Widodo calls for ASEAN travel corridor to bolster recovery | National News

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Indonesian President Joko Widodo has urged Southeast Asian countries to speed up plans to create a regional travel corridor to help revive tourism and speed up a recovery from the economic damage of the pandemic.

Citing U.N. and World Trade Organization data, Widodo said Monday that the level of restrictions in Southeast Asia was the highest in the world. With coronavirus cases in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations now declining, those limits should be eased to allow people to travel more freely, he said.

Speaking at a regional business forum Widodo urged immediate adoption of a regional travel corridor, a concept initiated by Indonesia in 2020, that would include faster immigration lanes, recognition of vaccine certificates and standardized health measures for departure and arrival, among other things.

“After 20 months of facing the daunting COVID-19 pandemic, we now see a light of hope. In the past week, COVID-19 cases in ASEAN fell by 14%, far exceeding the global average, which fell by 1%.,” he told the forum organized ahead of a three-day ASEAN leaders summit, which starts Tuesday.

“With the COVID-19 situation getting more under control, these restrictions could be eased, mobility could be relaxed, while also ensuring that it’s safe from the risk of the pandemic,” he said.

“If all ASEAN countries immediately facilitate the safe mobility of people, the wheels of economy shall soon run again,” he said.

Intra-ASEAN travel typically accounts for around 40% of travel in the region and is key to reviving tourism in the region.

Some countries, including Thailand, are cautiously moving to reopen to international tourism.

Indonesia re-opened its holiday resort island of Bali to foreign tourists this month after more than 80% of its population was fully vaccinated. Widodo said the government will gradually open up other areas in the country where vaccination rate exceeds 70%. Indonesia so far has fully vaccinated about a quarter of its people.

Widodo called for more equal distribution of vaccines to ensure that at least 70% of ASEAN’s more than 600 million people are inoculated. Vaccination is uneven in the region, with Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia moving the fastest with over 70% of their population inoculated and Myanmar at the bottom with less than 10% vaccinated.

Widodo said ASEAN, as the region with the fastest growth in internet use in the world, should also expand its digital economy for future growth. The value of Indonesia’s digital economy value is expected to reach $124 billion in 2025 or equivalent to 40% of the total value of Southeast Asia’s digital economy, he said.

“Our rapid steps together in handling health challenges, reactivation of safe travels, as well as acceleration of a fair digital economy, will become our common gateway to recover and advance together,” he added.

ASEAN leaders will hold a three-day annual summit from Tuesday. Myanmar’s top general, whose forces seized power in February, was not invited after failing to take steps to end the deadly violence that followed the military takeover.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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Standardization of Travel Rules Key for Latin America Airlines’ Recovery | Investing News

By Nelson Bocanegra and Carlos Vargas

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Getting standardized rules for international travelers amid the coronavirus pandemic is the biggest hurdle for Latin American airlines, with their recovery threatened by a lack of consensus among health authorities, industry leaders said on Sunday.

Passengers suffer constant delays and restrictions as they travel between countries due to differing entry requirements established to curb the spread of different strains of the coronavirus, aviation industry directors said at a conference in Bogota, Colombia.

“Standardization is vitally necessary to build confidence so people return to flying,” said the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association’s (ALTA) chief executive, Jose Ricardo Botelho.

The lack of accord between different countries, with frequent changes to air travel rules, leads to uncertainty for passengers, airlines, and airline staff, said Copa Airlines Chief Executive Officer Pedro Heilbron.

“When you carry passengers and there are thousands of requirements, it’s almost impossible that at least some passengers don’t have the right paperwork,” he told journalists in opening remarks at the ALTA annual conference.

Some countries even fine airlines for passengers’ non-compliance with the rules, Heilbron added, though did not say which ones.

Almost a year and a half of restricted travel has put airlines and airports across the globe under severe financial strain, necessitating a more complete re-opening of travel so that the industry can recover, saving millions of jobs.

“Generally speaking there are quite a few agreements and there is relative standardization, but the big differences come from health authorities,” said Lucas Rodriguez, the head Colombia’s civil aviation authority’s air transport office.

The need to meet new travel requirements has dented airlines’ balance sheets.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the industry’s main trade body, this month revised its estimate for airlines’ net losses this year to $51.8 billion, from a previous forecast of $47.7 billion.

IATA expects airlines to lose $11.6 billion in 2022 in revenue.

(Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra and Carlos Vargas; Writing by Oliver Griffin; editing by Diane Craft)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

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Best Western CEO Shares Insights On 2022 Travel Recovery And Loyalty Program News

The incoming president and chief executive officer for Best Western Hotels Group, Lawrence (Larry) M. Cuculic, shares how the pandemic affected his company and what’s next for its 18 hospitality brands. Cuculic was previously senior vice president and general counsel for the company. He begins his new role on Dec. 1.

As he prepares for being at the helm of the international hotel group, he discusses how the company fared during the height of the pandemic and what it has its sights set on for 2022.

What are Best Western’s goals as the industry recovers?

The hospitality industry has endured its greatest crisis in history. Best Western is tremendously proud of how the organization and its hoteliers responded to the pandemic. The company is fortunate to be in the strongest financial position in its history allowing it to leverage this position of strength to increase revenue delivery to hotel owners.

As the industry continues to recover, Best Western is planning to strengthen its loyalty program, work to increase brand revenue and drive development efforts across key markets in North America and across the globe.

How will Best Western strengthen the loyalty program?

Best Western Rewards launched a new Pay with Points program providing greater access to travel regardless of how many points members have in their account. Through this program, consumers who do not have enough points for a free room can discount their room rate by using points. This is especially helpful since Best Western Rewards points never expire.

A recent McKinsey report showed that Best Western’s loyalty program, which spans 18 brands, delivers a higher revenue contribution than those for Wyndham, IHG or Choice, but that increasing enrollment is key. In regards to revenue contribution from the loyalty program, the report shows that Best Western Rewards has the third highest in its competitive set.

During the pandemic, acquiring new loyalty program members became a challenge for hospitality reward programs. As travel rebounds and consumers are traveling, Best Western Rewards is hoping to expand its membership, which currently stands at 47 million members worldwide.

New promotions are helping such as one for this fall that awards a $20 gift card for each night a member stays at a Best Western family hotel in the United States, Canada or the Caribbean (up to five nights) between now and Nov. 22.

What plans do you have for Best Western Plus?

Best Western Plus has always been a preferred brand among both business and leisure travelers. According to that same McKinsey survey, Best Western Plus was underperforming in its competitive set on average rate and revenue per available room (RevPAR). There is potential for the brand to increase the average daily rate, occupancy, and RevPAR. Best Western is focused on attracting more weekday business to make that happen.

As a membership organization, the company has asked hoteliers to consider incorporating enhancements including a variety of potential new amenities, such as specialty coffee machines in the lobby and breakfast areas, in-room Keurig coffee makers, larger televisions in guest rooms with streaming/casting capabilities and enhanced fitness equipment.

How did Covid-19 affect Best Western’s balance sheet?

The balance sheet is stronger than ever thanks to the organization’s quick response implementing an aggressive austerity plan. Best Western was able to provide over $65 million in financial relief to hotel owners over the past 18 months, and the brand is seeing both an increased average daily rate and occupancy due to the pent-up demand. In addition to the austerity plan, Best Western was among the first to roll out enhanced cleaning protocols and operational best practices during the pandemic.

What’s next on the tech side for the brand?

The revamp to BestWestern.com has led to remarkable results. This past summer, the website set several records of performance exceeding 2019’s prior record performance by over $70 million year-to-date.

So far this year, Best Western had over 140 days with sales over $3 million. On 34 of those days, sales were over $4 million. Consumers are relying more and more on the mobile experience, and the brand is working to make digital experiences more user-friendly.

Best Western is also developing the ability to accept additional forms of payment. This includes making gift cards easier to use by enabling them to be redeemed online and the ability to use points to reduce the room rate (Pay With Points).

Where would Best Western like to add more hotels?

The company is focused on putting the right brands in the right markets to meet consumer demand. At the moment, the focus is on growing representation in urban and dense suburban markets where more of Best Western’s brands can expand and see success.

What is Best Western’s view on social media advertising?

When it comes to changing perception and showing guests the “Best Western of today,” social media continues to be an important tool. It allows for special connections with key audiences.

Recent data shows that 23% of travelers will pick a destination based on what they see on social media, and 17% select a specific hotel based on social posts. Best Western highlights each of the 18 brands on BW Travel Zone and on platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. The company also works with a network of influencers to introduce Best Western to new audiences and spotlight hotels across their various platforms.

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Ida victims begin to receive trailers three weeks after state announces recovery program

BATON ROUGE — The state managed Hurricane Ida Sheltering Program continues to help those affected by the storm to get placed in travel trailers as part of their recovery, according to the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

So far, 21 travel trailers have been placed across St. James, St. Charles and Terrebonne Parishes.

Governor John Bel Edwards announced the program three weeks ago as a bridge to help families receive the units ahead of the window FEMA projected to start its Direct Housing mission.

GOHSEP was tasked with developing the program, purchasing the trailers, establishing staging areas and priority zones with leaders from the impacted parishes and installing the units. The first families received their units within two weeks of the new program being announced. The speed of installation work is expected to increase as the program grows.

Another 61 units have been deployed to sites to begin the installation process in five of the parishes hardest hit by Ida. The total number of travel trailers transported to staging areas at Blue Bayou Water Park and the Houma Civic Center has climbed to 476. 1,300 trailers have been purchased by the state.

The deployment and installation work will be similar to other recovery programs, meaning contractors will mostly focus on one region at a time to make the program faster and to cut down on travel time for work crews. Group sites are also being developed at RV and mobile home park locations to meet the needs for renters or others.

“Governor Edwards and those of us at GOHSEP recognized the need to help bridge the shelter and housing needs. We appreciate FEMA allowing us this opportunity to take this step ahead of the ramp up for its Direct Housing program,” said GOHSEP Acting Director Casey Tingle. “Housing issues are typically some of the most difficult and frustrating part of recovery. Any new resource that can be used like this first-of-its kind shelter mission involving trailers will help the state with this event and possibly future events. I appreciate the hard work of our GOHSEP staff, our parish partners and contractors in getting the initial steps resolved so quickly. It is the goal of everyone involved to make this program a success, because it means we have given hurricane survivors the help they need. It’s also important to point out that more traditional shelter operations continue in most of the impacted areas for those waiting on the state or federal programs.”

The Hurricane Ida Sheltering Program offers non-congregate sheltering, which is different from traditional sheltering options to provide a living space that offers some level of privacy. Sheltering options may include hotels, base camps, crew barges or recreational vehicles (RVs), including travel trailers that typically hitch to an existing vehicle. While this program is funded through FEMA, it is run entirely by the state.

To register for the program or find out what sheltering options are available in affected parishes visit IdaShelteringla.com [gov.louisiana.gov] or call (844) 268-0301 or for TTY services call (844) 458-1806.

Residents can check the availability of shelters in their areas by texting LAShelter to 898211 or dial 211 to locate a shelter or by visiting www.getagameplan.org.  [gov.louisiana.gov]

Find more tips on weather and preparedness on GOHSEP’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. Listen to conversations on all aspects of emergency management by downloading GOHSEP’s The Get A Game Plan Podcast. You can receive emergency alerts on most smartphones and tablets by downloading the new Alert FM App.  It is free for basic service.  The Get A Game Plan App is another resource available to help you and your family prepare for any type of emergency. You can download the Louisiana Emergency Preparedness Guide and find other information at www.getagameplan.org.

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WTTC blames UK government for slow tourism recovery | News

The World Travel & Tourism Council has argued the year-on-year recovery in the UK may only claw back a third, while international travel spending continues to plummet.

Latest research from the body shows the recovery has been severely delayed by the lack of spending from international visitors.

WTTC blames strict travel restrictions, such as the destructive ‘traffic light’ system, for wreaking havoc on the sector.

Now, despite its highly successful vaccine rollout, the UK is set to record further losses in inbound visitor spending than the previous year, during which international travel ground to an almost complete standstill.

At the current rate of recovery, WTTC research shows the UK sector’s contribution to the nation’s economy could rise year on year by just under a third (32 per cent) in 2021, broadly in line with the global average of 31 per cent.

However, research conducted by the global tourism body goes on to show the increase has been primarily spurred on by the recent boom in domestic travel, with domestic spending growth set to experience a year-on-year rise of 49 per cent in 2021.

While this surge in domestic travel has provided a much-needed boost, it will not be enough to achieve a full economic recovery and save millions of jobs still under threat.

The research reveals that international spending is predicted to plunge by nearly half on 2020 figures – one of the worst years on record for the tourism sector – making the UK one of the worst performing countries in the world.

While other countries, such as China and the United States, are set to see a rise in inbound international travel spending this year, the UK lags behind and continues to record significant losses.

Severe travel restrictions, ever-changing policies, and barriers to travel to the UK, such as the current requirement for visitors to take an expensive day two PCR test after arriving in the country, have had their toll.

Julia Simpson, WTTC chief executive, said: “WTTC research shows that while the global tourism sector is beginning to recover, the UK continues to suffer big losses due to continuing travel restrictions that are tougher than the rest of Europe.

“Despite government announcements the UK still has a red list, costly PCR tests and a requirement for day two tests which simply put people off travel.

“Just as the world opens up the UK has more requirements for the double vaccinated than our neighbours.”

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Delta’s Domestic Corp. Travel Recovery Nears 50 Percent Mark

Delta Air Lines’ corporate travel volume in recent weeks has grown to its highest point during the Covid-19 pandemic recovery, with domestic business travel volume last week nearing 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels, CEO Ed Bastian said Wednesday in Delta’s third-quarter earnings call.

For the overall third quarter, domestic corporate travel volumes were about 40 percent recovered, which is 10 percentage points higher than their recovery rate in the second quarter, Bastian said. While corporate travel recovery “paused” in August and early September while Covid-19 case counts grew with the spread of the delta variant, spurring many companies to delay return-to-office plans, demand since Labor Day once again has picked up, he said.

Delta’s most recent survey of its corporate customers indicated that 90 percent expect their travel volumes in the fourth quarter to be equal to or higher than third-quarter levels, according to Bastian. About 60 percent of Delta’s corporate customers said they have reopened their offices, and an additional 10 percent said they would do so before the end of 2021.

“We anticipate meaningful acceleration in business travel starting at that point,” Bastian said. “We hear regularly from our corporate customers that they’re ready to get back to travel, see their clients face-to-face, renew business relationships and develop new ones.”

Business travel volumes from unmanaged programs are running five to 10 percentage points ahead of managed programs, with “smaller, hungrier companies out there hitting the road sooner than some of the bigger multinationals,” Delta president Glen Hauenstein said.

International business travel also is showing signs of recovery, he said. In the second and third quarter, corporate travel to Europe was running at about 15 percent of pre-pandemic levels, but that has improved to 30 percent in recent weeks with the news that the U.S. will open to vaccinated foreign visitors next month. Long-haul travel to South America, previously “pretty much nonexistent,” also has started to recover, and the Pacific region could be next in line, according to Hauenstein.

“We are expecting those to improve significantly … as the vaccination rates in important places for us like Korea and Japan are now approaching between 70 percent and 80 percent,” he said. “Hopefully, we get some good news out of that region of the world starting in the next few months.”

Domestic leisure travel, meanwhile, has made a “full return” to 2019 levels, Bastian said. Delta’s passenger revenue for the third quarter was $7.2 billion, 37 percent of 2019 levels, and total third-quarter operating revenue was 27 percent of 2019 levels, boosted by a 39 percent increase in cargo revenue compared with 2019.

Delta executives noted that premium travel revenues have been strong even with the lower rates of business travel and indicated that Delta would look to increase premium seating capacity in the future.

“We’re selling [premium seats] 10 points higher than we did pre-pandemic,” Bastian said. “We always ran relatively full in terms of load factor, but a lot of those are complimentary upgrades, and we’re seeing people are willing to pay us for those seats. That’s why we want to create more over time.”

Delta reported net income of $1.2 billion for the third quarter, which included the benefits from federal aid due to the pandemic. Excluding that and other special items, Delta still reported net income of $194 million for the quarter, its first such profitable quarter since the pandemic began.

Bastian said he expected the carrier would see a “modest loss” in the fourth quarter due to rising fuel prices.

RELATED: Delta Q2 earnings

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Breaking Travel News investigates: Dubai leads global tourism recovery | Focus

Dubai was one of the first cities globally to reopen its markets and businesses in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and continues to stay open, while ensuring strict compliance with internationally benchmarked health and safety protocols.

Supported by a solid network of stakeholders and partners, the emirate has now launched a new tourism campaign as it seeks to build on the steady influx of visitors seen since the reopening in July last year.

The move is further evidence of a consistent and calibrated approach since the start of the pandemic to ensure the destination remains resilient and safe for international travellers.

The United Arab Emirates has one of the highest per capita vaccination rates in the world, with close to 85 per cent of residents having received at least one dose of the vaccine, and nearly 75 per cent having received both doses to-date.

So what has been behind the successful relaunch of the tourism sector?

Boosted by demand for staycations in the domestic market and visitation from international markets that are open, hotels in Dubai enjoyed occupancy levels of 61 per cent overall from January-to-July this year.

This has further instilled confidence in this sector and demonstrates its capability to attract guests and provide them with world-class hospitality.

By the end of July, the hotel inventory in the emirate stood at 718 establishments offering 129,318 rooms with RevPAR increasing to AED225 (£50) compared to AED194 for the same period in 2020.

In the first seven months of 2021, the occupied room nights for hotels stood at 16.34 million, compared to 10.74 million for the corresponding period in 2020.

According to data from hotel management analytics firm STR, for the first seven months of 2021, Dubai ranked second globally in terms of occupancy after Singapore and ahead of London and Paris.

For the January-July 2021 period, year-to-date RevPAR in Dubai was highest among the four destinations, followed by Singapore, Paris and London.

Dubai has continued to invest in integrated marketing campaigns, highlighting that the city is open to travellers when they are ready to start holidaying again.

The latest campaign, Dubai Presents, features a series of blockbuster trailers helmed by Hollywood icons Jessica Alba and Zac Efron, and is designed to showcase the diversity of experiences, attractions and events that await visitors this year.

These include Expo 2020, which started on October 1st, and celebrations surrounding the fiftieth anniversary of United Arab Emirates on December 2nd.

Dubai Presents builds on a series of global marketing campaigns developed by Dubai Tourism such as A Story Takes Flight, starring Hollywood celebrities Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson and Zoe Saldanha, the award-winning #BeMyGuest featuring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, as well as many other campaigns led by prominent regional celebrities and influencers, in addition to various digital activations.

The recovery strategy, implemented in close coordination with stakeholders, proved crucial in reinvigorating the domestic hospitality market in May last year, preparing the ground for the return of international visitors to the city in July 2020.

As tourists returned to Dubai to enjoy its iconic attractions, experiences and world class infrastructure including beaches, shopping malls, restaurants, theme parks and golf courses, Dubai Tourism remained firmly focused on delivering an exceptional tourism experience whilst prioritising the safety of tourists at every stage and touchpoint of their travel journey, from arrival to departure.

A variety of safety initiatives were launched, based on the guidelines of the Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management, including a wide range of precautionary measures, in addition to effective testing and vaccination programmes.

The vaccination campaign also covered employees across hotels, considered the frontline of the tourism industry, starting with a pilot programme that saw more than 10,000 employees of leading hotels on the Palm Jumeirah receiving the vaccines.

The stringent measures are underpinned by the Dubai Assured stamp, a compliance protocol that certifies establishments within the tourism ecosystem that adhere to health and safety protocols.

Inspectors of Dubai Tourism, Department of Economic Development and Dubai Municipality are also taking a zero-tolerance approach towards non-compliance.

In 2020, when the pandemic was at its peak, the joint teams conducted more than 140,000 inspections on establishments across the tourism ecosystem.

Take a look below as Breaking Travel News speaks to Issam Kazim, chief executive of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism & Commerce Marketing, about the reopening of the tourism market in the emirate:

More Information

With the ultimate vision of positioning Dubai as the leading tourism destination and commercial hub in the world, Dubai Tourism has a mission is to increase the awareness of emirate among global audiences and to attract tourists and inward investment.

The body markets and promotes the commerce sector in the emirate and is responsible for the licensing and classification of all tourism services, including hotels, tour operators and travel agents.

Find out more on the official website.

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EasyJet sees signs of recovery despite losses

Airline easyJet has said its losses are decreasing and
forward bookings are gaining momentum following the UK government’s lifting of
the majority of travel restrictions for vaccinated passengers, with the carrier
expecting a loss before tax of between £1.135 billion and £1.175 billion for
the year to 30 September.

In a trading update, easyJet said its Q4 headline losses
decreased by more than half year on year, while its net debt has reduced to
around £900 million from £2 billion in Q3. Total group revenue for Q4 is expected
to be around £1 billion against costs of £1.14 billion.

The airline said capacity in Q4 was at 58 per cent of FY19,
with intra-European and UK domestic routes performing better than international
routes from the UK, which continued to be impacted by government travel
restrictions. Following a reduction in the travel red list and testing
requirements for fully vaccinated passengers, easyJet said it is expecting
strong forward bookings, with Q1 capacity predicted to be up to 70 per cent of 2019
levels. The airline has added 100,000 seats for Q1.

EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren pinned much of the airline’s
successes down to a resurgence of business travel. “It is clear recovery is
underway. Business travel is returning to easyJet with corporates and SMEs
attracted by our value, network and approach to sustainability. We have seen
city breaks beginning to return alongside growing demand for leisure travel
from customers looking for flights and holidays to popular winter sun
destinations including Egypt and Turkey.”

Last month, easyJet confirmed it had rejected an “unsolicited”
takeover bid
which it said “fundamentally undervalued the company”. Reports
suggested the offer came from low-cost rival Wizz Air.

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EU restrictions are latest setback for international and business airline recovery – Atlanta Journal Constitution

EU restrictions are latest setback for international and business airline recovery  Atlanta Journal Constitution

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CWT’s Frymire Leans Into Recapitalization & Recovery

CWT announced last
that it would file a prepackaged chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States.
The company in a statement positioned the move as a formality within the overall
scope of its recapitalization, announced
two weeks prior
, that would allow the company to move more quickly toward
financial stability. BTN Group editorial director Elizabeth West interviewed CEO
Michelle McKinney Frymire at the Business Travel Show America virtual
conference on Sep. 23. The two spoke at length about the recapitalization. An edited
excerpt of that interview follows below. CWT would not provide an updated
statement from Frymire regarding the bankruptcy filing. 

CWT CEO Michelle Mckinney Frymire talks…

Michelle McKinney Frymire
  • CWT’s recapitalization
  • How CWT is using recovery paradigms
  • TMC commercial models
  • How CWT will invest in innovation

BTN: You took the CEO reins at CWT in April this year. Why was
this the right time for you, and was the pending recapitalization process a situation
in which your prior CFO role really allowed you, specifically, to serve effectively?

Michelle Mckinney Frymire: For the year before I took over, obviously we were deeply embattled
fighting the pandemic and the whole industry was tremendously impacted in that
year. I was serving both as the president and the CFO. I had an opportunity to
be in front of clients a tremendous amount… [and] I was running our strategy
team. I had an opportunity to think about… how we could transform ourselves in
the midst of [the pandemic] and what we needed to look like coming out the
other side. Those were all things I was leading and that really positioned me
to look at the company as a whole—to look at our strategy, to look at where we
were going and to look at where our industry was going. I do think those things
gave me a unique view that allowed me to have a much broader view and
interaction with the company and our board in a way that maybe a traditional CFO
role on its own might not. I had had a breadth of experiences that prepared me
for that president role and from there [the CEO role] seemed like the natural next
step. Working through recapitalization is a very arduous journey, and it’s one
that has taken tremendous amount of effort from the entire organization. But based
on where we are and what we have ahead of us, it’s been so worth it. 

BTN: How does the recapitalization reposition CWT in the

Frymire: It’s such a vote of confidence from an enormous portion of
our investor base about how they see us and our strategy and our management
team. When over 90 of your debt holders want to recapitalize your business [and]
want to invest, it really tells you how they feel about how we’ve positioned
the company and the work we’re doing and the work we want to do. But for us and
for our clients and our suppliers and our partners, it’s about accelerating
innovation. It’s about being able to move beyond the pandemic focus and the
cost maintenance and the multi-year recovery and into the future. Every TMC big
or small has had to manage through an incredibly difficult period. Any business
that loses 80 percent of its revenue—or more for some—they have to think differently.
We wanted to ensure that even for a multi-year recovery that we had adequate
liquidity, that our balance sheet was strong and that we could make the right
investments. That’s what [the recapitalization] is positioning us to do. 

BTN: Does the Carlson family stepping away from having a majority
stake change the culture of the company in any way?

Frymire: One of the things we’ve been really strong and vocal about
is that at CWT we have this rich shared heritage with [the Carlsons]. We have shared
values and we have shared perspective, and they have been a part of the business
for a very long time. They remain incredibly supportive, and they’ve been
incredibly supportive through this process. They absolutely want what’s best for the business. But our values are our values. Just because
ownership is changing in some construct, it does not change our values. Our
strategy is our strategy. The ownership change is not about changing our
strategy or our purpose or our values; it’s about giving us the financial
strength to deliver on our strategy and our purpose and our values. 

BTN: You’ve talked about how innovation is where we need to focus.
How are you looking to invest—whether in people, technology or even regionally?

Frymire: People-plus-technology has been our strategy for five years.
It remains the focus of what we’re doing, and we’re investing in both. On the
people front, it’s about ensuring we have the right resources in the right
places to serve our clients as the recovery happens, and it is happening
differently in every part of the world. We all know that and see that, and we
want to be positioned to manage through that recovery as we need to in each
part of the world. But we also want to make sure that we’re giving our people
the right tools [and the right] technology. We’ve rolled out an entirely new
travel counselor platform during the pandemic that really allows us to deliver
on that omnichannel experience. We’re also working on developments around MyCWT
and what the traveler experience looks like. We’re also continuing to invest in
data and analytics. We know that is super important to so many of our clients—not
just understanding the data and having access to it but how can they look at it
how can they analyze it real time. Of course, RoomIt continues to be a huge part
of our strategy and we’ll continue to invest there. 

BTN: You made a huge investment in China just prior to the pandemic—I
presume that is going relatively well with domestic business travel recovery in
that region.

Frymire: China continues to be a great market for us. You’re right
about the recovery—China has had many weeks in the last year where their
recovery is a hundred percent of 2019 or more. So we are absolutely going to
continue to invest there. We’re really pleased with the response and reaction we’ve
had to the MyCWT China platform. It’s very exciting and it’s a great
opportunity for us. I mean, it is the world’s largest travel market, and we
want to continue to serve clients in an innovative way. We’ve learned a lot by
the platform, and those lessons are really applicable to how we develop for
clients globally as well. 

BTN: When TMCs want to innovate quickly, acquisitions often come
into play. We’ve seen a lot of M&A in the TMC space recently, but CWT has
not participated. Will that change with the recapitalization?

Frymire: We would certainly take advantage of a great opportunity if we
felt there was one that was really impactful. But I would say it’s not a
purposeful or intentional part of where we’re headed. A lot of the M&A
activity you’ve seen is about coupling people with technology. And, again,
we’ve had a people-plus-technology strategy for five years. You can do that in
one of two ways: you can go out and buy things and then do the heavy lifting of
integrating and trying to bring it all together in a cohesive way for your clients
or, what we have been doing and what we want to continue to do, is invest in
our technology staff and bring it together. 

We already have the biggest owned operating footprint of any
TMC. We operate in 45 countries with CWT staff and employees. That’s more than
anyone, so we don’t need to grow our footprint. A potential acquisition would
have to be something more impactful, something where you were gaining a real technological
advantage. We’re, of course, always looking at the landscape and thinking about
how we want to participate. But we’re also very thoughtful about money invested
in M&A is money that’s not invested in the technology-plus-people strategy.
It’s not that M&A is bad or good. It can be great, as long as you do it
thoughtfully. I will tell you, I came from a background … where we did 75 or 80
different acquisitions so I’ve lived in that space and I know how valuable it
can be. But we also know that integration takes time, effort and resources, and
we want to make sure that if we do it, it’s in a way that’s really going to be
additive for the client.

BTN: Has CWT, like many TMCs, been looking to move away from transaction
fee models due to the risk position these models force upon agencies? 

Frymire: We have been testing and implementing innovative pricing
models for our clients. Every client has a different set of needs, a different
dynamic around their global servicing model. We have a significant number of clients
who are on a management fee, where they’ve got a set number of resources. We’ve
got clients on a combination of the [management fee and transaction fee]; we’ve
got clients on transaction fee. My worry about the transaction fee is not that
it exposes us to risk. My worry is that we align our cost structure and our
servicing model to be more variable—to be able to move up and down with volumes.
Even in a pre-pandemic environment, this business was very seasonal. We all
know what happens in August and December. You have to be able to staff around
that. Our large global servicing centers can very readily flex our staffing and
really work around the different volumes presented by clients. There are fixed-plus-variable
models of pricing that have proven interesting to clients. I’ve seen simplicity
in pricing being really important to clients and we have done a tremendous
amount of that. Almost every client we’ve renewed, we’ve introduced simplified
pricing models. Really getting away from the 40 fees—and 40 different fees in all
100 countries that you travel in. I don’t think that’s what people want. They
want is something that’s easy to understand, easy to implement, easy to invoice
and easy to manage. They want to know what the travel program is going to cost,
so we have worked to do a lot of innovation there. 

BTN: CWT has had some client losses and gains in the past year. What
conversations are you having about client retention and pursuing new clients—and
how is request-for-proposal activity?

Frymire: I think everyone in the industry recognizes that you’re
always winning and losing clients. We have been really pleased to maintain our
very high mid-90 [percent] client retention rates that we’ve had for years,
despite a lot of the speculation about financial stability. We saw RFP activity
was much lower at the end of 2020. Going into 2021 we’ve seen it come back—maybe
not fully back to where it was pre-pandemic but definitely returning. We’ve had
a lot of great successes with our existing clients and thinking about how to
help them modify their programs. We recognize it’s a competitive market and we
have to prove ourselves every day. So do our competitors. We feel great about
the conversations we’re able to have with clients now that we’ve gotten the recapitalization
agreement. We’re able to say, “Listen, let me take this worry off your
plate. Let me walk you through what we’re doing [and] let me help you
understand how much liquidity the business will have [and] how strongly it positions
us.” When clients have that question mark, it’s hard. What we’ve done
through the hard work of this [recapitalization] process is to be able to
remove that question mark.


BTN: What recovery models is CWT working with as business travel
begins to emerge from shutdown?

Frymire: We are believers that this is a multi-year recovery. Because
we’re thinking about liquidity and investment, we have taken a fairly conservative
approach to our recovery projections. That’s been good for us because it also
means over the last three or four months we’ve been exceeding those projections.
For staffing, we take a slightly more aggressive perspective. We look at
volumes a little bit higher and a little more aggressively because if I think
there’s going to be a significant uptick in September, I need to be preparing
for that in June and July. You’re going to bring people back to full-time … or
maybe they’ve got to do some retraining. So we do use multiple scenario models.
We have an internal long-range projection that goes all the way through 2024. We
think every month how did data come in, how did we do against the competition, how
is business travel recovering versus travel as a whole? Also, what does all that
mean to our forecasting—does what we learned this month change what we think
about next month or the next three months or the next three years? We have a
regular process by which we do that, and we don’t just look at our own data we
look at [external] information. The large strategic consulting firms like Mckenzie
and BCG have done phenomenal work in this space, and we look at what IATA is
saying and at the GBTA surveys and other polls. Most importantly, we hear from
our clients. We have the greatest database of people to draw on to ask about
the recovery—the people actually doing the traveling. We’ve done a number of client

BTN: What are you seeing?

Frymire: I can tell you what I’m seeing right now in real time is
that there has absolutely been in the last 30 days a meaningful step up in
business travel. It’s really exciting for the business and it’s not just in one
country it is in multiple countries. That said, it is a highly varied recovery.
There are countries like India where the human suffering has been tremendous, and
the recovery of business travel is going to lag there. There are countries like
the U.S. and France that are definitely leading the way, and certainly China. So
we look at it at a pretty granular level not just by region and country but by
segment industry segment. 

BTN: Do you see any commonalities among the successful first-movers?

Frymire: You can clearly see that is coupled with vaccination rates. Our
No. 1 goal for our employees and our travelers is that they’re safe, and we
believe that safety comes with being vaccinated. So we just keep encouraging
[people] to do that and know that it’ll be a part of the recovery.

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