Travel bookers and business travellers often find themselves misaligned in terms of their priorities. Travel managers are focused on cost optimisation while business travellers appreciate travel experience and productivity. These differences are intensified especially during a cost-cutting exercise, where the first area an organisation typically looks to cut is the travel and entertainment expense.
This highlights the misconception that managing business travel is all about cost optimisation and fails to take into account the other two key pillars of business travel: compliance and duty of care. When travel budgets are trimmed, corporations often negate their efforts in striving for greater policy compliance and duty of care, leading to higher costs in the long run.
Bridging the communication gap
Ideally, in large corporations with sizeable annual travel spends, there should be a dedicated department to oversee travel management and the range of responsibilities that fall within. However, the reality on the ground is that travel managers do not occupy a consistent presence in corporate structures, and are typically subsumed under another function.
Even if there is a travel manager, at FCM, we often see many business travellers bypassing their travel managers and assigning the role of booking and managing their corporate travel to their secretaries or personal assistants simply because they find it more convenient to do so. This creates a communication gap that prevents travel managers from delivering a seamless and satisfactory travel experience across all generations of business travellers. This is reflected in a survey by ACTE, which found that amongst 175 business travel managers and buyers, more than half (54%) did not have any formal tools to collect feedback from the travellers.
It is clear that by establishing a mechanism that regularly and accurately captures the feedback of business travellers, travel managers can be more attuned to the travellers’ preferences and in turn, help enhance traveller experience and drive desired behaviours, leading to increased compliance. What should be underscored, however, is that this can also lead to cost savings as travel budgets are more efficiently allocated.
Extending a digital hand
Millennials are poised to form the majority in the workforce and are bringing their digital habits with them, leading to a proliferation of consumer and business-centric mobile travel apps and websites that cater to the needs of this customer segment.
As a result, these millennial business travellers, alongside early technology adopters, have a plethora of options when it comes to searching and booking travel and they are using these options regardless of whether they are compliant with their organisation’s travel management policies.
Technology should play an equally important role for travel managers due to the resulting efficiencies it delivers, which can enable them to better connect with travellers and enhance the overall efficiency of travel booking – from identifying the appropriate travel plan to closing the loop with reimbursements and reconciliation.
Such tools prove to be a win-win situation all round as they help to streamline booking processes and allow business travellers to better manage their itinerary on-the-go, avoiding red tape that can prove especially cumbersome during a business trip. In embracing technology, forward-looking travel managers will also realise that it allows them to focus on more strategic activities.
Changing policies today
Travel managers looking to drive change can always update and enforce policy. Though important, it clearly does not work as envisioned. Simply introducing strict policies with zero tolerance (for example, non-reimbursement for non-compliance) will not guarantee success. Travellers who disapprove of the company’s travel policies will find ways around them. Even worse, if too many travellers deem the rules to be overly restrictive, employee retention and recruitment may suffer.
The best results are achieved when companies first understand the end-to-end travel experience in the company, before diving into areas that can be improved. To do so, companies can engage a travel management partner to gain a comprehensive overview as well as to consolidate their travel practices. This will also help to free up their travel managers’ time, enabling them to focus on the tasks and responsibilities that have a clear link to business objectives.
At first glance, companies may find the move of engaging a travel management partner run contrary to optimising travel budgets. However, this only rings true if companies myopically focus on cost optimisation, without taking traveller experience, compliance and duty of care into account. In gaining a bigger picture, companies are in a better position to see that simply reducing the travel budget might in fact cause more harm than good to their employees and their bottom line.