Skift Take

There seems to be an obligation to carry on working with partners in the country, but relationships may now be kept at arm’s length as the war in Ukraine continues.

Travel management is a lot more complex than selling hamburgers or soft drinks, and several global agencies are now weighing up the links they have with their Russian partners. There’s a delicate balance between obligations to their customers, and a potential public relations blowback.

Most have told Skift they continue to monitor the situation — in other words, they’re keeping them at arm’s length.

The list of sanctions against Russia is expanding as growing numbers of travel companies disassociate themselves with the country as it continues to invade neighboring Ukraine. Many corporate travel agencies have long-standing ties with local Russian agencies, mostly because as true global players they need a presence there, but some will also count customers from the energy, marine and maritime industries.

As a result, there are affiliations, licenses and wider network partnerships in place.

It’s New Territory

As the global travel management companies carry out last-minute repatriations, severing Russian ties would reduce their ability to help those clients that need to get their employees out.

“No one prepared us for this scenario,” said Riaan van Schoor, CEO of agency software company Agentivity. “Apart from the sanctions, there is a big moral question here that gets further divided by legal service agreements and above all, one’s duty to help your customers.”

CWT told Skift that it was business as usual. “Our partner VIP service continues to provide service to CWT customers in Russia — essentially our customers in this geography are reliant on us to be able to assist them during this time,” said a spokesperson. “We will however continue to monitor the current sanctions that have been imposed on Russia during this period.”

CWT Russia is independently owned and operated by Vipservice, “an integral part of the CWT Global Partners Network since April 2017,” according to its website.

Russian agency ATH, meanwhile, belongs to American Express Global Business Travel’s Travel Partner Network. “We do not operate a proprietary business in Russia and we do not acquire or service local Russian companies,” said Martin Ferguson, vice president, public affairs. “In times of disruption, our customers need us more than ever. Supporting them, their employees and family members in Russia is our priority.”

FCM Travel, the corporate travel division of Flight Centre Travel Group, also continues to maintain ties with its partner agency in the country. “The safety and security of our customers is always our priority, and our partner agency in Russia is providing valued assistance to hundreds of corporate travelers looking to leave, including repatriations and expats returning to their home countries,” the company said. “We continue to monitor the situation in Russia carefully while supporting the travel needs of our global clients in what is a very complex and fluid operating environment.”

Russia’s Aeroclub has been an exclusive partner of the global BCD Travel network since 2004, according to its website. BCD did not respond to Skift’s request for comment.

ATPI, which specializes in the energy and marine sectors, said that as part of its international network it has service partners in some countries. “They are carefully chosen independent agencies who we work together with to service selected clients relevant to that location,” it said. “Global Marine & Offshore Travel is our independent network partner in Russia. We are currently working with them to support the safe transit of the people working for international companies in the marine and energy industry.

ATPI has no wholly owned or joint venture operations in Russia, it added. “Where it is safe to do so, our efforts are focused on international clients who predominantly need to move people out of Russia such as seafarers and energy workers who would otherwise be stranded. This is being regularly reviewed. We are supporting clients with humanitarian efforts for the people of Ukraine,” a spokesperson added.

Meanwhile, GlobalStar Travel Management, a worldwide travel management organisation that operates in 3,500 locations in 85 countries, said it was monitoring the situation in Russia and the sanctions imposed. “All of our partners are ready to support any clients requiring assistance,” it said.

Some are taking a different stance. Corporate Travel Management has suspended its partnership with Moscow-based Unifest until further notice, while TripActions said it was is no longer supporting travel to Russia and Belarus. And, in partnership with Visa, its TripActions Liquid card will no longer work for transactions in Russia.

UPDATE: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated GlobalStar was providing assistance to corporate travelers looking to leave, including repatriations and returning expats.

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Tags: american express global business travel, atpi, business travel, corporate travel, corporate travel management, ctm, cwt, fcm, flight centre, oil, russia, travel management, travel management companies, ukraine

Photo credit: Penza, Russia. Pavel Neznanov / Unsplash