Carlson Wagonlit Travel's Floyd Widener recently added global program management to his existing global sales responsibilities in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, taking over for departing 25-year CWT veteran Jim Tweedie. Based in Paris, Widener joined the company in 2006 after eight years at Sabre Holdings. His conversation today with The Transnationalis excerpted here.
What's important to multinational clients these days?
Depending on the maturity of their travel programs, they're looking for a solution that is really adapted to their needs and not a cookie-cutter solution. That may be different in different regions. Once we set out with them the program we're going to build, the important thing for them is to have a logical progression to the program based on the company culture and short- and long-term objectives. How we manage that, and how deeply, depend on their needs and their resources. We go from customers fully outsourcing to us to customers using only our CWT Solutions and consulting services.
In terms of that range of engagement, from a consulting project with a company that might not even use CWT as its agency all the way to a company fully outsourcing travel management to CWT, do you see a trend one way or the other?
No. The one trend I have identified in the past three years is that procurement is becoming more and more involved, and the CFO is more involved. Travel is being considered--and rightly so--a category that needs to and can be managed in a strategic fashion.
We try to follow pretty closely cross-border issues, whether they be airline alliances and their regulations, multinational travel management company configurations or international processes like ticketing. In your mind, what's the biggest cross-border issue within Europe today?
One of them that stands out is the exchangeability of electronic tickets. There's no cross ticketing, meaning it has to be issued by that carrier and on that carrier, entirely under their stock. Also the ominous, ugly global distribution system issueis sitting out there, with the deregulation and the European Union having backed off and put into place what I consider some soft language on the parent carrierclause. That's a dynamic with opt-in and other questions around content in the GDSs.
In what ways are your clients taking action on environmental sustainability?
We're getting solicited more and more in requests for proposals how we track the carbon footprint. Maybe three to five years ago, you weren't seeing much of it at all. Now there usually isn't an RFP that doesn't have questions about corporate social responsibility and the environment.
What other issues are top of mind for your clients?
One thing that has come up in the last few customer meetings I have been in is more and more people are soliciting our Solutions group midyear to relook at air and hotel programs, because with the occupancy rates dropping everywhere and prices looking flat in some markets, a lot of the corporates at least are looking at refining their air and hotel programs right now as opposed to annually.