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Multinational firms encounter numerous cultural barriers when coordinating travel processes in certain countries. Software manufacturer Autodesk has found the Asia-Pacific region particularly challenging when trying to implement policies and strategies that are successful in North America and Europe. Speaking during an Association of Corporate Travel Executives conference in April, Autodesk director of global travel and workplace sustainability programs Bruce Finch said, "For anyone launching a program in Asia-Pacific, understanding the differences in each one of those cultures is key in order to be successful. Once we got it, we helped our agency understand it; once that happened, we were very successful in rolling the program out." Autodesk's experiences in selected Asia-Pacific markets are outlined below.
China is one of the most challenging markets, according to Finch, who cited ticketing limitations, fragmented content and government regulations on global distribution systems. Encouraging corporate card use in China, Finch added, is virtually a losing battle as invoicing is prevalent.
"For a long time, the Chinese government didn't want" foreign corporate cards, Finch said, noting that Autodesk's travel department is globally rolling out an automated expense management program. "They wanted their own branded card companies to do that. There are a lot of politics involved, obviously, in that particular country. Across the area, American Express is well accepted, especially by major [airlines], but it's the small ones--especially the new ones--that have taken awhile to actually do that."
Another hurdle to overcome in China--as in many other places--is dissuading travelers from booking a cheaper flight online versus going through a GDS-connected channel. "People say that they can get [an airfare on Chinese online travel agency] CTrip for cheaper," Finch said. "For us, the argument is always, in this particular region, safety and security. If we can't capture it, we can't measure it. If we can't find the individual, there is really nothing we can do to help you."
Promoting use of the TMC throughout the company when those outside the travel department make bookings also is a challenge, Finch said. "The vice president [has to say] to the personal assistant, 'From now on, don't pick up the phone and call [the travel supplier]. You have to call the agency to make the booking.' If you peel the onion skin back so people can see the reasoning for what we are doing, then you can get a lot more buy-in to that."
"Labor is so much less expensive than technology, so why would you want to go online when it's going to cost you more money than it would to hire someone?" Finch asked. Autodesk in India "actually has an onsite, which is the antithesis of what we do in almost any other area in the world." He noted that while local employees book personal travel online, corporate travel is "very different. They have someone here, so why would they book it themselves?"
Another challenge in India relates to hotel rate discrepancies. "In India, if you carry an Indian passport, you get a different rate than if you are a foreigner," Finch said. "At the hotel we stay at, it's $400 a night; if you are an Indian passport holder, it's $125 a night and you can't access that in the GDS. There is a reason why there is distrust" directed at TMCs that can't always get the cheapest rates for certain individuals.
Finch also noted that managers in India don't always trust employees with corporate cards because many have "never used a credit card before, so all of a sudden now you can go out and buy a couch." He added that misuse of corporate cards can result in termination.
Meanwhile, he explained that following the reinstatement of a 5 percent agency commission scheme (after the industry "revolted" against the elimination of commissions), travel management companies "had to be more transparent to the individual who is doing the bookings in this region."
Autodesk's challenges in Japan include explaining the TMC transaction fee model to travelers, many of whom were accustomed to having their travel booked by the agency but were unaware that there was a fee attached to the booking; making travelers understand the efficiencies of electronic tickets and forms; overcoming biases favoring Japanese airlines over foreign ones; and encouraging senior managers to make their own travel arrangements. "It's a very societally organized country in that you have people do other things for you in order to fit your title," Finch said.
Another distinction of the Japanese travel market is the reliance on rail. "It's not something that you get in the GDS," Finch said. "It is a separate platform that tickets are generated from."
"We have always looked at [Hong Kong] independently," Finch said. "Now we are considering [Hong Kong, Taiwan and China] as one market, so we have one agency that is handling it, whereas before it was very specific."
Citing Hong Kong's longstanding status as "the landing point for so many international carriers" and "the gateway for lots of people" heading for mainland China, he said the market "is a little bit more mature."
Australia "is the most mature market probably of all the countries in Asia-Pacific in terms of adoption and credit card usage," Finch said. He noted that Virgin Blue in the domestic Australian market and V Australia on flights to the United States are "providing competitive service" against incumbents including Qantas and, on transpacific flights, United Airlines.
Malaysia and Singapore
These "markets are so small that it's just a catch-all," Finch explained. "To pull it all together, we use one card program that's there for everyone from a central billing standpoint. They are all done and settled in Singapore dollars."
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