Russian Business Travel Community Gathers at ACTE Executive Forum

Russian Business Travel Community Gathers at ACTE Executive Forum

The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) reported a 25 percent jump in the number of participants attending the ACTE Executive Forum convened in Moscow, on 13 April, 2010 with total attendance for the second annual event rising to 103 delegates. According to a statement from Chris Crowley, ACTE President-Elect, the increased number of participants, the energy of the discussions held and the level of business conducted on the day, reflects the maturity of the travel management profession in Russia and the readiness of travel managers to engage in improving processes to achieve greater efficiency.

“The ACTE education forum brought key buyers and competitive suppliers together and provided the opportunity for delegates to discuss global issues in a very local setting.” said Caroline Allen, the association’s Regional Director, Northern & East Central Europe and Russia. “Travel managers seized the opportunity to identify solutions to help deliver results and bolster their corporate influence.”

Russian television channel, Russian Travel Guide (RTG TV) covered the event and subsequently created a program called ‘New Opportunities in Business Travel’. The program features an interview with Irina Kuznetsova, Administrative Director, PricewaterhouseCoopers and ACTE’s Russian Country Champion where she comments on the significance of corporate travel to ones business, the challenges especially in the current global financial climate, the importance of sharing practices and experiences, learning from other corporate buyers, and the significance of having an independent educational and networking platform such as ACTE. The program goes on to explain that corporate travel in Russia is growing rapidly and that there is a high demand for qualified specialists with particular knowledge and experience in travel management—making education on the subject extremely important.

The event’s educational agenda featured four main topics, each offering a panel of experts and was moderated by Bob Papworth, the Executive Editor of Buying Business Travel.

The first presentation ‘Self-Booking Tools for the Russian Market’, was structured on the insight of Olesya Ryabova, Executive Director Corporate Services, Goldman Sachs; Philipp Lookianenko, Managing Director, HRG; Vadim Zelenski, General Director, Zelenski Corporate Travel Solutions; and Olga Barysheva, Travel Co-ordinator, C-Boss.

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The panel began by summarizing the type of content and functionality participants could expect from a self-booking tool, emphasizing the ability to process orders for a wide variety of travel services electronically, the capability to access negotiated rates, the convenience of gauging compliance as well as maintaining traveller profiles, and the ability to generate statistical reports. The session also examined specific benefits for the travel manager (faster booking, tighter budget control, administrative cost reduction, and enhanced traveller security), as well as several advantages for the travel management company (greater transparency and increased manageability). Olga Barysheva, Travel Co-ordinator for C-Boss, systematically ran through a series of potential challenges common to the Russian business travel sector and demonstrated how their self-booking tool helped to resolve those challenges.

Several conclusions were drawn by the session end, including:

  * Any travel service or product being introduced to the Russian market must either be developed specifically for that market, or be subject to local modification
  * Although in relative infancy, local Russian solutions are available which have levels of customisation options if policy and approval process need to be incorporated
  * Content needs to be considered. Russia is a huge geographic region spanning multiple time zones and much of the Russian air content is currently held on Russian CRS/GDS systems
  * Hotel content is complex as a huge volume of hotel content is not yet available on the GDS
  * Russian tax regulations encourage some businesses to operate with cash to minimize their tax burden which will continue to affect credit card adoption (which is still low) but there is progress being made in this area

Visas and visa management remains a challenge to Russian business travel managers which was explored in the second session, entitled “Getting to the Head of the Visa Line,” by experts Irina Zernova, Vice President, Head of Administration, Morgan Stanley Bank Russia; Andrey Voronine, CEO, ATH Business Travel Solutions; and Stewart Wight, Vice Consul, US Embassy.

Visa delays and difficulties are reflected in the relatively high associated cost to business. Yet as high as these costs are, they are still lower than the price of not being able to conduct business at all. Some of these costs relate to personnel, such as the need for expert staff to update consulate information and to verify information against each application. Others relate to the time lost when the traveller must apply for the visa in person, or when re-application is required to correct a mistake. Additional expense is often tied to the cost of cancelling or postponing meetings if the visa process can not react to business needs quickly enough. 

Zernova reminded delegates of the importance of making concise and honest applications to simplify the process. Participant and expert consensus in this session also concluded that suppliers in this field should work towards maintaining a single database with consulate information online, including traveller data stored for other applications; business visa accreditations for the travel management company (for buyers to be able to outsource the process to and reduce the need for personal presence when making applications); a simplified set of documents, and the option of using express services, at higher fees if necessary.

Yet in his presentation, Stewart Wight, Vice Consul, US Embassy demonstrated how the US has streamlined many of it visa requirements (approving 1,000 visas in Moscow alone on a daily basis), incorporating many of the enhancements desired by participants, including online application processing and a waiver of a personal appearance if applicants have previously applied for and received a US visa.

In the presentation titled, “Is it Time for a Change in the Client Service Model?”, participants discussed “implant” versus “outplant” solutions and general servicing requirements. The discussion was lead by Olga Khorasanova, Facilities & Services Lead Russia, Accenture; and Irina Kuznetsova.

According to Khorasanova, her firm can avoid difficulties associated with the high real estate costs and security issues by side-stepping the implant issue. Factors such as designated agents, transparent procedures and good communication throughout the company, plus a strong partnership approach between the client and the TMC, make this possible. On the other hand, Kuznetsova made a strong argument for implant offices by stating that high client satisfaction, in addition to empathy and personal attention that comes from dealing with a familiar person, adds value and cost savings opportunities. These are evident in travel policy compliance, the opportunity to assign additional internal administrative tasks to the implant staff, and “team work” on important projects. It should also be noted that half of Kuznetsova’s travellers are “domestic,” where paper tickets are still the norm yet there is still a high demand for visa applications where face to face support onsite can be offer a significant advantage. In the final analysis, the choice will rely greatly on individual corporate cultures and business demands.

The “Future Trends” session was a panel discussion on credit card/charge card adoption in Russia. The panel consisted of Winfried Barczaitis, Partner, Trust Management Consultants GmbH; Andrey Chechin Head of Corporate Cards, Russia and CIS, American Express Corporate Card; and Andrei Damaskin President, Diners Club. The presentation focused on the small, but growing acceptance of charge card/credit cards as essential business travel tools in Russia and the CIS. For many companies, Russian tax laws have made it expedient to deal with cash in many transactions. Yet as business expands, the risk of lost or stolen cash, tracking problems associated with cash, and the inability of cash to cross borders conveniently is bringing about badly needed change in this area.

The event was hosted by the Sheraton Palace Hotel Moscow, a hotel that prides itself on extending traditional Russian hospitality, supported by meeting facilities with technical support capabilities conducive to conducting business.