Technological advances and cost reductions boost fast-moving industry FOR TWO DAYS next week, the Business Travel Expo at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre will bring together about 50 travel services suppliers offering air, hotel, travel management, payment systems, reservation and online booking services to corporate travel planners. About 30 per cent of the suppliers at this year's expo, which opens on Tuesday, March 22, are newcomers who hope to take advantage of the revived business travel market. They include online travel service China Travel Net, private air charter operator Metrojet, and others. 'As worldwide business travel recovers, and China's accession to the World Trade Organisation brings increased business travel to and from China - and with it more choices of travel partners - travel planners have greater reason than ever to attend the expo this year,' said Paul Robin, group event director of organisers Centaur Exhibitions. The biggest group of visitors (almost half) will be from small and medium-sized companies with annual travel budgets of less than $500,000. The organisers saw a significant increase in pre-show registration, indicating that the thirst for knowledge in business travel is driving more people to learn about how to manage it and control costs. Mr Robin expected the strong SME turnout to continue this year, building on last year's turnout of 1,500 travel buyers. A 20 per cent increase in visitors was anticipated. 'We will use 10 years of experience from our London show and our database of 20,000 Hong Kong buyers to deliver the audience from around the region, including China, Singapore, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand,' he said. He encouraged corporate travel buyers who had travel partners to attend the show to 'check things out', because travel was a 'fast-moving industry'. Different travel suppliers may offer conflicting messages. For example, travel management companies advocate the one-stop shop approach for better travel management and cost control, while hotel groups may advocate dealing with suppliers separately. Mr Robin hoped that buyers would leave the expo informed, not confused. 'The way people buy travel is changing,' he said. 'Buyers expect to make informed decisions and organise travel in the best way for the best possible results,' he said. In cases where a company sent executives to just one city, it would be advantageous to strike a deal with a hotel group in that city. But if a company's executives travelled to different destinations, a travel management company's services might be appropriate, he said. Visitors should plan ahead, identify their needs and decide whom they wanted to meet at the expo, contacting exhibitors in advance through the expo website to set up appointments. He also advised visitors to reserve seats at the popular educational seminars. More than 1,000 bookings were received a month in advance. The seminars will cover a variety of themes: managing travel and entertainment expenses; a guide to cutting travel costs; how corporate cards can help with travel costs; the basics of travel management; how and when to use low-cost airlines; how to use the Web for travel management and information, and how to save time and costs with private jet charters. Cendant Travel Distribution Services, one of the exhibitors, planned to meet with corporate travel buyers, suppliers and travel management firms, said Kurt Knackstedt, the company's Asia-Pacific director of product management and marketing. The Leading Hotels of the World expected to renew contact with travel management companies. 'SMEs are better off dealing with travel management companies because they don't have the volume to negotiate for a good rate with hotels,' said Mark Greedy, the group's vice-president for Asia Pacific.