Travel managers are busy people. Booking flights, talking with vendors, and managing employee itineraries are just a few of the seemingly endless tasks on the travel manager’s “to do” list. For some SME’s the travel manager is also the office manager or housed within the human resources or finance department, depending on the structure of the company. Yet, businesses are finding that corporate travel continues to play an extremely important role. While leadership is asking for ways to efficiently manage this controllable expense, travel managers are struggling with completing tactical objectives and providing overall travel guidance simultaneously.
How can travel managers provide strategic direction to enhance the overall business plan and guide a successful managed travel program? Successful travel managers show value through three essential leadership qualities: strategic, savings and service leadership. There’s no question that more is expected from travel managers today, and their management of this important business function makes them indispensable.
The following tips can help travel managers increase their strategic leverage while effectively prioritizing tactical objectives at the same time.
1. Generate value through negotiated travel supplier contracts
Developing and building relationships is an essential piece of the travel manager’s job, and it takes the most time. The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA)/Sabre study, Travel Manager 2020 shows that the most time consuming activity for travel managers is “managing contracts with suppliers” (61%). A well-managed travel program relies on the discounts and/or benefits that are developed in partnership with preferred suppliers. To gather the most value and streamline the process of working with vendors, it’s imperative for travel managers to do their homework. Generating the best partnership offer requires:
- Data – collect, analyze and provide relevant data to vendors so they can accurately assess how they can help. The number of travelers per year, most-frequented travel destinations and largest accurate travel spend gives vendors the ability to create an accurate assessment of the solution(s) they can offer.
- Volume – collect detailed volume data points to share with suppliers. Include the number of employees who utilize airlines, car rental agencies, and number of hotel rooms booked each year. Travel partners can then offer the best discounts based on these numbers.
- Travel policy enforcement – managing the vendor relationship also requires control over the business’ travel policy. Vendors need to feel confident that employees are booking within policy, to reinforce your ability to stay within their needs for discounted travel.
Vendor relationship development and management will require the time and resources of the travel manager. But through excellent data collection, consolidation, knowledge of traveler habits and adherence to policy, the process can be streamlined to generate added value to the managed travel program.
2. Understand the key performance indicators (KPI’s) that matter most to leadership
As the person who manages travel in your company, do you know what matters most to your leadership team? Are you familiar with business benchmarks and goals for meeting these benchmarks? If not, speak with your manager about gaining insight into this important information.
Offering a strategic perspective to business travel management requires the knowledge of how travel can improve overall business success. For example, if one business KPI is increasing overall margins within the business, how can travel be managed appropriately to leverage volume discounts or reduce ancillary fees? Can you offer value through obtaining industry benchmarks by which your company travel can be compared too?
The key is knowing what leadership is working towards, and then communicating corporate travel program value that contributes to your business’ overall goals. If travel is an important piece of your business’ success, collaborate with leadership to ensure the best outcomes.
3. Evaluate and apply technology to streamline corporate travel
Travel managers must be able to efficiently and effectively evaluate and apply technology. In GBTA’s Travel Manager 2020 report, 75% of respondents stated that technology will be “very important” to them in the near future.
There are many technology options available for travel managers, but with limited time to research the latest and greatest, consider what corporate travel problems cause the most issues. Is it limited use of the online booking system? If so, research and evaluate why travelers aren’t using the system and then update the system to meet their needs. Are road warriors having trouble turning in receipts after travel? Investing in an automated travel and expense system can virtually eliminate this issue.
Identify your corporate travel pain points and focus on ways that technology can make this process easier. Once an answer is clear, leverage technology with leadership, focusing on the improvements to productivity, compliance and overall savings that this technology will bring.
4. Communicate the travel policy and show resulting bottom line cost savings
According to GBTA, setting a clear corporate travel policy and enforcing it consistently are two of the most important steps you can take to reduce travel costs. Develop travel program goals, infuse them into the corporate travel policy, communicate the policy, and ask for leadership support in enforcement.
When the travel policy is followed, travel anarchy is reduced resulting in increased employee productivity and safety and direct cost savings to the business bottom line. The travel policy also provides benefit in its potential data collection. When travelers follow policy, travel managers have a clear picture of who is traveling, when they are travelling and what pieces of the travel puzzle are being neglected. This information provides strategic direction when negotiating supplier relationships, reporting that can influence KPI results, and opportunities for technology investment.
Remember, the first tip is to get the most value from your supplier contracts. Sometimes that requires shopping around for a new travel management partner. But before you submit a travel services RFP, download the workbook “8 Common Travel Management RFP Mistakes” so you can be proactive in identify the problems and necessarily solutions needed for your corporate travel program.
The travel manager’s job is critical in the development and execution of your company’s business plan. Following the tips presented will provide time-savings and the ability to deliver strategic corporate travel leadership, resulting in increased productivity, cost savings and satisfied travelers.