We’ve all worked with great managers, and depending on your business, they have specific qualities that make them great - excellent people skills, outstanding project management and a visionary way of thinking that motivates people to do their best, are just a few of the characteristics that make a great manager. In the corporate travel industry, travel managers are critical to the success of an organization’s travel program. The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) has this to say about the value of travel management, “Travel management is a specialized business function that balances employee needs with corporate goals, financial and otherwise. Travel management ensures cost tracking and control, facilitates adherence to corporate travel policies, realizes savings through negotiated discounts, and serves as a valuable information center for employees and managers in times when travel is not as smooth and carefree as it used to be.”
When you employ a great travel manager great things happen. This person makes certain that your organization’s system for managing the second-largest controllable line item in your budget is working effectively and to its highest potential. We agree with GBTA’s assessment of travel management, and even take it a step further with a discussion around travel leadership. Through our years of experience, working with countless travel managers, we often talk about the three types of leadership that a travel manager and/or TMC provides – strategic, savings and service leadership. Successful travel managers utilize all of these qualities to get the best value for their business’ travel management solutions.
This leadership quality is critical in a great travel manager. The travel manager needs to understand the following points for their organization:
- What the organization is trying to accomplish moving forward, and how the travel and expense process interacts with the overall business plan.
- How much travel volume is secured and used through air, car, hotel and other travel-related expenditures.
- Benchmarks based on industry standards. The amount of expense and way by which vendors are secured needs to be compared to similar-sized businesses in the industry. Once these benchmarks are established, the travel manager can analyze and communicate the balance between what the business wants, and what the travelers want with regard to travel and expense.
- Ways to maximize success of the program and in turn, change what isn’t working to make travel and expense management more efficient.
- The tools, systems and value-added items that are available to achieve the overall business goals.
Effective corporate travel managers know how to get the results they need with the tools necessary to deliver value; and in the end, develop a strategic leadership plan to improve how the organization manages travel. This strategic travel and expense plan can simply merge with the business plan, and added leadership goals of the organization. When the right system is in place, it needs to be well-articulated in an ever-evolving travel policy.
It is in this area where most organizations in the small-to-medium enterprise category need the most help. This is because the person assigned to manage travel typically wears many hats in the organization and has neither the time nor expertise to deliver this service to make sure it happens. The larger organizations typically have a dedicated person that only manages travel.
A great travel manager provides leadership that helps an organization save money. Having established an idea of what the organization spends on travel, and how they are performing against similar-sized organizations, they next need to assess the processes and procedures to drive the best possible savings. In order to accomplish this goal, they may need to be involved in supplier negotiations with airlines, hotels, TMCs, technologies and other areas that directly impact travel.
One example where a travel manager can make a significant impact on savings is the online booking system; it is critical that whatever system your team is using to search fares, it must have the ability to find the best fare with the widest amount of opportunities and unbiased choices to deliver the best results.
In addition, a clear-cut travel savings policy should be in place to deliver the best savings for travelers. These three points: assessing data, unbiased search capabilities and a clearly communicated travel policy – are imperative to deliver the best savings results to your business.
There are different parts of “service” that are required to have a great trip. And in this instance, a great travel manager provides travelers with the ability to book travel effortlessly. It takes time to look up fares, approve the trip, book the trip, change it, change it again, actually travel, submit reports, and possibly manage unused tickets. A great travel manager supports all of these functions with efficient systems and processes that maximize employee productivity.
Lastly, the safety and security of travelers is of prime importance. The ability to support travelers on the road, 24/7/365 ensures the relative success of the trip and helps to mitigate potential challenges and disruptions with travel. This helps the traveler feel more secure while traveling, which ultimately benefits the business.
We’ve defined how the best travel managers provide true travel leadership for their organizations. A great travel manager needs to deliver the strategic, savings and service leadership to develop an effective travel and expense system, delivering an invaluable resource for your road warriors. This travel leadership will make a tremendous difference for your business, and more importantly, produce positive results from your travelers.