The ACTE Column: Weight Watchers

We can all learn from different and creative approaches to trimming the fat from our businesses.

THEY SAY NECESSITY is the mother of invention, so you might gasp in horror or possibly admire Ryanair's outrageous creativity to counter the impact of rising jet-fuel costs on its, ahem, bottom line - the airline is incentivising cabin crew to lose weight with the prospect of appearing scantily clad in its annual calendar.

It is a vocal supporter of the "fat tax", where overweight passengers would pay a higher fee to fly. It is serving less ice per passenger although it decided against removing armrests. It will now incorporate the menu into its in-flight magazine and change the paper size from A4 to A5 as a weight reduction measure to trim fuel costs. It is believed the change in the magazine print alone could save thousands of pounds of fuel and cut printing costs by more than £400,000.

In the 1980s. Robert Crandall, the former chief executive of American Airlines, claimed the airline made annual savings of $40,000 by removing one olive from every salad served onboard its flights. In 2008, Air Canada removed life vests from some of its aircraft in favour of lighter floatation devices. Authorities approved the change, so long as it was limited to aircraft that didn't venture more than 50 miles from the shore.

You have to give credit for those who look creatively at ways to cut overheads instead of simply adding surcharges, and there is certainly a serious lesson here: if you always do things the same way, you'll always get the same result. Try looking at things from a different angle.

I spent a fascinating few days in Abu Dhabi in March to deliver the Association of Corporate Travel Executives' (ACTE) education programme at the Gulf Incentive, Business Travel and Meetings exhibition, and it is clear that travel managers who are responsible for budgets in the Middle East need to think creatively to develop a professional travel management function. It is only when immersed in a region that it's possible to understand the challenges. It is only then that you can measure perception against reality.

Global travel buyers might ask themselves how it is possible to have a reported 80-90 per cent card-compliance ratio when card use in the region is less than 1 per cent of the payment market; or what the impact might be on policy and preferred supplier selection when per diem payments are such a prolific part of doing business in the region; or how vertical integration in the supply chain cannot be underestimated; or how to communicate the value of a managed policy in order to control and cut costs.

You only need to clock the machines vending gold bars in a hotel lobby to comprehend the regional economic prosperity and how one size does not fit all. It's critical to appreciate the part that respect, pride and honour play in business practice in this region to understand that all these factors create a totally different set of drivers. Communications have to be adapted accordingly.

Given the complexities of emerging markets, it makes sense to spend time observing and learning in situ. Whether you are a buyer or supplier of corporate travel services, join the ACTE forums around the world or take part in relevant segments of ACTE's Around the World in 80 Hours immersion learning programmes. It will be time well invested to help improve your internal delivery.

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