CWT works with nearly 100 partner agencies around the world to support its customers in markets where it doesn't have owned operations. We chat to Richard Saunders, the newly appointed Vice President of CWT's Global Partners Network (GPN), about how CWT has maintained strong relationships with its partners through the pandemic, what it takes to achieve a best-in-class and uniform customer experience across the network, and his top priorities as travel recovers.
How has CWT supported and engaged with its partners while travel volumes have been suppressed?
When the pandemic hit in March 2020 we established a new way of communicating and getting updates from our 100 partners.
We surveyed them every week to understand whether there was a change in the way our partners were operating and whether we had to activate business continuity plans.
The GPN commercial team had over 600 conversations from March 2020 through to last year. We talked to each partner on a regular basis, having weekly calls with our largest partners and talking to our smaller countries on a monthly/bimonthly basis. This was just to check in, see how the situation was in their country, and how they were managing.
In many countries, there was no government assistance or financial support for businesses. It was critical to stay connected and active to understand how our partners were surviving through the hardest of times. It was also the first time that many had worked from home, and so we supported our partners in sharing best practise for homeworking.
We're very fortunate to have a resilient and financially strong network of partners, and I’m proud to say that none of our partners went out of business due to the pandemic.
Can you share any stories of partners that went above and beyond to support customers and their travelers during the pandemic?
In some ways, the last couple of years have brought out the best in people. When the restrictions hit and airlines stopped flying, several partners, chartered aircraft to support our customers in repatriating staff who became stranded. One great example is a charter put together by our colleagues in Africa to take back stranded Indian nationals. They coordinated with several of our other African countries to ensure that we could support any other customers who had travellers in a similar situation.
Another partner who works with us in multiple countries in pivoted from corporate travel to air cargo, bringing in vaccines from different parts of the world.
There was a lot of collaboration between partners who stepped in to help each other out. It’s important that we nurture and instil cross-regional opportunities. At the height of the pandemic someone from my team set up a WhatsApp group for our partners to support each other and share ideas and issues, but also to help keep each other feeling motivated.
How does CWT ensure a consistent and reliable experience across its vast network of partners?
The foundation of our partnership is based on a strong and robust contract that requires significant governance by the team. We work with the leading agencies in market, who are focused on corporate travel and who work in a compliant and transparent manner.
Our customers ask for a variety of different requirements, whether it's around data protection, data privacy, security, and service levels.
All of this forms part of our overall agreement and we constantly update it to ensure that it remains relevant. A significant portion of the teams time, when it’s ‘business as usual’ is conducting in person business reviews with our partners. It’s very much around making sure our partners maintain the required KPIs, can deliver ‘that consistent experience’ and it also gives us the opportunity to review financial performance. Having robust business continuity plans in place also allows us to ensure that should the unexpected happen, we can manage it and support our customers when they need us most. We have an efficient network and it’s very clear what our requirements are. With ongoing training, this ensures that our partners are fully aware of what we need them to be delivering to our customers.
What areas has CWT been investing in to further strengthen its partner network?
We've invested heavily over the last few years on ensuring that our core product is available globally
Part of that investment was redefining data transmission. We now have real-time data available for our customers across the globe.
That was a significant milestone because data drives everything. Customers don't care whether it's a partner or wholly-owned. They want to have access to the same suite of products and CWT delivers that everywhere.
With travel picking up again, what are the top priorities for the GPN in 2022?
The next step is going to be around continuing that journey of deploying more products and services. We are part of the journey of the enhancements to myCWT and this will be expanded across many markets in the GPN over the coming months. This includes offering even more content from our Hotel solution, Roomit which we know customers will be delighted about. We have also enabled more of our network to support our follow-the-sun strategy.
Our ‘follow the sun’ capability allows us to flow work through our network of global service locations as needed, eliminating the historic industry dilemma of out-of-hours servicing. It also allows us to better manage issues, like weather incidents, by using the strength of our global network. It’s a means for delivering the best content, and providing a fully global, consistent service offering, to meet current and emerging customer requirements.
Pre-pandemic, you traveled extensively to visit CWT's partners around the world. Where would be your top destination to tack on a few leisure days to a business trip?
I love Istanbul from a city perspective. If I’m lucky enough to escape the British winter, it’s to somewhere in the Middle East with guaranteed sun like Muscat or Dubai.