Different priorities for China’s business travel market: CWT study

Despite a slowdown in its economic growth, China is already the biggest business travel market in the world with total spend expected to reach US$350 billion in 2017.

However, as China’s economy transitions to the new normal of single digit growth, the attitudes and priorities of key stakeholders in China’s travel ecosystem continue to evolve and adapt.

A survey of more than 100 travel managers in China by CWT Solutions Group – the consulting arm of global travel management company Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) – and TTG Events found that while managing costs and driving savings still remain key priorities for travel managers in China, more attention is now also being paid to duty of care and the traveller experience.

More 52% of the travel managers surveyed identified the need to deploy fare tracking and rebooking solutions as an area of focus for their travel programmes. Significant fluctuations in airfares are making it extremely challenging to manage travel costs and budgets. Travel managers are increasingly interested in fare tracking solutions that enable them to re-book flights and hotels at lower rates if prices drop after the initial booking has been made.

At the same time, travel managers in China are also looking at ways to improve the traveller experience, with 50% of the survey respondents identifying the need to better manage travel-related stress and improve traveller well-being as a key priority.

The third-most common priority is to streamline expense management processes, with 49% of survey respondents saying they would be looking for ways to achieve this over the next year. As travel spend increases in China and transactions get more frequent and complex, companies in the market will need to adopt new tools and processes such as travel and expense consolidators, and follow a strategic sourcing approach to manage expenses efficiently for air, hotel and ground travel.

At the same time, travel managers in China continue to keep a close eye on economic and geopolitical developments globally, as they see these trends having the greatest impact on their corporate travel programmes.

With lingering concerns and uncertainty over the health of the global economy, it is of little surprise that 55% of the respondents said they expect this will have a considerable impact on their travel programmes in the coming months. At the time of this survey, many travel managers expressed concerns of freezes and budget cuts being imposed on corporate travel. The weak global economy also may result in stiffer supplier management, cost controls and savings goals.

Interestingly, social media is also seen as major area of change in business travel in China, with 54% of travel managers in the survey listing this as a key trend.

More than half the travel managers in the survey (51%) also said that political developments will continue to impact their travel programmes, keeping in view the increasing regulations and control on travel to the US, as well as China’s own diplomatic relations with its key economic partners, and how this might influence issues such as visa application, air travel and freedom of movement.

Lastly, bleisure has been widely discussed in the corporate travel landscape in recent times. While this trend is more commonplace in Western countries, the trend is much less visible in Asia, especially in markets such as China where traveling for work is perceived as a privilege extended by employers, and not to be ‘taken advantage’ of by employees.

However, a key finding in our survey came as a surprise – more than half of the respondents (57%) said their companies allowed for, and in some cases even supported or encouraged, bleisure.

The full report and analysis will be discussed at an education session during CTW China 2018 in Shanghai this March. Please visit http://www.corporatetravelworld.com/china/ for the latest programme.

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