Travel truly is priceless. How else can you get such a clear view of places, of people? I’m back from the LACCTE travel conference in Sao Paulo with fresh understandings about managed travel in
Latin America Brazil – and implications for us Norte Americanos.
Lesson Number One – don’t confuse Brazil and “Latin America”. One is a country, the other a lazy way to label a diverse set of countries and cultures. This conference revolved around Brazilian delegates and issues. We should generalize these insights to “Latin America” with some restraint.
Monday morning I spoke on a panel with Roberto Rodriguez Gonzalez, head of travel in Mexico for Walmart, and Andre Carvalhal, President of CWT’s Brazilian operation. I presented a North American perspective about global travel programs. Andre gave his view of Brazilian-led emerging global companies, and Roberto gave the view of a LatAm travel manager working for a global US company.
When asked for the most important metric among travel buyers, Andre was clear: “It’s data. How much are we spending on travel? It all starts there.” Beyond that, the goals are generally the same – get good data, and use it to negotiate better deals. Put good policies in place and strive for good compliance. Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it? How hard can it be to put a regional travel program in place?
“We may have the same goals, but different priorities”, said Roberto.
Why is that? Simple – different constraints. Data is hard to get. Many (most?) travelers don’t carry credit cards. Call centers are not popular for cultural reasons. Travel policies need localization. Relationships trump data during negotiations. I began to get the picture.
The Brazilian market for managed travel faces another key difference – the general lack of senior management focus on travel spend. I came away with the impression that the travel category was bubbling up in importance, but that it could be several years before the category is managed with the same attention as it is in Western Europe or North America. Hey, if our economy was growing as fast as Brazil’s, maybe we’d be less focused on costs too.
One factor that is not lagging in Brazil is travel technology. I was impressed by several travel tech firms: Reserve, LemonTech, Argo IT and Web Travel Solutions. They are offering proven platforms for corporate self-booking (including CO2 data), meetings and events bookings, and leisure OTA functionality.
Direct connections are a way of life here. I was told that Sabre acquired a Brazilian firm (Voxhal?) for the quality of its XML-based travel technology, and that its XML technology is now used by GetThere’s Brazilian app to access lots of formerly non-GDS content. Azul, a new low-cost airline patterned after JetBlue, pushes all of its content through its web services API. Brazil is no travel tech backwater, that’s for sure.
Hotels are another story – much less technology-driven for their distribution. Many are not listed in the GDS, and require phone reservations. Consolidators play a large role in corporate travel here, sitting squarely between the suppliers and the corporate TMCs. I suspect that will change as travel procurement matures here and forces prices down across the distribution channel.
I also spoke at a suppliers-only session on alternative distribution channels. We covered the traditional ones (e.g., supplier>TMC>Corporate traveler), and then veered into social media as a channel. Surprisingly, none of the suppliers said they were using Orkut (Brazil’s most popular social network), Facebook or Twitter. One person explained that she couldn’t show her boss the ROI from such an idea; others nodded in agreement. I encouraged them to experiment.
Expense reporting looks to be Concur’s game to lose in Brazil. Many multinationals have already implemented its expense reporting system here. I didn’t see any serious local competitor on the expense front, and Concur has stated publicly it will bring its self-booking tool to Brazil in the near future.
When that happens, it will elevate the visibility of end-to-end managed travel – something that will accelerate Brazilian management’s awareness of the practical benefits of managing the travel category. Now that’s a good goal!
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