Just like a marriage: how to keep TMC relationships strong

Experts share insights at BTN Group's Business Trends and Forecasts Asia Pacific Conference.

Sharing tips: (from left) McDonald’s Koreen Barbara, Autodesk’s Adriana Nainggolan, and Bain & Company’s Kenji Soh.
Sharing tips: (from left) McDonald’s Koreen Barbara, Autodesk’s Adriana Nainggolan, and Bain & Company’s Kenji Soh. Photo Credit: Xinyi Liang-Pholsena

Business partnerships are akin to intricate relationships, demanding investments of time and effort – a reality well-known to corporate travel managers, especially when nurturing their connections with travel management companies (TMCs).

During BTN Group's Business Trends and Forecasts Asia Pacific Conference, held at Swissotel The Stamford in Singapore on 17 July, corporate travel managers drew parallels between these partnerships and marriages. Just like marriages, successful relationships with TMCs require dedication, communication, and deliberate choices. Crucial elements such as mutual trust, effective communication, and alignment towards shared objectives are essential for these partnerships to thrive.

Koreen Barbara, McDonald’s global travel manager, recognised that uncertainty may exist about the longevity of partnerships with TMCs, but clarity about internal policies and directions is paramount. “Know your north star and communicate that to your TMC,” she urged managers, in order to foster a solid foundation for the partnership from the onset.

Similar to any marriage, commitment from both parties is vital for maintaining the relationship, as emphasised by Kenji Soh, director of global travel (APAC) at Bain & Company. Ensuring common goals stay aligned for the long term is essential to prevent the relationship from faltering. “We don’t want shiny toys at the dating stage only for all that to go away in the next phase of the marriage,” he remarked.

Soh also highlighted that the quality of the relationship will have far-reaching impact, as every employee who travels “will have a perspective on how the partnership is coming together”, similar to children from different marriages needing engagement and attention.

Adrianna Nainggolan, Autodesk APAC travel manager, stressed that the true quality of TMC support is tested when employees encounter issues while traveling. It is crucial to have reliable support available promptly in such situations. “Most TMCs globally already have very good online booking tools and technology, but how good is their support when an issue happens to the employee on the road? We need to speak with someone who is reliable and who can help them in time,” she remarked.

She suggested making communication an intentional practice between partners, advocating for a free flow of feedback and ideas, as this can lead to streamlined and effective management processes, benefiting both costs and customer service.

However, the partnership is vulnerable to external factors, such as staff turnover or mergers, which can disrupt the business environment and affect the relationship. To mitigate these disruptions, MacDonald’s policy involves regularly providing travel consultants with insights into the company's business to enhance understanding and service.

Said Barbara, “We spend about 30 minutes to talk about our business, why we travel, our functions – just to give them a bit of insight into what’s going on. We view travel consultants as an extension of our team.”

Summing up what a successful long-term relationship entails, Kenji introduced the acronym "VCTF," representing vision, clarity, trust, and flexibility. Sharing a vision, clarity about goals, mutual trust, and adaptability to navigate unexpected challenges are key attributes for a high-performing partnership.