HANNES SCHWARZ – THE TRAVEL AGENCY AS A COMPETITIVE SPORT
He is a defining figure in the travel business. His company, FCM Columbus Business Travel, makes substantial profit with new travel tech solutions.
Read about how exactly that works and why data security is a major asset to travel agencies in the following interview with the outstanding TMC manager Hannes Schwarz:
Hannes, FCM Columbus Business Travel is very successful in Austria’s fiercely competitive business travel market. What makes it especially good?
Our parent company, Columbus, has been a successful family company for over 83 years. We stand for reliability and sustainably take care of our clients, something I – and our customers – are 100% behind. Through our partnership with FCM, we enjoy wonderful international positioning. FCM helps when we need them, and yet I still have the flexibility to select the tools I use myself. Some of the headquarters’ offers are great, but we do not need a profile tool with data storage in the USA, for example. This is why I have chosen Umbrella Faces.
It is this mix of tradition, internationality and flexibility that makes us successful.
FCM Columbus Business Travel was the first pilot customer of Umbrella Faces. Why was this project so important to you at that time?
Without Umbrella Faces, we would have lost or not have been able to acquire a number of key accounts. Eight in ten companies now use a self-booking tool. They can and want to keep their profile information up-to-date themselves. Some do that directly in the SBT, but many do that directly in Umbrella Faces. There is really no better method than Umbrella Faces for keeping customer data up-to-date. A TMC that does not use such a tool is still in the Stone Age.
Why did you choose Umbrella back then? How do you see that decision in retrospect?
It was immediately clear to me that Umbrella Faces would be a global success. The time was ripe for this solution and the company delivers what it promises – quickly and cheaply. I need Umbrella to be able to keep up with the intense competition from big-scale players. AMEX GBT or CWT has its own strong tech departments. And good, flexible technology is absolutely definitive in business travel management today.
FCM Columbus Business Travel also uses Umbrella Multi National Pricer. Can you briefly describe this service?
With MNP, we have access to flight rates and availability in other markets. These can sometimes be considerably more favourable than in Austria. This allows us to guarantee that there is no better price in the GDS for a flight connection, even beyond our borders. This solution saves our customers a significant amount of money.
You offer your customers Umbrella MNP as a paid service. What has been your experience so far?
The savings are sometimes enormous, especially when departing from regional airports close to the border. Some of our major customers save an average of more than € 25,000 per year. This is clearly significant added value for our customers, for which they are happy to pay a bit more.
Which new travel tech solutions will you need for a successful future?
We will integrate booking and settlement solutions directly into corporate customers’ internal ordering systems, for example.
What do you think of airline initiatives to push direct sales?
Airlines will surely try to push direct sales even more. That is definitely not cheaper than sales via TMCs, but that’s not the point. Airlines simply want customer data! That is one of many reasons to stay with a travel agency: with us, all data is safe. When you book over the internet, the data belongs to the general public. This is simply unthinkable for many customers.
Who will be your competitors five years from now?
They will largely be the same players as today. Online providers such as Egencia are not an alternative for our customers, at least. Some have tried this out and have quickly returned. The personal service through a foreign call centre is simply incomparable.
But what is also clear is that young people are having an increasingly difficult time with the “travel agency” concept. They do not understand the added value. It is our duty to communicate this value better and more specifically.
Let us ask you a private question: what do you enjoy besides the travel industry?
I do a lot of sport – biking, golf, skiing, walking. When I was young, I was a passionate and competitive judo practitioner. That unfortunately left a permanent impression on my knees, but it also helped shape my character immensely – qualities such as determination, focus, discipline and ambition are essential in my profession.
My family is absolutely my centre of stability. I have two wonderful children and will soon marry. My partner runs her own company, so I can talk to her about all sorts of professional topics. We learn so much from each other.
Thank you very much for your time and the interesting insights!