Alternative TMC RFP when COVID hit

Key Highlights

Animated image

JTI (Japan Tobacco International) is an international cigarette manufacturing company. With a footprint in over 80 countries worldwide and a travel and expense budget of $160 million in 2019 ⁠— the need to globally consolidate their travel program has become a major business objective in recent years. Mike Potter, JTI Travel Services Director, and Nichola Rimmer, Global Category Manager of JTI Travel & Events, head up the company's global indirect procurement function, with support from Nina & Pinta's Consulting Partner, Jo Lloyd

JTI had what Mike called a “patchwork quilt network for travel agencies”; more than 16. To truly globalize with JTI, the travel program needed to also go global and utilize fewer agencies. This would drive standardization, savings, compliance and a whole roster of efficiencies. 

 In 2020, JTI was due to go to RFP. An RFI had already been undertaken and the list had been whittled down to five bidders. 

Woman smiling and waving on a virtual call

Virtually turned on its head

COVID-19 hit and a travel ban came into effect at JTI. Within a week, it was decided the RFP process would turn virtual.

As Mike explains, “We thought it was the right thing to continue with the RFP. We could drive this change through a particularly unique time when people weren't travelling; it would be less of a risk through the pandemic.”

At the time, working virtually was new. The process was meant to start on March 8th, 2020 when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic three days later. 

“Mike and Nichola were dealing with learning how to build relationships and run the RFP virtually,” says Jo. “One of the key ways was to try and get as much of that RFP process off paper as possible, and do a lot of workshops and engagements with the various TMCs all through the process. That way, Mike, Nichola and their teams could get a feel for what these agencies would be like to work with moving forward, when they could meet in person.”


An open book from the start

Breaking away from the usual process and sales pitches, the JTI team pushed the bidders to really think about how they might tackle unique challenges and pain points.

Jo explains, “To use an old procurement phrase, they [JTI] opened the kimono. They showed the bidders where their pain points were, what their challenges were, what was difficult for them, what their vision was."

Jo goes on to emphasize, “I think that was one of the key differentiators about this RFP, because by being that open and transparent, they were really embodying the spirit of partnership, which they were looking for in a TMC.”


A 'glocal' culture fit

Global and local. This concept is a big part of JTI’s business model and culture, much like FCM.

As Nichola explains, “We were looking for a long-term partner, so cultural fit and the people aspect of this was really very important. We've got offices in many varied places around the world, with some long-standing legacy TMC relationships. We didn't want to fully emulate those because we were coming into a global program with global governance, but we still wanted those local relationships.”

Mike agrees, “Cultural fit is key. Someone who understood JTI and its intricacies."

business meeting

Shifting priorities

Online booking was one of the top priorities from the start. JTI has a direct contract with Concur for travel and expense used in 20 markets. The team wanted a partner that understood Concur and could further its deployment. Over time, that priority pivoted to the overall tech stack that the bidding TMCs could offer - in FCM’s case, this included the use of Concur Connector (allowing travel and expense data to be compared side by side), and the real-time communication tool, Shep.

Naturally, safety became a focal point - but so did offline support.

“Suddenly what we needed switched. It wasn’t just an online booking tool; what we need is a person at the end of the phone. Someone who can help get travelers from A to B; get them there in the safest way and with the most amount of information that's physically possible. We needed the comfort that there was support if someone got to a hotel and it was closed, for example,” says Nichola.

Mike adds, “We wanted to ensure the people that have to travel in the future (and we're still defining this), will have the best support around them. Be that; tools technology and people. The whole thing changed significantly.”

Man staring at stats on a screen


Internal challenges

Amid changing the RFP process, Mike and Nichola were also fighting internal fires. Mike admits JTI was initially looking at three potential partners on a regional basis. When COVID hit, he saw an opportunity to accelerate that consolidation and go for one global partner. “The concern at board level is that we will be driving change too quickly. That we were tearing up those old relationships that had been embedded for years and years,” says Mike.

Mike and Nichola’s tactic was to fully involve stakeholders and employees in the RFP process.

Once shortlisted to the final three, the team asked the TMCs to make a video introducing themselves to JTI’s employees. Those were not only shared with key stakeholders but on Workplace, where employees voted on which they liked the most.

Nichola comments, “A lot of people have no idea what a TMC is. They just knew that there was someone at the end of a phone if they were having a problem when they were traveling. There's an awful lot of change management to kind of let people know what TMC is and what they do beyond that. And with the idea of the global program and taking away some of those legacy relationships, we wanted to try and simulate opening up that whole RFP process.”

The decision was ratified by the board and ultimately JTI’s CEO too. FCM was chosen in December 2020.

Now the work begins. Discover how implementation moved up a notch, when JTI’s majority incumbent TMC handed them their 90 days’ notice.


Read part two