai. Meetings and events have also bounced back significantly, with a particular focus on smaller meetings. FCM India executed 85 such meetings in March, which was the highest number of events it had executed within a month since mid-2019.

What is particularly noteworthy is the increasing demand to manage end-to-end travel requirements, using a combination of the hybrid model via FCM’s round-the-clock in-house customer support and technology adoption like FCM India’s self-booking tool.

The FCM car programme, part of FCM’s Duty of Care initiative, has been especially well-received. It is a specialised transport programme to manage corporate car requirements which oversees the safety of female travellers in a stringent manner when they’re moving from one location to another. Tying up more than 15 vendors across the country, the programme covers every facet of the transport process: from calling the customer to ask if her car has arrived on time to checking in on her safe arrival at the destination. All responses are recorded and reported to the travel manager for quality control.

“Customers don’t need to have multiple vendors managing their car programme. We take on the onus of understanding their multiple requirements and create personalised solutions for them,” said Punit, highlighting the programme’s attraction.

With India considered a “high-tech and high-touch market”, it is hence only natural that FCM India is enhancing its unique hybrid model of technology and people to benefit its business travellers. After all, the concept of blending AI and IQ – the best of technology and the best of people – is, and always has been, a huge focal point at FCM.

To create efficiencies and reduce dependency on third parties, it poured significant investments into a new online booking tool (OBT) called Project Gemini. Its first phase of functions will be unveiled in July 2022, with the full launch expected by January 2023.

As for the human component, Punit disclosed that recruitment has been on the uptake. The goal is to fill 120 positions across 10 FCM offices. “Travel is very personal. To create a seamless travel experience, we need both superior technology and good people who can support that in the background. Also, we need good teams to give the necessary reassurance to customers, whether on the phone or over email, to make sure that all their questions are covered. We want to help rebuild confidence in business travel.”

Market: Japan

General manager: Kenichi Shiraishi

Amid the anxiety of COVID-19, some silver linings sparkled. One of them was the acceleration of digitalisation in Japan. To avoid going out but still continue with regular activities such as shopping, restaurant dining and banking, many Japanese took to digitalisation. While not in the same category as retail activity, domestic corporate travel, too, saw a huge inclination towards digitalisation. Sheer necessity soon evolved into a deliberate choice. “Travellers realised that paper is not convenient,” said Kenichi, adding: “We are fielding more requests from both companies and individuals to digitalise the business travel process.”

Chances are, digitalisation is likely to become an enduring feature of Japan’s corporate travel market, and Kenichi believes that information for all the different components of the travel process can be seamlessly collated and accessible on FCM Platform. That would include details such as the availability of air and rail travel, accommodation and venue offerings for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions.

The focus, stressed Ken, is to be all-encompassing and accessible on a single platform. Big-name hotels must be part of the inventory. Small, hot-spring inns deserve space as well. “It is difficult for such entities to be found by customers on their own, and having them online in one place would help,” said Ken. “Besides convenience, we will also be optimising opportunities for everyone in the travel ecosystem: Who says good meetings cannot be held in these small inns? Customers might love the idea!”

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