Jun 14

An Ending, A Beginning…and An Appeal!

Thanks for the memories...now on to some new ones!

Dear Café Patrons,

It is with mixed emotions that I bring you a long overdue edition of the Café. Back in April I had to close up shop for a while and it’s been an interesting couple of months. After a year of consulting and running the Café, I’ve had an opportunity present itself within the corporate travel industry that I just couldn’t pass up.

I’ve just officially started as the Global Category Lead, Travel and Expense Management, for Rio Tinto. Yes, I’m now “on the other side of the table” after 10+ years as a TMC and/or GDS supplier to the industry. For those of you who may not care where you get your pink diamonds or how that steel making up the latest skyscraper in Shanghai came to be made, Rio is a world leader in finding, mining and processing mineral resources. In short: no one finds and digs stuff out of the ground better than Rio Tinto.

I’m thrilled to have the chance to lead the global travel and expense program for Rio, as the company is growing fast and we are all about getting people to where they need to be exactly when and how they need to get there. It’s a dream travel buyer job to be sure!

Unfortunately, it does come with a particular set of demands and requirements which pretty much brought me to the conclusion that as much as I’ve enjoyed serving up shots of travel insight as your Barista over the past 15 months or so, I’ll have to hang up the grinder for the foreseeable future. I’m afraid you’ll need to get your Friday morning fix where you do already – a real coffee shop!

However, I’m not done just yet – although closing the Café for now is an end of one type, I’m hoping I can enlist you – the Café Patrons – for helping me establish a new forum for us to advance this wonderful industry of ours ever forward.
Many of you know I’m an active member and support of ACTE – the Association of Corporate Travel Executives – and that I’ve often used the Café to promote their events and causes. OK, and I also promoted some of my presentations at those events…but I digress.

In any case, nominations for the ACTE Regional Board of Directors for Asia Pacific have just opened up, and I’d greatly appreciate your support for my candidacy. ACTE is a great organisation in a great industry, and I’m fortunate enough to be based in a part of the world which is also poised for greatness. I’m passionate about this industry and this region, and I firmly believe that there is still much to do to continue to allow corporate travel to grow and prosper here in Asia Pacific.
If you do take the time to nominate me, you can be assured that I will endeavour to help ACTE accomplish the following:

1. Be the leading voice for our industry across the suppliers, companies and governments in the region: Asia Pacific is as diverse an area as found anywhere on Earth, and the vast cultural, linguistic, economic and political variances make our industry both vibrant and challenging. As a Regional Board Member my aim will be to reach out to our members in all countries to support them not just on local issues, but find ways to link similar initiatives together to achieve greater scale across the region.

2. Put ACTE on the front page of our industry as well as mainstream media: ACTE has done an excellent job in the Americas and Europe in being a thought leader on industry issues and challenges, and we have a great opportunity to do the same in Asia Pacific. Using my 10+ years of marketing, PR and social media experience, I will aim to further integrate ACTE’s positions, commentary and insights to continue to advance our industry.

3. Expand our buyer base in established countries and solidify our leadership position in emerging markets: ACTE has done well in Singapore and Australia thanks to a strong multi-national corporate presence. China, India, ASEAN and the Pacific still have huge potential for increased membership and evangelisation of the importance of managed travel programs. Through a balanced focus on both markets, I believe we can continue to grow ACTE in a future-focused way.

Of course, those of you who have followed my weekly shots over the months know I have a lot of other ideas and opinions about how we can improve our industry – so by all means, help me put my money where my mouth is and support my nomination! If you’re convinced the Barista could be the right one for the job, you can submit your nomination here.

In closing, and as the title of this week’s posting suggests, this is not an ending by any means, just a transition to a new path forward and a different way of helping our industry move ahead. I do want to very much thank everyone who’s supported the Café as without the Patrons there really wasn’t much reason to open up shop in the first place! I do look forward to keeping in touch with everyone either via email, social media, at events or just perhaps in an airport lounge somewhere – as keep your eyes open, I’ll be logging a fair number of miles in this new role to lots of weird and wonderful places!

Cheers – and thanks.

Keep in touch: kurt.knackstedt@riotinto.com

Mar 24

The Cafe is on Hiatus…

I may be closed for a bit - but please don't go Starbucks on me!

Good Morning, Cafe Patrons.

Some of you may know that dispensing weekly shots of caffeinated travel advice is not my only job (and if you did think it was, please be sure to fill the tip jar!)

I’ve just taken on a new project which will require me to put my bean grinder and tamper away for several weeks, so I apologise that you’ll have to get your Friday morning fix elsewhere.  Don’t worry, I will try not to leave you hanging for too long!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the Cafe Patrons out there who have followed the Cafe from the start, and have helped grow and expand.  I’m pleased to have recorded my 1,750th hit to the blog just this past week, and I thank everyone for coming by for your weekly cup!

Please do stay subscribed, as when I fire things back up again I’ll be sure to let you all know.  Thanks again and hope to see you back soon.


Mar 17

Game On!

Your new corporate travel manager....

Greetings, Cafe Patrons.

Now the generation gap will truly be put to the test. As corporate travel departments and procurement managers continue to struggle with the competing interests of savvy travellers vs. corporate objectives, an entirely new way of driving compliance is about to be unleashed into the corporate travel market.

Or so says Jesse Schell, a game developer and CEO of Schell Games (clever name, that one) which is devoted to helping companies design and implement gaming style strategies. (PLUG: he’ll also be the keynote at next month’s ACTE conference in New York.)

I highly suggest reading the article highlighted above, and if you’re coming to ACTE to attend his keynote and take good notes, as although there will likely be a significant amount of scepticism surrounding this topic I have a sneaking suspicion that gaming will soon be here to stay. I know that I’m ready to explore some of these radical new ways to get business travellers to comply with corporate programs (and perhaps even have some fun doing it?)

What I also find interesting about this concept of gaming is that much like what’s happened with mobile, social media, and tablet devices, these disruptive concepts seem to find a firm foothold in the mindset of people quite quickly. As the corporate travel industry has tended to be inversely welcoming to these new trends as they gain swift popularity in the mainstream, gaming will no doubt have some pretty big initial hurdles to overcome.

The good news is that I think the blinders have come off our industry and through the constant prodding and pushing of savvy travellers along with a steady stream of travel challenges in today’s world is sending a clear message to buyers and managers of travel: embrace first, then decide. I truly believe that the days of deciding first and dealing with the change later are moving well and truly behind us.

Anyone care to take a bet on this?


Just as a quick example of how social media is having a tremendous impact on travel, have a read about Malaysia Airlines’ new Facebook page. Book, buy, select seats and check-in: all via Facebook. Given the incredible rise of social media’s popularity in Asia, it’s probably no surprise that the first airline to provide a nearly full-service transactional capability via Facebook is based here in the region.

So well done, Malaysia. Keep us posted on how many people actually use it.

Perhaps next they will figure out how to allow you to “poke” your seat neighbour if they fall asleep on your shoulder…

Mar 10

Your Input Please: “Crowdsourcing” Our Industry’s Future

Greetings Cafe Patrons.

This week, I’m seeking your help. There are many challenges in our industry, but part of building a realistic plan for success is all about knowing when to focus your efforts on just a few things. In this instance, I’m looking for just one.

At next month’s ACTE Global Education Conference, I’ll be leading a session designed to tackle what the collective corporate travel community believes is the single most pressing challenge facing our industry today. This session brings together six of the brightest young minds (see www.3under33.com) in our industry and collectively we are planning to tackle this challenge head-on and come up with some prospective solutions which can hopefully then be brought to life.

What I need from all of you, dear Patrons, is your input on what this issue should be. ACTE is sending out a survey to ACTE members asking them the question, but just in case you’re not a member or for whatever reason don’t get the email, here’s how you can participate. If you visit the Cafe and in the comments section of today’s post, give me your answer to this question: In your opinion, what is the number one issue within our industry today which MUST be addressed to prevent further challenges?

Your responses will be amalgamated into all the responses we receive and from them, we’ll select the one which rises to the top as the most often mentioned issue. From there, we’ll be working to come up with some innovative ideas to then present, dissect, challenge and ultimately document as a blueprint for our industry to then try to move from solution to reality.

How’s that for active action? Its crowdsourcing at its best. Again, please use the comments section below to provide your input, and please do let me know if you’d prefer to keep your comments private and I won’t publish them on the Cafe. If you’re OK to share with everyone, that’s great too.

Thanks in advance for everyone’s input, and I’ll be blogging and tweeting live from ACTE next month to keep you all posted on how we go.

Mar 03

The New “Don’t Leave Home Without It”

Sorry Karl!

Good morning, Cafe Patrons.

For those of us willing to admit we are old enough to remember it, perhaps one of the more enduring advertising catchphrases of the 2nd half of the last century was a classic by American Express: “don’t leave home without it.”

From the credit card giant’s perspective, the idea was to ensure that anyone who left the house to go out and purchase goods or do any sort of activity whatsoever which required payment would check twice before heading out without their AmEx card.

However, I think that this idea is now completely turned on its head, as today it is virtually certain that people will not leave home without something else besides their credit cards – their mobile phone. And also it’s about equally as certain that most people today have already or are about to seriously consider purchasing goods or services without actually leaving their homes. So much for “don’t leave home without it.”

It’s not surprising then that the head of product and marketing strategy for Pay Pal thinks that very soon most people will be thinking of their mobile rather than their credit card in terms of what they won’t leave home without. He refers to a report by Javelin Strategy and Research which contains some interesting data points:

– The total dollar volume of online alternative payments sales grew to almost $43 billion in 2010, up from approximately $34 billion in 2009.
– The total dollar volume of online alternative payments sales is projected to reach $86.6 billion by 2015.
– 46% of online consumers have used an alternative payment within the past year.
– 36% of online shoppers use an online alternative payment option due to “greater protection from fraud or other misuse of my information.”
– 91% of online consumers have used PayPal, while 24% have used Checkout by Amazon and 9% have used Google Checkout.

So the question the Barista is posing to the Cafe this morning is simple: what role will new forms of payment play in the way business travellers pay for, reconcile and claim their expenses? Will corporations be able to shift payment platforms from a card in the wallet to a mobile or online wallet? And is it really a question of when, and not if, alternative payment methods are mainstream enough to leave home without “it”?

Take the Cafe Poll below and have your say!

Feb 24

For Mobile Travel, it’s Back to the Future

Hey Doc, if we get enough plutonium, think this thing can book a SYD-JFK return in business class?

Greetings, Cafe Patrons.

I read with great interest an article on TechCrunch this week which basically highlights the fact that the pace at which mobile applications are developing today is making the growth of browser-based applications via the Internet in the mid-90’s look like the progress of a garden slug through the grass on a hot day.

Perhaps the most telling stat from the article came from a Morgan Stanley presentation (TIP: make sure to check out the amazing slides contained within – great for your strategy presentations!) back in late 2010 which highlighted that “the mobile Internet is growing at eight times the speed of the fixed Internet when the Netscape browser was launched in 1994.”  Eight times faster?  Yikes.

The implications as I see them for the business travel industry are related to whether we learned from our past to help manage our future.  Flux capacitor, anyone?  Allow me to explain.

Back in 1996, our industry made its first foray into corporate online booking with the advent of what is now GetThere.  For those of us who have lived and breathed corporate travel technology since then, we all remember how long it took us to figure out how to justify absorbing the costs of OBT’s within travel transaction fees.  I think it is fair to say it wasn’t until the mid-2000’s that online costs were finally integrated into core travel management fees.

So, in a case of going back in time to get us to the future, I see mobile travel going exactly the same way – but certainly much more quickly.  Given mobile is now fast outpacing the growth of web-based tools, our industry must be prepared to move much more quickly to justify and incorporate mobile application costs and benefits within travel management fees.  If I use the above 8x faster metric, if it took 9 years to get online booking tool costs fully integrated, then we have just over a year or so to get mobile to the same place.

Everyone got their plutonium handy?  We’re going to need it….

Image © 1985 Universal Pictures

Feb 17

It Takes an Economist…

Note where the double digits are...!

Good morning, Cafe Patrons,

I read with interest a story from the UK’s Business Travel Show earlier this month at which keynote speaker John Willman (the Financial Times’ Business Editor) summed up the new geo-political new world order within business travel in the coming years:

“Business travel growth is not going to be within Europe or between Europe and North America,” he said. “Increasingly, it is going to be between us and Latin America or Asia and there will be more travel within Asia.”

I think I may speak for those of us who have been working in Asia or Latin America over the past few years when I say: “really, no kidding?”

Mr. Willman, of course, is spot-on. And perhaps he is also prescient, as following the BT Show there was a flurry of news, blog postings, and ruminations about the incredible growth in emerging markets and why business travel patterns – and potentially policies, tactics and supplier strategies – are all about to undergo a re-think unprecedented in modern times.

Just two days after Mr. Willman’s presentation, Singapore-based GDS Abacus announced that “Asia is poised to become the world’s leading travel region.”

Then a Business Traveller Magazine Poll added to the reinforcement bandwagon as the results showed that a whopping 39.5% of respondents pegged APAC to be the industry’s future juggernaut compared to just 5.7% for Europe and a meagre 3.2% for the USA.

This shift, however, will not be easy for an industry which is notoriously reluctant to change the status quo without a direct threat to the “way things ought to be.” Ram Badrinithan, GM for APAC at PhoCusWright, in particular summarised the challenges with the Asia Pacific travel marketplace quite well at a BCD event late last year.

So, apparently we’re all now agreed with Mr. Willman that the epicentre of business travel is moving – rapidly – towards Asia. With a significant related movement towards South America.

So how will today’s long-established players in the travel management, technology and supplier segments manage this shift? Let’s face it – the overwhelming majority of technology providers, TMC’s, distribution systems and intermediaries are heavily HQ’ed in Europe or the USA. And even though our industry obviously travels like no other, the fact remains that you tend to focus more and do your best work in your own backyard.

I know I’m not the longest-running expat in the world, but after 8 years outside my home country I think I have a well-developed perspective on how I think travel organisations can adjust to the shifting borders of travel demand and tackle the massive opportunity ahead. Some suggestions, if I may?

1. Don’t parachute in short-term expats: all too often, companies use the “glamour” of an overseas gig to appeal to a high-performer to stay with the company and bolster their resume for future HQ jobs. The problem is, if they don’t have any real ties to the local market – ie “I just need to do a good job during my tenure here” – then their ability to truly drive change and growth in a relevant way is intrinsically limited. Get people out here who want to be here, are willing to be local in all facets, and are here to achieve long-term results.

2. Speaking of results, be realistic: let’s face it, many companies are under tremendous pressure to deliver results year-on-year, and to many the prospect of having to weather the ups-and-downs of emerging markets is often difficult to stomach. That being said, if you don’t have the stomach to ride out the short-term pain, you’ll likely have to stomach the fact that you’ll be left behind down the track as your competitors achieve long-term gains.

3. “Proven” concepts can prove fatal: another critical mistake many companies make is thinking that what’s worked well for them in the big markets can be easily adapted or changed for emerging ones. Travel management in China sometimes still means getting paid up front for a trip by the company and then using the money in more “creative” ways. And you’re worried about whether your management information reports are being emailed to you in a timely fashion? Or you think that online booking is the key to success when already over 20% of air bookings in Japan are done via mobile?

So, Cafe Patrons, what do you think? What other tips suggestions do you have to help our global counterparts get a move on with respect to driving the industry’s growth rather than being dragged behind it? I’m sure there’s an economist somewhere who will back up your ideas…

Image courtesy Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation

Feb 10

A White Paper, An Important Poll, And “Premium Economy.” A “Venti” Sized Cafe Today!

A Social Media "Livre Blanc"

Greetings, Cafe Patrons.

A “Venti” (Starbucks reference) sized Cafe is yours for the consumption today, as I have a whole host of travel shots to share with you all.

First up is something I’ve been passionate about for some time, and that is how mobile technology and social media is driving change in the way we manage travel faster than perhaps any other factor in history.  However, we still have a long way to go as an industry to get this right.

“Filling the Void – Leveraging Mobile Technology and Social Media in Times of Crisis” is a White Paper just released, which I co-authored with George Freney from conTgo.  “Filling the Void” explains why many travel supplier, agencies and corporations still struggle to use mobile and social media smartly to manage travel disruptions, but there’s a new “environment” (read the Paper to cross-reference why I put that into quotes) that can fairly easily be created to help travel companies deal with crises in a whole new way.

Click here to download the White Paper, and please let me know what you think!

Next topic for the day: “Innovation.”  It’s a word which is now nearly as cliché within business as is “synergy,” “alignment,” “outside-the-box,” or “tipping point.”  What would be really innovative is if someone came up with another way to say it.  How about “something new that’s useful?”  SNTU?  (copyright pending…)

Anyway, as I have blogged on this topic before, I found myself drawn into an online poll from respected industry veteran and fellow blogger Scott Gillespie asking a simple question regarding innovation: “which is the biggest barrier to travel innovation?”

What wasn’t simple were the “candidates” you could vote for: Global Distribution Systems, Travel Management Companies, Airlines, Corporate Buyers, or Travelers.  Hoteliers, Car Hire companies, Expense Management / Online Booking Tool vendors, Corporate Card providers, or the annoying guy in seat 18B who thinks his Walkman still is “hip” apparently aren’t relevant enough to be chosen.

After taking the poll, the site niftily shows you the latest results and any comments posted by responders.  I felt I had to weigh in on one of the comments, being an ex-TMC and ex-GDS guy all rolled into one.  The transcripts of his any my comments are as follws:

Voter for TMC’s: “The GDS and TMCs are linked on this. They both want to protect their revenue streams and “change” means expense and potentially less revenue for both. Why would either one want to see innovation.”

The Barista’s Reply: I respectfully disagree on this.  Change does not necessarily mean “expense” but rather “investment with benefits.”  GDS’s and TMC’s do have to spend money when innovating but it is always with an eye on making money back through better servicing, efficiencies or revenue streams.  How else have both been able to survive and maintain relevance over the past decade in which their death knell has been sounded over and over again?  By being innovative.  Could they do more?  Of course.  But I wouldn’t say they are in the way of innovation, they just need to be better at it.  Specifically to GDS’s, let’s not forget that many innovative OTA’s and related services of the past half-decade still in some way use GDS’s to work.  Again, should they be more innovative?  Absolutely.  But if anyone MUST innovate or die, it is the GDS’s.

My vote on this went to “Travel Buyers” but I’d like to clarify that I actually think that corporations are the true barriers to innovation and not the buyers themselves.  They are often caught in the middle of way too many conflicting agendas to say they are the core of the issue. Rather it is the fickle nature of corporate life that makes our industry difficult.  One year it’s all about cutting costs ruthlessly, the next year the C-level asks “where did all my great servicing go?”  The next year it’s back to cost-cutting and “no we don’t need any on-the-road help we’re all savvy road warriors” and the next year volcanoes erupt, snow falls in epic proportions and governments topple like dominoes.  Through all this, companies expect their travel partners to provide wonderful services at rock-bottom prices.  This is still a hopelessly conflicted prioritisation approach and until travel is as recognised as essential to a business as the people who work there or the products/services they create, we will continue to struggle to garner the right level of investment in our industry.

So what do you think, Cafe Patrons?  Am I too close to the three-letter acronyms of the industry to see the light?  Or do you agree with me that there has to be something said for entities that somehow continue to evolve despite calls for their demise?  And is evolving enough to be able to be called innovative?

Oh, and please make sure to weigh in on the debate and the poll yourselves!  Scott Gillespie’s poll can be found at: http://linkd.in/fxprUn


I found this story quite funny, given that the article is about Delta’s supposed “Premium” Economy product to be launched.  However if you read the article, you’ll find that it’s a bit of a stretch to call Delta’s product “Premium.”  To paraphrase Mick Dundee: “That’s not Premium Economy – THIS is Premium Economy (and so is this, and this.)

I just find it amusing that US carriers still do not understand how to get their international products up to par with other carriers.  Oh well.  There’s plenty of choice to go around…

Feb 08

Subscription Feed Active – Become a Regular!

Greetings, Cafe Patrons. At long last, I’ve finally configured an email subscription feature for the Cafe – just enter your email address in the box on the right, and let the web’s magic work for you! I will continue to send the email out to the current subscriber list for the next couple of weeks, and if you run into any issues please let me know via the Comments section. Thanks again for your support of the Cafe!

Feb 03

30%? And Worse Yet, 50%? Seriously?

I've found two of the travel buyers polled...

Greetings, Cafe Patrons.

Your Barista this morning is in a bit of a state of disbelief, as a recent poll is showing that there are far, far too many travel buyers with their heads well and truly buried in a beach a long way from reality.

The Beat recently conducted a poll of 105 travel buyers during a recent webinar, asking them questions about their plans for mobile and social media. So that I don’t over-editorialise the results, here’s the specific text from The Beat’s summary of the poll’s findings:

“Forty-five percent of travel buyers polled last week said they were researching options for providing mobile travel management programs, while 19 percent already have such systems and 6 percent plan later this year to explore the area. Thirty percent of respondents to the poll of 105 travel buyers said they have no such plans.

Meanwhile, more than half of 99 travel buyer respondents said they had no plans to implement social media for travel management, 30 percent indicated they were currently researching options, 11 percent already have implemented programs and another 5 percent plan to look at it later this year.”

That spluttering sound you just heard was my morning coffee being sprayed all over the wall as when I read these numbers I nearly choked. Even after a YouTube video is created to illustrate the power of mobile and social media and why it is here to stay is viewed by nearly TWO MILLION people, there are obviously many who still don’t get it.

Thirty percent of travel buyers polled don’t plan to provide mobile travel management options? And fifty percent have no plans to implement social media for travel management? Wow. That is very concerning (I’ve said this is concerning before too!)

OK, so it’s not the largest sample size of a poll ever recorded, but the audience was a random selection of buyers so I think it’s still a telling result.

To the points raised in the very clever ACTE “Palindrome” video (itself already notching up nearly a thousand views since its release last week…)

…if our industry doesn’t thrive on change, then we are dead in the water. Or, for whomever those approximately 30-50 travel buyers are from The Beat’s poll, drowning in obsolescent quicksand….


Speaking of ACTE (disclosure: I am an ACTE member) I am keen to get my fellow industry colleagues in the Asia Pacific region to really look hard around us at some of the young and dynamic people we have working in our industry in this part of the world – and nominate them for the “3 Under 33” awards from ACTE. The awards are designed to ensure our industry is acknowledging and celebrating rising talent within our industry for the purposes of continuing to attract young talent for the future.

Travel is perhaps a people business like no other, and if we don’t ensure that it remains an industry of choice to the next generations, we potentially limit our ability to tap into bright people and big ideas which are essential for a sustainable future. So look around you, ignore the Gen Y stereotypes, and let’s make sure we look deep into the talent pool we have around us and ensure the brightest and most promising young people get as much recognition as we can give them.

Read more – and most importantly submit your nominations – at http://3under33.com

image courtesy photovalet.com

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