This week, Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s president for Asia Pacific, Kai Chan, provides us with an update on the company’s new CWT 3.0 strategy…
Q) CWT recently embarked on its new strategy, CWT 3.0. Why was this new strategy necessary, and what is it responding to, in terms of industry trends?
Managed business travel is an industry in transition. The historical, transaction-heavy, high-touch business model is being challenged by shifts in consumer behaviour and digital technology – driven mainly from outside the travel industry. Business travellers are also consumers and so the bar has been set high in their daily lives.
Our customers’ expectations and needs have evolved, so we are adapting our business to these new dynamics. We have embarked on a new strategy called “CWT 3.0”. The focus is on delivering a consumer-grade, omni-channel experience to the traveller, easy-to-use solutions for companies, and best-in-market hotel and data offerings.
Q) You mention giving a “consumer-grade” experience to business travellers. Why do business travellers not already have this, and what is required to achieve it?
Business travel has certain considerations that you don’t really see in the consumer space – things like travel policy compliance and duty of care. For this reason, I think the business travel sector has traditionally been a little more cautious when it comes to implementing new tools and technologies.
That said, we’re now at the point where the industry is recognising the importance of creating a business travel experience that more closely resembles what we encounter as consumers in the retail or entertainment space – an experience that’s more intuitive, user-friendly and personalised. By doing so, not only can we make business travellers happy, but we also create a greater incentive for travellers to book within their company’s travel policies, which in turn makes travel managers happy.
To achieve this we’re doing a number of things; we’re working on making significant upgrades to our mobile and web-based portal, by changing the look and feel and adding new features. Big data is key to creating a personalised experience, and we’re looking to use the vast amounts of traveller data at our disposal to understand travellers’ individual requirements.
We’re also working on ramping up our hotel offer by giving our clients around the globe access to more hotel content across all channels – online, offline and mobile.
Q) What will this new strategy entail in terms of practical measures and investments?
CWT is making big investments in technology and people in areas such as our digital platform, hotels and data. Last year in April we had Andrew Jordan join CWT as our global chief technology officer. Andrew and his team are responsible for end-to-end product development lifecycle and innovation, enabling CWT to offer even more connected, mobile and personalised services to our clients and travellers.
In June 2016, as part of our organisational re-alignment we created a division dedicated to hotels, led by Scott Brennan. Among other things, this division is focused on hotel content to secure more choices for our clients, and also to make this content available to clients across all geographies and across all booking channels.
And then in October we had Dr Eric Tyree join Andrew Jordan’s team as chief data scientist. CWT has access to one of the richest data sets in the industry, and he will be figuring out how we can take this data and convert it to something meaningful that our customers can use.
Q) What new solutions are CWT developing, and what improvements will CWT’s clients experience as a result?
We’re refreshing our web-based portal and our CWT To Go mobile app, incorporating the very latest developments in user interface design and user experience research. Travellers can already make hotel bookings directly through the mobile app, and we’re currently working on introducing air bookings. At the same time, we’re investing in travel counsellor tools and training to ensure our people are equipped to deliver the very best personalised service.
With our hotel offer, currently CWT clients have access to over 680,000 hotels all over the world. As I mentioned earlier, we’re going to continue adding more hotel content and making this content available to our clients across all geographies and booking channels. We’re also exploring ways to deliver better rates to our clients and expand our virtual payment capability to every market. And we’re looking to use data to better understand and anticipate in which hotels a traveller would like to stay, so that we can create a more personalized booking experience.
On the business intelligence and data reporting side, we’re powering up the reporting capabilities of our CWT AnalytIQs tool and incorporating data from more sources.
Q) How do you see the industry developing in the next decade, and is CWT 3.0 “future-proofing” CWT to cope with these changes?
Mobile technology is increasingly becoming a priority for companies. In a 2016 study by CWT and the GBTA Foundation, almost 70% of the travel managers surveyed said their travel programme did not have a mobile strategy in place – and of these 70%, almost half said they plan to create a strategy in the next two years. At the same time, travellers today expect all the features they need on the go – such as mobile booking, itinerary management, and destination and flight information – all in a single app. With this in mind, we’re making significant investments in mobile technology as part of our 3.0 strategy, as highlighted earlier.
The sharing economy has also been gaining traction in the business travel space. Last year we reached an agreement with Airbnb which gives companies the option to integrate Airbnb into their travel programmes. The partnership also includes integration into CWT’s off-channel reporting.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is another trend that will enhance travel in a way that it could lead to new value that isn’t being accessed right now. We’ve launched a beta version of our virtual travel assistant, CWT Carla, which guides travellers with their bookings and answers all kinds of questions from the company’s travel policy and available flight times, to baggage limitations and even details such as the type of plug sockets at the traveller’s destination.