The Frog has Leapt

This week Kurt Knackstedt, CEO of Troovo and president of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE), discusses the “leapfrog effect” in the travel industry…

In 2014 at ACTE’s Global Corporate Travel Conference in Hong Kong, we spoke at length about the “leapfrog effect” in corporate travel (and travel in general) which was all about skipping over trends and methods that had been in place for years in other markets around the world.

Included in the leapfrog effect was the likelihood that Asian business travellers were going to bypass online booking channels in favour of mobile-only channels, how fast-growing payment providers and technologies would soon run alongside and in some cases surpass traditional plastic cards, and that a massive younger generation of business travellers coming into the workforce were going to push past traditional approaches to how things get done.

Kurt Knackstedt
Kurt Knackstedt

I can safely say that just two years later, that frog has well and truly leaped. In Beijing last month at this year’s Global Corporate Travel Conference, the evidence of just how fast and far Asia has moved around technology, business, payments, travel management and professional networking was everywhere.

Those attending spoke of booking travel on their mobile and sharing the details with colleagues and family via WeChat. Discussions took place around how (not if) to use sharing economy providers within corporate travel programs. People bought drinks and meals for each other by tapping their mobiles rather than taking out plastic cards.

Attendees booked, rode and paid for transportation around Beijing using Didi. QR codes provided details on speakers, content and supplier and sponsor information rather than handing everything out on paper brochures. And the most timeless and uniquely Asian custom of two-handed business card exchanges was clearly under threat by people shaking their mobiles (there they are again!) at each other to share contact details.

For someone who has attended conferences in Asia for 15 years, it was breath-taking to realise that what I was observing happening right in front of me was such a distant, futuristic concept only just 24 months ago. For years it seemed as though the way business travel was conducted across Asia was moving at a snail’s pace. Not only now has the frog has leapt forward but actually resembles a cheetah more than any other animal analogy I can think of.

What’s invigorating about this whole rapid transformation of Asian business travel is the inspiration it can give the entire industry.  Of course much can be attributed to the phenomenal economic growth (from a relatively low base just a decade or two ago) in Asia, but I think that’s missing the point. The heady combination of economic growth and demographic shift seen in Asia may not happen again in our lifetimes, but the learning and knowledge we can glean from it is still all around us.

Corporate travel’s embrace of all things new, digital and dynamic in Asia shows that there is ample opportunity for innovation and creative thinking in our industry. Now is the time for all those in corporate travel to leap forward together – globally!

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