New to managing travel? 5 tips to help you get startedKeeping travel costs down and employee happiness up doesn’t have to be a burden
As many charged with managing travel at small or mid-sized companies know, it’s tough to master what could be a full-time job on a part-time basis.
“People are wearing multiple hats and their other responsibilities may be all over the map,” said Jeanne Liu, Vice President of Research for the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). “They may be working in human resources, procurement, finance, and accounting, and so on. We hear from people all the time who say, ‘Travel was just dumped into my lap—what do I do now?’”
That can be a daunting prospect, especially as managing travel has become an increasingly important job. Not only are companies grappling with budget restraints, rising travel costs, and limited availability in key business destinations, but traveler morale and safety are ever-increasing concerns as well.
Despite the challenges, controlling work travel costs does not have to be a burden, and can be a very rewarding experience. Here are five tips to help you get started.
1. Reset your perspective
Keep in mind that managing travel is not like other administrative responsibilities you might be handling.
“These days travel is often handled by someone in the procurement department, but it’s a lot easier to source copy machines, office furniture, and supplies than it is travel,” said Andy Menkes, CEO and Chairman of Partnership Travel Consulting. “Travel has its own set of nuances and definitions. It’s not something you can run through Excel. Travel is also highly emotional. The only thing more emotional for employees is relocation.”
2. Sync up with management’s objectives
It’s important to understand management’s business goals for the company as those will inform how you approach creating a basic travel policy, said Michelle Moy, global strategy practice director for TCG Consulting, which advises companies on travel management issues.
“You need to consult with senior management on where the company is going—are we anticipating new employees, is there global expansion coming, and if so, how do we prepare for it?” she said. “The travel policy needs to reflect the broader business goals of the company.”
The sooner you can get a foundation in place and integrate it into the culture, the better.
It’s especially important to establish a basic travel policy or guidelines if your company is on a growth trajectory. “As the company grows, your travelers will need more guidance,” Moy said. “The sooner you can get a foundation in place and integrate it into the culture, the better. As you grow, things will get more complex and harder to control.”
3. Work with key internal stakeholders
Because travel touches on so many aspects of your company’s business, it’s important to include all the key stakeholders.
“Business travel is not just about dollars and cents,” said Robert Langsfeld, consultant and founder of The Corporate Solutions Group, a travel management and auditing firm. “It can create legal issues, put your people in harm’s way, impact employee morale. It’s crucial you make certain that everyone who should be involved is.”
At a minimum, he said, tap your company’s head of finance, your general counsel, someone from human resources, and your chief purchasing or procurement officer. If your company has a security department, include anyone who can help make duty of care recommendations around the safety and security of travelers.
“These individuals help you answer the most important questions,” Langsfeld said. “What will be the best way for employees to pay? What levels of the company can have which perks? What risk does the company assume when someone is within policy, and what risk does the employee assume if they are out of policy?”
4. Reach out for help and support
“A lot of times people who are managing travel for smaller companies are the only one there doing the job,” noted Liu. “Reaching out to people in a similar situation, getting their advice and feedback, can be a very valuable thing.”
While mastering the art of travel management is not a fast or easy process, you can get a lot of help getting started from organizations such as GBTA and the Association for Corporate Travel Executives. Both provide education and resources for people at all levels of experience and conduct annual and regional events. These organizations, along with social media sites like LinkedIn, offer great opportunities to network in person or consult with your peers online.
5. Get the word out
Once your travel policy is in place, it’s essential to clearly communicate it to employees to ensure compliance, which in turn will support your future negotiations with travel suppliers.
“Most employees want to do the right thing, but they need to have clear travel guidelines that are posted and communicated to them,” Liu said. “Then, when you can track data that shows they are booking with preferred suppliers and so on, you are in a much stronger position to negotiate for better rates. At the same time, you may also get better value, including more perks and amenities for your travelers.”
Even the most time-squeezed part-time travel managers can benefit from learning the basics of travel management and taking steps to implement a basic travel policy for your company. This will help you streamline your travel-related work process, and could result in cost savings for your company and increased satisfaction for travelers.