Technology: How SWR Business Direct offers rail bookings across the country

Platform allows seamless ticket purchases and travel policy tracking for SMEs

SWR has created its Business Direct platform to help firms manage their travel

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“If you’re looking to save money as a small or medium-size company, you need to have a travel policy in place,” said Joe Thurgood, sales manager at South Western Railway (SWR).

With the post-pandemic return to face-to-face meetings, making journeys to attend events or spend time with clients has been back on the agenda for some time.

That means organisations of all kinds returning – or in the case of some more recent startups, beginning – to booking travel for people to get them to where they need to be efficiently.

It’s something the company Joe works for is taking seriously – developing the SWR Business Direct platform to enable users to book journeys across the whole country, not just on its own trains.

“It’s free to sign up, there are no fees on top of the fares and it’s very easy to use,” said Joe.

“It takes businesses about 20 minutes to set up an account and then there’s a dedicated customer service team to look after clients.

“We also offer online training in how to use the platform, though it’s been designed to be as simple as possible.

“It offers businesses the ability to track bookings that are made and to generate reports that tell them who travelled when and where they went.

“There are also custom fields that can be used to capture things like PO numbers, the department an individual works in or the customer they were going to visit.

“Users can make things as detailed or as simple as they like, so they can easily see whether the firm is operating in line with a travel policy.

Bookings on the platform can be made for journeys across Britain

“Customers can set up different users with different roles.

“For example, a director might be able to travel first class or to book those seats only if the journey is longer than an hour. 

“You can put all this information into the platform, so it acts accordingly when a person wants to make a booking.

“One of the other things it does is that it will show users all of the prices available for their journey.

“That’s in contrast to some other apps that might only offer the cheapest.

“This means you can see options that might be more appropriate – adding on ferry tickets or a TfL Travel Card, for example, to ensure you are buying what you need.”

With the majority of companies taking greater care with their environmental impact, SWR Business Direct also has a built-in tool to help firms assess this.

“You can track your carbon footprint if you’re serious about your green agenda,” said Joe.

“At any point, the platform will provide a detailed report on that, which is something businesses increasingly want to talk about.”

SWR, which operates a network of services from Waterloo to destinations including Exeter, Portsmouth, Weymouth, Reading and Guildford, created the tool in a bid to offer companies and their employees a frictionless way of booking travel on the railways.

“If you’re a large organisation, it’s likely you have a travel policy that’s saving you millions of pounds,” said Joe.

“For small and medium-size businesses, saving money is even more imperative – managing your cash flow is vital – and you need to be meeting clients, tendering for new business or travelling to see existing customers to improve retention. It also helps guard against fraud. 

“We are always happy to talk to organisations to discuss a policy or to help them come up with one.

“When it comes to train travel, that doesn’t always mean just booking the cheapest fare on offer. 

SWR is set to receive a new fleet of 90 Arterio trains

“Especially with smaller organisations, there’s a focus on caring for the wellbeing of staff and so they may be happier paying for a slightly pricier ticket if it means members of their team are less stressed when travelling.

“That might mean being able to listen to a podcast or catching up on work on the train rather than being stuck in a queue of traffic.

“That way companies know staff will arrive at their destination relaxed and ready to work.

“It might also mean having a flexible ticket so, if a meeting finishes early or is cancelled in a certain location, the employee has the ability to get a different train rather than wasting time.”

SWR is currently targeting small and medium-size organisations and those who book travel within them, such as PAs, EAs and office managers.

To that end, the company is sponsoring The PA Show Autumn, which is set to take place on October 17, 2023, at Old Billingsgate on the edge of the Thames.

The platform is always online, allowing users to make and plan bookings at any time and there are no fixed contracts for clients.

The platform offers comprehensive information across Britain

In addition to featuring the lowest fares available for any given journey, the platform allows customers to purchase season tickets individually or in bulk, and to benefit from a range of discounts and offers – including up to 34% off when booking three or more tickets via GroupSave.

The service provides both digital eTickets and paper tickets, which can be collected from any station in the country without the need to present a company credit card.

Business travellers on SWR services can expect free Wi-fi at stations and on board all trains, as well as quiet carriages on selected services.

First class facilities include large tables and at-seat wireless charging.

The railway is also set to receive a fleet of 90 new Arterio trains that will operate on its network, promising better performance, greater capacity, air conditioning, cycle racks and charging points for every seat.

Find our more about SWR Business Direct here

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Tower Hill: How The PA Show Autumn is all set for a show at Old Billingsgate

New venue for the October 17, 2023, edition allows event to grow following its debut in Canary Wharf

The PA Show Autumn is set to return following a debut event in Canary Wharf

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The PA Show Autumn is back in east London with a new location and an expanded programme of attractions, training sessions and networking.

Following an event that was so popular it tested the capacity of the East Wintergarden in Canary Wharf last year, organiser Mash Media has moved things a little further upstream along the Thames to the vaulted brick arches of Old Billingsgate’s lower ground floor.

Conceived as a more intimate, boutique edition of The PA Show at Excel, the feel is intended to be deliberately festive and seasonal as Christmas approaches. 

The new venue allows for growth and greater capacity

It’s somewhere for personal, executive and virtual assistants as well as office managers to meet suppliers and each other in warm comfortable surroundings.

“We’re really happy with the new location,” said Lisa Farnfield, sales director at Mash and the woman responsible for organising the show.

“It has a direct connection to Canary Wharf via the DLR to Bank and is easy to get to from the West End, the City and the South Bank too. 

“It fits really well with our audience in those locations but it also gives us greater capacity. The event last year was brilliant – it was rammed – but this gives us room to grow, with more exhibitors and more space for our two show theatres.”

The PA Show Autumn 2023 is set to take place at Old Billingsgate

In similar fashion to The Excel event, the boutique version is also very much focused on providing visitors with accredited continuing professional development (CPD) sessions.

“The new venue means we can have bigger theatres so more people can participate, as we were completely at capacity in Canary Wharf,” said Lisa.

“We have a fantastic programme of speakers running sessions on both key skills and personal development.”

Training on offer includes the likes of The Officials’ Lauren Bradley on next generation tech, Inspireful’s Hayley Watts on motivating yourself and others around you and Smile Box’s Donna Fisher on wellbeing in the workplace. 

“Last year showed a one-day experience was something assistants can fit into their busy schedules – attend a session and then meet the exhibitors,” said Lisa.

“With the location, they can easily come for half a day, a full day or the whole experience with networking and drinks at the end. 

“We’ll also be running speed networking sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon with 10 companies taking part in each.

“Those will be supported by M&S Corporate Gifts, with chocolate and wine tasting from Lindt and Ridgeview to enjoy. 

“We want the people who come to feel connected.

PAs, EAs and VAs will be able to meet a varied range of suppliers and businesses

“An assistant’s role can be isolated and many are very busy, so networking and finding suppliers can be a challenge day-to-day. Here they can find it all in one place. 

“We’ve got a lovely mix of exhibitors attending, including lots of new companies, so there will be plenty that people haven’t seen before.”

Sponsored by South Western Railway’s Business Direct platform, the show’s exhibitors include the likes of Fairgame, The Savoy, Qatar Airways, Virgin Experience Days, The Groucho Club, PA Life magazine, Harvey Nichols and many more.

“It will be a very relaxed environment with hotels, venues, hospitality, corporate gifting companies and travel supplies all represented,” said Lisa. 

“We’ll also be operating our PA Passport, where visitors collect stamps from exhibitors to receive a fantastic goody bag and be entered into our fabulous prize draw.

“We’re looking forward to a buzzing event – the demand is really strong and it’s a great time of year to bring people together in the run-up to the festive season.

“We want people to come down, meet each other and explore at their own speed.”

The PA Show Autumn is set to take place on October 17, 2023, at Old Billingsgate near Monument station from 10am-6pm with networking drinks until 7.30pm. 

Free passes to the show are available to PAs, EAs, VAs and office managers or those in similar roles.

The next edition of The PA Show will run at Excel in Royal Docks from February 28-29, 2024.

Mash Media sales director Lisa Farnfield is in charge of the event

WHAT’S ON – Theatre sessions at the 2023 show

Personal Development Theatre

  • Difficult conversations for EAs – 10.30am
  • The “WFH-battle” is on: Employee vs Employer. Who is right? – 11.20am
  • Motivating yourself and others – 12.10pm
  • The project mindset – 1pm
  • Your best is yet to come – 1.50pm
  • Assisting yourself to mental resilience – 2.40pm
  • The tactical triangle: 
  • Three perspectives from a strategic partnership – leader, chief of staff and executive assistant – 3.30pm
  • Talking anxiety – how to forge ahead! – 4.20pm
  • Be seen, be heard – create a credible, powerful voice – 5.10pm 

Key Skills Theatre

  • Do your minutes actually achieve anything? – 10.30am
  • Navigating an increasingly complex sustainability landscape – 11.20am
  • Unlock the power of ChatGPT – 12.10pm
  • Wellbeing in the workplace – 1pm
  • Skills to differentiate yourself and progress your career – 1.50pm
  • Growing your professional network on LinkedIn – 2.40pm
  • How to excel at corporate gifting and Christmas party organising – 3.30pm
  • How to stand out amongst the crowd – 4.20pm
  • Your career’s make-or-break moment: Emerging tech defining next-gen assistants – 5.10pm 
The show takes place on the venue’s lower ground floor under brick vaulted ceilings

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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