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Onwards and Upwards

CTM’s Global COO, Laura Ruffles reviews her first business travel experience since COVID-19 travel restrictions.

It is no secret that the travel industry was one of the first and hardest hit industries to experience the impact of COVID-19.

CTM’s recent customer research clearly identified the extensive impact that travel restrictions are having on our customers’ business performance, and this impact continues to have knock-on effects on business sustainability and job security.

Like many of CTM’s customers and businesses in every corner of the world, CTM has had to reduce its cost base in the wake of COVID-19. It has been a heart-breaking few months; we have lost many of our treasured teammates, we have all felt the lows of lost freedoms, the fears for our health and the well-being of our loved ones, the loneliness of isolation and physical distancing, and the stress of an uncertain future.

I have travelled most of my working life. I know from more than 20 years of experience the value of spending face-to-face time with colleagues, customers and peers as a driver for building and retaining high value relationships, driving growth and innovation. Travel has always been a very productive way for us to do business.

Like many others, I followed the Government’s advice and relocated from CTM’s Sydney CBD office to my home office in early March, and whilst the back-to-back video calls were efficient and fun (for a time), I don’t believe you can replace the value of face-to-face contact.

In fact, our customer research also demonstrated the significant impact that the inability to travel is having on our customers’ ability to provide customer and employee support and engagement.

It’s back to business

As we start to stabilise and adapt to our new business norms, it is now time to get back to work and back to the business of travel.

So I recently returned to the CTM office, and it has been uplifting and reassuring to see our teams slowly return to their workplace, bringing with them their stories from isolation; from home schooling to DIY projects, new skills learned and stories of baking wins and misses. It has felt like reuniting with long lost friends and the sense of comradery is audible.

Given our business’s complete change in landscape over the past few months, I needed to get our leaders back together to work through how they could execute the business recovery plans. We chose Melbourne to meet.

Back to flying again

I have experienced travel in the aftermath of significant travel disruptions and uncertainty before, and I am happy to report that flying Sydney to Melbourne recently was a much easier, more familiar and reassuring experience.

Yes, valet parking and the shops at the airport were closed and the flight announcements were few and far between – but the flight itself was a breeze.

Sydney Airport is huge so there was plenty of room for people to spread out as we went through security. I’m a bit of a germophobe when I travel so I always carry hand sanitiser to use straight after I’ve touched the trays at security. But I found there was plenty of hand sanitiser stations and social distancing signage throughout the airport. Everything was clean, efficient, spacious and well-organised.

On the plane itself there were several announcements relating to aircraft cleaning, and we were given bottled water and a pre-packaged snack.

I always prefer a window seat, and last time I flew to Melbourne was late January 2020 when the skies were still grey from smouldering bushfires. This time it was good to see a spattering of snow on the mountains and crisp views of Melbourne CBD.

Hitting the ground running

On arrival at Melbourne Airport, we took advantage of pre-booked Jayride private transfer to transport us to the city, large enough that we could spread-out comfortably, and we reached the CTM Melbourne office in no time.

It was so good to catch up with the CTM Melbourne team. We spent some quality time talking with the local team and hearing their updates on their customers and how they are all faring. I certainly learnt a few more things that our team have admirably stepped up to in the past weeks and it was great to be able to thank them all personally.

On to our management planning session, and it was great to have some robust discussions and energetic white board sessions to share ideas and trouble-shoot in a space where we could interact while maintaining our social distance. A huge thanks to Susan Connor for bringing in her healthy homemade cookies – a winning recipe from our ETM GM, Tracey Edwards.

I can honestly say that it was so rewarding and worthwhile to get back on the road and see our teams in-person. The outcomes and action-plans from our trip are far more valuable than we could have achieved doing this remotely.

All of our teams that travelled to Melbourne felt very comfortable doing so, and their overall feedback on the airport, flights and ground arrangements has been a positive one. We now look forward to sharing our experiences with our teams and customers to help get them back on the road to recovery with confidence.

As for the Melbourne team, it was wonderful to see your smiling faces and ‘can-do’ attitudes, a real reminder of the CTM spirit that makes me very proud to be part of this wonderful travel community.

Onwards and upwards!

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