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This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on November 15, 2021 - November 21, 2021

As the world recovers from Covid-19, country borders are reopening. TruTrip, a corporate travel management system born out of the pandemic, is eagerly awaiting corporate travel to resume.

TruTrip founder and managing director Hugh Batley tells Digital Edge that the company’s launch hit a snag as it was supposed to happen in the early days of the pandemic. But instead of pivoting its business, TruTrip decided to wait it out. It realised that the travel market was not dead, but only halted temporarily.

“We believe people will still go back to the office and want to meet other people because it has a lot to do with relationships. Likewise, with travel, especially business travel, it is going to come back, but it’s going to be different.

“We’re going to see a reduction of operational meetings and catch-ups with colleagues in different states and countries because video conferencing is there to do that, but relationship-focused travel will still be relevant.”

In the recovering and post-pandemic world, travel will be seen as an investment for businesses. TruTrip was set up to help companies manage corporate travel so that they see savings and returns. With its range of partners, everything from flights to hotel bookings can be facilitated by TruTrip.

In Southeast Asia, travel is an exciting market as this region is one of the few that have long-term travel growth. Casual travel will probably reopen and normalise ahead of corporate travel, and Batley believes there will still be a small group of corporate adventurers who want to get on the road as soon as possible.

“If you look at other markets that are slightly ahead of the vaccination journey like the US and UK, when vacation was possible, people took vacations. Even India is seeing recovery despite making headlines with its Covid-19 crisis. Its domestic travel rate is 80% of what it was in 2019. Internationally, we’re about 50% recovered,” he says.

Batley wonders, however, if the initial surge is what is referred to as “revenge travel”. “It’s people who have been desperately wanting to travel and just need to get it out of their systems. An initial surge is going to happen, and then it will dial back, but, frankly, people will go back to travelling.”

As for corporate travel, Batley says Southeast Asians spend nowhere near the amounts seen in Europe and the US. While there might be a decline in corporate travel in the region, it will pick up slowly. “There is a big space in Southeast Asia compared with what there is in other regions.”

Another interesting trend, says Batley, is that about 60% of all bookings out of Asia-Pacific are one-way. While it may cost more to buy two one-way tickets, people are just focused on reuniting with their families.

“Families are coming back together and they’re just thinking of getting home and not going back to their workplace. So, there is this massive switch to one-way travel that we need to acknowledge,” he says.

Enabling post-pandemic travel

While waiting for corporate travel to resume, the company launched a free feature called Covid Entry Check to help people understand whether they can travel to specific countries and what tests and protocols are in place. For example, if someone wants to travel to Taiwan, the site will display the kind of testing that needs to be done prior to travel and upon arrival, whether quarantine is needed and any vaccinations that need to be done, Covid-19-related or otherwise.

Covid Entry Check will also allow users to book the right Covid-19 PCR test for the country they are travelling to. It helps users find test providers that meet entry requirements and timeframes of their destination country.

Vaccination status and certificates are the most complex issue right now, says Batley, adding that the company is working with the International Air Transport Association to understand how to integrate with the IATA Travel Pass Initiative. This can inform passengers about what tests, vaccines and other measures they require prior to travel as well as details on where they can get tested and give them the ability to share their tests and vaccination results in a verifiable format.

The company also has a feature called Fit2Fly, which gives instant feedback on a user’s passport, visa and health requirements.

Batley says the features were developed not only to make travelling information easier for people, but also for the company to monitor travel trends seen globally. The feature is being used by more than 100,000 users monthly.

“We’ve seen a 1,800% increase in people looking to travel to Malaysia. In July, very few people looked to travel to or out of Malaysia but there was a huge increase in mid-October after the government made announcements about the easing of travel restrictions,” he says.

“It helped us understand a little bit more about how people were thinking about travel. There’s definitely an interest in travel with people coming back to check things on the site and signing up for notifications, but there is still anxiety around the restart of travel.”

TruTrip spent the last 18 months building up its products and features to reduce some of the travel anxiety. The company partnered with FWD Singapore to offer TruFlex, which allows business travellers to cancel their trips for any reason more easily at least 24 hours before departure, and receive an instant refund of at least 80% of incurred costs.

Batley says business travel often comes with the need for extra flexibility. Many business travellers are left to book at the last minute or book flexible fares, which costs more than three times the regular fare. While the pandemic has led to many airlines reducing the cost of flexible fares, Batley says the practice of charging extra for flexibility is gradually resurfacing.

“The only requirement is that it has to be at least 24 hours before travel and anything can be the reason, whether your favourite suitcase broke or you’re just feeling a bit unwell. Especially in today’s environment, you might have a bit of a sore throat and a fear builds up and you just don’t want to travel. All it takes is one click and the trip is cancelled and money refunded.”

The company has also partnered with a handful of companies to ease users’ travel anxiety. An example is Riskline, which sends alerts if there are threats in an area. Batley says this is not confined to Covid-19 outbreaks.

“Riskline highlighted the Covid-19 risk a few days before WHO (World Health Organization) did and, if you’re a business that has a team in China, those few days are very useful and powerful because the company can ensure its employees are safe,” he explains.

“This feature will also provide an alert on natural disasters or any kind of unrest, like the issues faced in Myanmar right now.”

TruTrip has a long list of companies it has partnered with to offer seamless business travel, including fintech solutions to make transactions easier. Insurtech solution eBaoTech is an important component of TruTrip, says Batley, as the insurance industry is heavily regulated.

“Insurance is a big challenge for any multinational travel company because insurance products can be offered only if they are regulated in the user’s country of residence, which means you can’t be offered a Singapore product if you’re a resident of Malaysia,” he explains.

With eBaoTech, TruTrip is able to bring in partners from each country into an ecosystem that works for both parties. Batley says it deals with the heavy lifting when it comes to the integration of insurance solutions as well as the relationship between insurance companies.

“It gives us the ability to scale very quickly to make sure [we] can offer an insurance product to as many countries as possible. That’s where our tech really comes into its own because I don’t have to build dedicated integration for each of these insurance companies; I can just build it with the tech solution.”

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