FCM Travel Solutions
president for the Americas
Billy McDonough talks:
• Integration of agencies
FCM has acquired
• FCM’s SmartAssistant
for Mobile app
• Differences among
Flight Centre’s brands
Australia-based travel agency conglomerate
Flight Centre appointed 21-year company vet
Billy McDonough as president of FCM Travel
Solutions for the Americas in July. Previously
FCM USA brand leader, McDonough now oversees the travel management company’s business
in North America and Latin America, following
Flight Centre’s acquisitions of Mexico City’s Koch
Overseas, Buenos Aires’ Bibam and Quebec’s Les
Voyages Laurier du Vallon. Distribution editor Jay
Boehmer spoke with McDonough.
THIS YEAR, FLIGHT CENTRE BOUGHT AGENCIES IN
CANADA AND ARGENTINA. DO THESE FEED INTO FCM,
OR ARE THESE SEPARATE FROM THE FCM BUSINESS?
The Canadian one is brand-new, but we share a very
similar customer type. Over time, we’ll continue to
work more closely together. It’s a great opportunity, especially in French-speaking Canada. That acquisition’s
been really critical for us. The large corporate part of
the Argentinian business is something that I’m working very closely with now. We follow the same process
where you go through your integration, examine the
business and take a deeper dive into what’s required.
Then, you look for where there are synergies and where
you can save resources by not duplicating something.
FLIGHT CENTRE’S MOST RECENT ANNUAL REPORT
DISCLOSED AN AMBITIOUS PLAN FOR “FCM TO BECOME
THE LARGEST MULTINATIONAL TRAVEL MANAGEMENT
COMPANY” THROUGH ACQUISITIONS AND ORGANIC
GROWTH. IS IT REALLY FEASIBLE TO BECOME LARGER
THAN AMERICAN EXPRESS GLOBAL BUSINESS TRAVEL,
BCD TRAVEL AND CARLSON WAGONLIT TRAVEL?
Absolutely. When you look at the trajectory we’ve
been on for the past 10 years—and looking at the acquisitions portion of it and also the size of some of the
customers that we’re partnering up with—it’s absolutely possible.
WHAT’S THE MIX OF ORGANIC GROWTH TO ACQUISITIONS?
There will continue to be that combination. If we continue
to retain at the rate we’re retaining and we continue to grow
our sales force, organic growth really needs to be what we
focus on. There are always going to be [M&A] opportunities that come up in the marketplace that we evaluate, and
we’ll pursue the ones that are a really good fit. But really,
our focus is to continue to build on the foundation that we
started. A lot of our growth in the last 12 months was from
our existing customers making acquisitions themselves, so
we have to be nimble enough to deal with a program that
all of a sudden doubled in size and make sure that the quality of service and support is scalable.
HAS YOUR TARGET CLIENT CHANGED?
It used to be based on spend. That’s changed. There
are a lot of customers that are in the low-million [dol-lars of travel spend] who require a level of reporting,
complexity or tools that we’re able to offer. We’ve seen
a lot of growth in what would normally be the smaller
end of that midmarket. And we’re also participating in
a lot more bids for the larger end, as well, where it’s a
good fit for the customer and for us.
HOW LARGE IS LARGE? WHAT ARE THE UPPER REACHES?
Upwards of that $50 million-plus, $100 million global
spend customers. I don’t think those are unrealistic.
ARE YOU PUTTING MORE BOOTS ON THE GROUND?
Absolutely. FCM in the United States grew our sales
team by 40 percent last year and will continue to grow
the sales team. Now, I’ve got a team of 13. As we delve
into exploring the larger customer, we need to have
specialist salespeople who are equipped to handle
those longer-term negotiations and nurture those relationships because it can be a two- to three- to four-year
[customer]-acquisition period, depending on where
somebody is at in their contracts and their appetite for
change. That’s just a very different game.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR FCM’S SMARTASSISTANT FOR
We’re actually developing a SAM version for the travel
arranger because that’s a really important part, especially in the United States market. There are a lot of
travel arrangers, so having a tool that is simple and easy
for them to use when they’re looking after three or five
or 10 people. It’s about keeping them informed, first
and foremost, so that they’re aware of where their VIPs
are and what they’re experiencing during their trip. It
gives them visibility into what’s occurring for the travelers they look after. The traveler can also contact the
[FCM] consultant, as well. There’ll be the same level of
contactability in that arranger version. When they see a
notification on some level of disruption with their traveler’s trip, they may say, “Cancel this or do that,” as opposed to waiting for the traveler themselves to engage.
FLIGHT CENTRE HAS A FEW CORPORATE BRANDS.
WHERE DOES FCM BEGIN AND, SAY, CORPORATE TRAV-
ELER END IN THE U.S.?
We operate separately, but there’s a high level of cooperation in that retention strategies are retention strategies. So, we share a lot of those high-level things. Operationally, the main difference is Corporate Traveler
is generally focused on smaller, less multinational, less
policy-driven customers, where [FCM’s] target customer is really that either large national or multinational
customer who has pretty strong policies and has enough
volume to negotiate with various suppliers and so we
manage their contracts and relationships with vendors.
THEN, THERE’S CAMPUS TRAVEL FOR ACADEMIC
In the United States, we’ve rolled Campus Travel
into FCM so it’s a branded offering as opposed to a
standalone initiative. As of July, we’ve made that part
of FCM, and it’s more of a specialist offering within
our brand because the customers are similar, as far
as their complexity goes. How you interact and manage some of their programs are slightly different, but
we’ve been fulfilling that through an FCM team. So,
we have specialization from individuals who deal with
those customers, but we’ve decided to focus on FCM
as the brand as opposed to introducing another brand.
AND THEN THERE’S STAGE AND SCREEN.
Stage and Screen is specializing more in entertainment
and sports and the specific needs that customer base
has. Stage and Screen is more in line with Corporate
Traveler. They work very closely together. A lot of those
customers are project driven, as well, So there may be
a production that’s complex but short in duration.
“As we delve into
we need to have
specialist salespeople who are
equipped to handle those longer-term negotiations
and nurture those