6 steps to help you start a company travel policy
If you have been tasked with creating a travel policy for your company for the first time, you are likely wondering how to begin. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
1. Define your objectives
Identifying your goals and priorities is the first step. While controlling costs, improving safety and security, and enhancing traveler well-being are all fundamental goals of any travel policy, determine which are priorities for your company. Some companies are also writing travel policy with employee retention and recruiting in mind.
“The first thing is to figure out what is the objective of the policy and the travel program itself,” said Neil Hammond, a partner at GoldSpring Consulting LLC, a travel management consulting firm. “Make sure you understand why you are writing the policy and what the benefits are going to be for every point you include in your policy.”
2. Collaborate with all key stakeholders
You’ll need to include key stakeholders to develop clear objectives and determine the type of travel policy you want to implement.
“You have to collaborate because the travel program is not insular, other departments will be affected and you will need their expertise to build into it,” said Jeanne Liu, Vice President of Research for the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). Liu recommends creating a committee of key stakeholders tasked with providing recommendations and feedback throughout the travel policy development process.
“This should not be done in isolation,” Hammond advised. “You will need help from finance to create a budget, and HR will have the perspective of how the policy will impact employee satisfaction, and how will it make the company attractive to recruits.”
Depending on the size of your company, other key stakeholders could include your legal department, procurement director, safety or risk manager, and your credit card administrator.
“All of those pieces are entangled in the travel policy,” said Shauna Reker, Director of Emerging Technologies, Travel Management & Payment Solutions at travel consultant firm Zulu Solutions. “You will be working with other departments before you finalize your policy as well.”
You need to balance the needs and desires of your employee base who will be using your travel program with what management wants.
Hammond also advises that if you are tasked with creating your company’s first travel policy, you should create a small group of other stakeholders involved with booking travel for executives or departments and solicit their feedback. “This can be a very powerful group and they can be of tremendous support, or a tremendous barrier if they have not been involved in the process,” he said.
3. Take your company culture into account
It’s important to understand and align with the culture of the company as you develop your travel policy, particularly if you are relatively new in the organization. That will help ensure “maximum employee engagement,” Reker said.
Management’s goals and employee wants around travel should both be reflected in your policy. “You need to balance the needs and desires of your employee base who will be using your travel program with what management wants,” Liu said.
Understanding your corporate culture, management’s goals, and employee wants and needs will help you determine the kind of travel policy you want to implement. Open, guideline-driven, and mandated policies are the three basic approaches, according to Liu.
Open travel policies allow travelers to book any travel vendor they choose, generally within some pricing parameters. Guideline-driven policies consist of recommendations travelers are encouraged to follow, but are not penalized if they do not. Mandated policies have no gray areas, specify traveler behaviors and vendor choices, and include penalties for non-compliance. “There is no fuzziness around it,” Liu said. She added that all three types of policies are used by different GBTA members, and the size of the travel program’s budget is not necessarily the determining factor. “It runs the gamut,” she said.
4. Detail the nuts and bolts
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to what you should cover in your policy. Reker advises starting out with a statement of purpose, including whether compliance with the travel program is mandated by executive leadership, and adding a table of contents to facilitate “a better user experience.”
As a general rule of thumb, she added, “You need to be as specific as possible when writing your policy.” Liu also recommends “clearly outlining the dos and don’ts” along every step of a trip, from approval, booking, and vendor selection through expense reporting.
Common practice includes outlining the approval process for trips and procedures for payment and reimbursement, as well as identifying required booking channels (travel agency, online booking tool, or a TMC). If your policy includes shared economy travel providers, specifics on each of these areas should be addressed. For example, Airbnb and Uber both have their own booking platforms.
Other areas included in most travel policies cover guidelines around corporate card use, international travel, and Travel & Entertainment (T&E) expenses. T&E is by far the biggest category, according to Reker, and should include a list of preferred air, accommodation, and ground transportation vendors. This category will also include detailed information on what will be reimbursed in each vendor category, from baggage fees and airline upgrades to wifi on flights and in hotels.
“It’s more than how you book it and who do you book it with,” Reker said. “All those things that happen in transit need to be addressed. A lot of companies are including allowable and nonreimbursable expenses in their travel policies, and giving examples of each.”
Travel policy needs to be a living document. If it works, it will be revised frequently.
For example, more companies are setting guidelines around combining personal trips with work trips as the trend increases along with the number of millennials in the workforce. Some companies allow it for reimbursement by the employee, while some do not allow it under any circumstances. Those that do sometimes provide allowances to include spouses, partners, or families.
5. Create a communication and feedback loop
“Once written, a communication plan is very important, especially if you haven’t had a travel policy before,” Reker said. “You need to have a communication strategy, and normally this is not one memo as it needs to reach all levels of the company. If this is new to the company, you need to give people the opportunity to ask questions and get clarity on some policy items as well. All of these things allow balance and they allow you to enforce your policy.”
Liu said ongoing communication, not just when the policy is introduced, is important. “Some things will work and some things won’t, and you have to be able to adjust the policy,” she said. She recommends creating a continuous feedback mechanism that involves management and employees, utilizing whatever methods—intranet, memos, meetings, social media—that are most effective in your company.
Hammond encourages travel managers to include a review process in the travel policy. “Travel policy needs to be a living document,” he said. “If it works, it will be revised frequently. I like to see written in the document itself that it will be reviewed at least on an annual basis.”
6. Set a project timeline
Set a timeline and have it scoped out, “and you will be way less frustrated in the process of creating a policy for the first time,” said Reker.
The amount of time required to write your travel policy depends on a number of variables, including the complexity of the policy, how quickly new initiatives move forward in your company, and whether you are being assisted by your TMC or an outside consultant. Estimates from travel consultants range from four months to one year.
Commented Reker, “If the stars are aligned and you have all those stakeholders onboard and supporting you, I would give it four to six months.”
By setting clear objectives at the start, involving key stakeholders in the process, and setting in place a continuous communication and feedback loop, your travel policy will serve as the foundation of a company travel program that supports management objectives and keeps your travelers safe and happy.