Supporting Japanese companies business travel management
- the perspective of GBT NTA,
a business travel management company

This is a translation of an article from Travel Voice on July 6th, 2018.

Please click here for the original content.

Article by: Travel Voice and REGION

The trend of Japan`s travel management is to be one of the following; the type that simply continues conventional business travel management style aiming to reimburse the travel expenses and the other type implementing the global business travel management style (BTM). However, this is changing with corporate globalization and technological advancement.

"Duty of Care" and "Cost Transparency" brings more attention to BTM

Japan`s business travel management is facing a big change. "A while ago, companies only paid attention to the cost of travel, however, in the last 1 - 2 years, more companies are becoming aware of BTM and controlling all aspects of travel.", according to Mr. Yoshitake Takita, Head of Strategy & Business Development at American Express Global Business Travel Nippon Travel.

Two factors are behind the change; more awareness for "Duty of Care" and "Cost Transparency".

With the increase of terrorist attacks in various places in the world, especially after the bomb attack in Paris in 2015, "Duty of Care" has been gaining attention. Additionally, companies are facing issues with risk management processes. Lack of centrally managed travel data makes it difficult for companies to confirm safety and track location of their travelers quickly. "BTM gathered momentum as it makes it possible to centrally manage travel data as well as promptly grasp the situation", according to Mr. Takita. In fact, more companies are starting to use GBT NTA`s smart phone app, "Expert Care". It helps companies quickly identify and communicate with travelers who happen to be at or near the place where the accident or incident occurred.

The need for travel Cost Transparency comes from globalization of Japanese companies. As more companies are trying to find a way onto the world market, acquisitions of foreign companies are also on the rise. Production bases continue to move out of Japan and corporate activities are increasing in many different places worldwide.

We are getting to know more about global standards through overseas branch offices where the travel cost is more proactively managed. With this background, Mr. Takita says "Japanese companies are starting to realize the need for travel cost transparency now that they have acquired certain knowledge and experience about international travel".


"BTM has been gaining momentum for the last few years" according to Mr. Takita

Will Japan be able to implement the most advanced BTM?

Many Japanese companies continue conventional travel management style, which is to simply reimburse travel expenses without implementing BTM. This is partially because BTM is often misunderstood as a means to strengthen control. It can also be attributed to the absence of Travel Managers (TM). Western companies commonly have this position in their organizations and the TM`s biggest mission is to streamline and optimize travel by centralizing all travel related responsibilities from expense requests and approvals, to arrangements as well as risk management.
However, in many Japanese companies, travel responsibilities lie in different divisions. Typically, travel policies and risk management are within HR and other responsibilities fall under Purchasing or General Affairs, for example.

Also, travel policies are not written clearly in Japanese companies, often leaving the choices of flights up to the travelers. For example, travelers choosing indirect flights due to personal mileage reason even when there are direct flights with other airlines.

This trend contrasts from global companies that have improved business travel management through travel data transparency, strict travel policies and cost minimization. However, there are good sides about Japanese travel management style as well.

"In Japan, business travel is only a means of conducting business. The top priority is the success of the business so companies should try not to demotivate their travelers through overly strict policy and cost management." according to Mr. Takita.

In fact, there is a new global trend for business travel to include more personal requests. One example is "bleisure", (mixture of business and leisure) that allows travelers to tack on leisure travel to their business trips. American Express Global Business Travel (GBT), parent company of GBT NTA is also working to enhance BTM under the "Know Me" concept. They are currently developing a booking tool that helps travelers make bookings with auto suggestion system taking personal preferences into consideration.

Now that the trend is focusing more on the traveler, there is a chance that Japanese companies can be ahead of the trend. Instead of following the same process that western companies went through to refine BTM, it may be possible for Japanese companies to raise the bar to the global level without causing psychological burden on travelers by making use of the latest technology.

GBT is currently developing a new platform that will centrally manage all offline and online travel booking data including flight route, seat location, in-flight meal, hotel room preference, etc. AI understands the personal preferences and suggests travel plans that make travelers feel at ease. Travelers will be able to arrange their schedule in compliance with company policies while optimizing cost without making them feel controlled.

Another example of mutual benefit for both travelers and travel management is the use of virtual credit card. Some companies are hesitant to implement corporate credit card for fear of private use and the risk of theft. But with this virtual payment tool it will be possible to limit usage to the designated travel period only as well as set certain spend limit. Companies can cover the risk as well as make full use of benefits of credit card at the same time. GBT is currently developing this tool called "Virtual Payment Expert" and it will be rolled out in each country once complete.

Top class BTM companies have strength in such technological developments. GBT NTA knows both global trends and Japanese management style and can be the best supporter for Japanese BTM.


Consulting increases the effect of BTM

Now that Japanese companies have realized the importance of data transparency, many of them are implementing new framework and tools. After creating such framework, next step is policy management.

Changing travel and booking policies tends to cause bad feelings and resistance on traveler side. In order to overcome this, it is important to understand traveler booking patterns and revise policies based on the result of detailed analysis. This will allow companies to make policies from the traveler's perspective and help minimize resistance from travelers. Moreover, latest technology will make it possible to implement new policies without making travelers aware of the changes.

To operate BTM efficiently, earning travelers understanding and cooperation is indispensable. For this to happen, it is important to present the current situation and expected outcome using data. "The key for enhancing the effect of BTM is to drive the process while obtaining consent of travelers by showing them visually the current situation and future scenario after making necessary changes."

In case there is no travel data, GBT NTA accumulates data for at least one year, analyzes it and provides advice on new or revised policies on a regular basis. For example, after understanding how much travel can be booked online, they suggest overall or phased implementation plans depending on the situation.

Together with the clients, they consider whether the preferred airlines should be Japanese or alliance airlines. They also compare and consider which is better to choose direct economy flight or indirect business class from both cost and comfortability perspectives.

"We can also analyze how much cost reduction can be achieved by changing the departure date from weekend to Monday as well as by completing all bookings 2 weeks in advance of the departure date, and so on. Although travelers typically prefer changeable tickets, we can investigate how much of such changeable tickets were actually changed, and if the result shows buying unchangeable tickets is more cost efficient from the entire company spend perspective, we advise travelers to buy unchangeable tickets. These changes may be hard to accept by travelers in the beginning, but, clients should be able to obtain consent by showing the reasons backed up by data." (Mr. Takita)

GBT NTA`s strength lies in effective choice of appropriate tools and customization, travel policy management, and consulting after implementation by working closely with their clients. They support enhancing international competitiveness of Japanese companies by providing high quality BTM service.

GBT NTA will hold their annual Business Travel Forum on November 14, 2018. For details, please contact us from here.