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Engaging & Educating the Business Travel industry |
Smita Roy, Partner & Leader (North)
Indirect Tax

07 September 2017

The India chapter of Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) organised its first national conference in New Delhi on August 18, to bring together both corporate buyers and industry sellers over a day’s discussions and networking. GBTA India chapter announced its resolve to organise more workshops and events in India to engage the business travel industry and to educate it about global best practices in coming future.

For an association which is just over a year old in India with more than 100 active members to organise a conference with all manifestations of a global event like live web cast, quite a number of exhibitors and all the more, over 300 registered attendees is a task well done. That itself shows the growing interest in Business Travel in the country and to learn the nuances of the business.

The conference was started with a presentation on GBTA by Gaurav Sundaram, Regional Director-India, GBTA. He said that GBTA is the largest association of business travel and meetings industry in the world with over 9,000 members spread in six continents. GBTA members collectively manage the travel requirements of approximately 70% of the world’s Fortune 500 companies, estimated to be in the tune of over USD 345 billion.

Talking about India, Sundaram said that the outside world is yet to recognise and understand the business travel potential of India. India, he said, is still considered the land of elephants and snake charmers by the world. “We have products which can offer tremendous value and intelligence to business travel,” he said.

He said that Indian industry has started recognising the value GBTA can provide to them as a global association. The membership in India has grown seven fold in the last one year. The target, he said is to make GBTA a 150-member strong association by year end. The Association has organised five Business Travel Workshops in this year alone, with the second national conference scheduled in Mumbai on October 6. As part of increasing the engagement and activities in India, GBTA will organise six workshops and three national conferences in 2018, he said. These national conferences will be held in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, he said. “Our goal is to raise the level of discussion of business travel in the country in coming years,” he added.

Sundaram also presented the 8th Global BTI Study report which covers 75 countries and 48 industries. While the growth almost plateauated in 2016 for business travel globally in the wake of uncertainties, the reports expects the growth momentum to pick up again in the next three years. While India is placed seventh in the overall business travel volumes globally, it was one of the fastest growing markets with 11.6% growth in 2016, and expected to grow at a rate of 10% till 2022, as per the BTI report. While it is time for business travel suppliers to invest in “India specific solutions”, Sundaram asked business travel buyers to upgrade systems and processes of business travel buying.

CXO Round table
Speakers at the CXO round table on the Future of Business Travel in India opined that travel is and will continue to be an important discussion topic at corporate board meetings. Although travel is just a medium and the actual purpose of corporate travel is business and meetings, the decision-makers of course look for value for any travel they undertake. The round table moderated by Gaurav Sundaram had Pariva Rustagi, Regional Director of Sales – India, Hilton Worldwide, Sunil Sirohi, CIO, NIIT Limited, Arun Rao, Director-HR, DXC Technology India, Ashish Kishore, Country Head, HRG Dnata, and Subhrajit Basu, Global Business Development Director, Diners Club.

Sirohi said that trust is important between vendor and client. Relationships will not last if travel experiences are not good, he said. Commenting on the relationship and trust, Rustagi said that there has been drastic improvement in trust factor with the advent of technology. Kishore said that the travel managers have the responsibility to educate the corporate managers that the lowest deals are not always the best in terms of experience. He said that travel managers have to look beyond just ticketing and booking services. Compliance and duty of care are equally or more important in today’s world, he added.

GST – Impact on Business Travel
"Kick-starting the discussion on GST, Smita Roy, Partner – Indirect Tax, BDO India LLP, a tax consultancy firm, said that GST is the biggest tax reform the country has seen and therefore its compliances are causing teething issues for business and industry. She said that the earlier indirect tax system was not transparent enough and that’s why the new system was brought in. She said that compliances are going to be massively different in the new system and technology component will be the differentiator in the new order."

Taking part in the discussion Arif Patel, Vice President-Sales, Marketing, Distribution & Loyalty (South Asia), Accor Hotels, said that GST has necessitated a whole new “realignment” in relationships and business dealings. Especially for events, hotels cannot offer input credit for bookings coming through service providers or PCOs. 99% of the leads for events are coming to hotels directly from corporate now, he added. Also, as corporate entities can take the benefit of input credit, they will be inclined to hold more events within the country itself and that too in key metros and cities where they have commercial interests. This will generate new demand for hotels in key cities in the country, he added. With supply in terms of hotel rooms is not increasing, rates are bound to go up in coming months.

Joe Healy, Director –Strategic Partnerships, Taxback International, said that strong compliances are always good for businesses. Talking about availing tax credits and refund, Healy said that people generally underestimate the GST or VAT component they pay while travelling. If they are intelligent enough they can get refund of at least some part of the tax they pay at destinations.

Employee Mobility in Constantly Changing Environment
The session moderated by Shveta Chakraborty, Manager – Global Travel, Fiserv had interesting panel of travel facilitators, corporate travel managers, among others. Blaming mere political expediency behind imposing travel restrictions, Brendan Ryan, Managing Director, Fragomen Del Rey, Bernsen & Lowewy LLP, said that governments are bent upon imposing travel restrictions on business travel, and travel managers have to be extra vigilant about the compliances required. John Steve Rao, Director – Global People Movement, Publicis Sapient, said that travel programmes are to be devised looking at purpose of travel and the compliances required.

Sheetal Sehgal, Associate Director Administration, Nagarro Software, stressed upon the need for internal education of people about the objective, duration, etc., of travel. Even definition of work permit, business visit, etc., changes from country to country, cautioned Ryan. Harsh Bidani, MD, International Mobility, also alerted corporate entities against doing business at the last minute especially when it comes to travel documentation. “A business visa cannot be used for work purposes. You can get a business visa quickly, but work permits take time,” he said.

Hotel Contracting
Talking about hotel contracting, Patrick Tong, Senior Director – Global Sales, Carlson Rezidor Hotels, said that corporate entities contracting is quite difficult and challenging in India for hotels as the former are unclear about many aspects. Mritunjaya Chandra Mohan, Travel Manager-Global Procurement, Adobe Systems, said that hotels will always be accommodative if the volumes are high. Price is not only criteria for contracting, he added.

Jasminder Brishan, Senior Manager – Global Travel Procurement, Cognizant Technology Solutions, stressed upon the right data while negotiating contracts with hotels. It’s always good to involve a TMC in your travel programmes and negotiations, she said. Firdaus Rana, Associate VP-Sales, West India, Taj Hotels, said that contracting is only one part of the relationship. But in many cases business do not come to the hotel even after finalising the contracts.

With technology taking the centre stage in all walks of life, the organisers of the conference also made it a point to engage the participants of the conference as well as people outside through special applications, hashtags, webcasts, etc., which was appreciated by many. “We received strong positive feedback from buyers and exhibitors… most people who attended the event felt that our event this year was better than last year in terms of the content, networking, RoI and diversity of speakers… The App worked brilliantly… About 1,000 people watched our live webcast across the world,” said Sundaram.