Travel manager tips: how to create a travel program from scratch
When Matt Ziskie was hired to develop Airbnb's global travel program, he was given a broad charter: make the travel experience magical for business travelers.
"To me that boiled down to building a program people wanted to use," he said. "We thought if we got that right, everything else would follow."
Matt brought a lot of excitement to the task, along with over a decade of experience developing travel policy and managing travel programs for tech and pharmaceutical companies. With the launch of a more evolved, people-centric global travel program in 2015, Matt and his team have been able to create a corporate travel program business travelers embrace.
"We're proud of the fact that our employees pick the most cost-effective flights when given the choice 90% of the time, and we're proud of the fact that our product carries an industry-leading average daily rate (ADR), but our real north star for success is compliance," Matt said. "We measure compliance month-to-month and it hovers anywhere from 91% to 96%. Our annual average for 2017 was 94%."
Here's how Matt relied on his travel management experience to build a successful company travel program from the ground up.
Define your objectives
"We wanted to build a travel program that was not heavy-handed and forceful but that understood how people work and how they travel and offer guidelines and parameters within those areas. Our first goal was to make them happy with the experience, and then over time we could look at improving efficiencies within the program."
Work with key stakeholders
"First and foremost is trust and safety, wherever that falls in your company. It's absolutely essential that you partner with them. Then work with finance and your power users, your road warriors, to get a sense of their needs. In some companies HR as well."
Align with company goals
"Aggressively align to company goals and continue to reinforce. A lot can be determined from where the broader company is going, and that should filter down to the travel program."
Focus on culture before optimization
"The travel program of any company should align with the culture. When you see a shiny object--in this case costs or savings--it's really tempting to run at it, but that can be detrimental to building the kind of travel program you really want. It can throw you off your original track."
Keep your travel policy simple
"There are only so many things that you can jam into a policy that really matter and companies need to focus on those. You could probably fit all that in a page; you could definitely fit it all in two. Long policies also lead to non-compliance. Reality is, employees aren't going to read through seven pages of a T&E policy My advice is to edit aggressively and write a policy that is crisp and easy to understand."
Manage trends, not data points
"There is often a real temptation to manage the data points, but if you're managing a travel program it really does become about the program, not individual data points. You get a lot more compliance and policy adherence working on a macro level rather than chasing after someone you think spent too much money on a single ticket."
You may also be interested in 6 steps to help you start a company travel policy.