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Ask the experts: centre of attention

THE EXPERIENCE CONSUMERS HAVE IN THE RETAIL WORLD continues to impact on the managed travel sector, as travellers increasingly expect to have an influence on their company’s travel policy.

This can mean anything from working at home and using ‘disruptor’ services to employing consumer apps. It leaves beleaguered travel managers juggling with the vagaries of keeping the road warrior happy with a policy constructed to take account of his or her needs, including convenience and work/life balance – while of course keeping an eye on budget, duty-of-care and risk management.

But as the following expert opinions show, these things are not mutually exclusive, and it is possible to have a creative and dynamic travel policy that takes account of numerous travellers’ requirements, while still toeing the corporate line. And the common factor in all these things? Effective communication via the right channels.

The TMC

KAREN ABBOTT, head of global corporate account management, ATPI

KEY DETERMINING FACTORS OF TRAVELLER-CENTRIC POLICIES ARE cost, efficiency of booking, duty-of-care, managing information and expense reconciliation (transparency of total trip). Many clients are keen to incorporate the new disrupter suppliers such as Airbnb and Uber into their offering, as they have strong appeal to millennials.

While this may meet the desire of younger travellers, it can often raise problems with meeting duty-of-care requirements. However, choice and flexibility need to be part of every policy wherever possible. It is important to support clients who are keen to put travellers at the forefront of their travel policy and to measure opinion through channels such as traveller booking forums and feedback forms.

Travel managers should also discuss any issues they have with their TMC. Open communication with bookers and travellers allows TMCs to understand the challenges travellers face, and design programmes to help meet them. TMCs and travel managers must work closely with travellers to understand their needs and to ensure they deliver the best programme; ongoing dialogue goes hand in hand with policy compliance.

By empowering travellers, allowing them to understand the reasoning behind the policy and why particular processes are in place, they feel part of the decision-making process and are, hopefully, more engaged. A well thought-out travel policy helps control costs and links compliance to company strategy, which ensures that spend, travel satisfaction and productivity are all in line with company policy.

A travel policy should be clear, concise and represent a collaboration of ideas from different levels of management. Travel policies should also determine whether or not staff are allowed to add personal days to an overseas trip, cover duty-of-care considerations and how the costs are managed.

The buyer

KAREN HUTCHINGS, senior global travel buyer  and new chairman of ITM

IF WE CAN SAVE TIME IN THE PROCESS OF BOOKING TRAVEL OR ON THE TRIP by keeping the traveller at the centre of things, in the long run it can reduce costs and make their lives easier; for example, having a mobile app they can use to manage itineraries and book travel.

Use of technology can make the process simpler. We consult travellers regarding startups in the marketplace to get input on how much they are using them or would want to use them. Input and feedback on those tools helps us understand whether they are fit for purpose. This is particularly true of the millennial user group that we engage with to understand what apps they are using and what else they want from a travel programme.

There is some evidence that such a policy drives compliance, but it is more about employee engagement and showing we care. We also hope it has a bearing on their wellbeing and enjoyment of being with a company that does this. We have flexible work-from-home policies for employees and, although not necessarily linked to the volume of travel or the travel programme, we do negotiate with suppliers for lots of added benefits.

To communicate with travellers, we use Yammer extensively and post updates 5-10 times a day in relation to travel alerts, promotions and general information. We have 10,000 travellers following us on our page and feel this is a great way to engage with them. In addition, we have EA [executive assistant] distribution lists by country and we are also in regular contact with them.

THE CONSULTANT

JO LLOYD, founding partner, Nina & Pinta

IN A TRAVELLER-CENTRIC POLICY, the prime focus is about getting travellers around the world in a way that allows them to be in good shape to do business – in the most convenient and safe way to support the purpose of the trip. It is not about driving down cost. It focuses on what the company defines as reasonable, and cost efficiencies are driven from that platform.

To ensure policy is fit for purpose, organisations need to consult the people it impacts on; that is really important for its success. A recent Forbes article listed the top eight reasons why employees leave companies. Three of these are: too many rules that were not sensible, not recognising employees’ accomplishments and not caring about people. This is all about work/life balance and contributes significantly to burnout. A travel policy addresses those points because of its impact on employees. That is why it is so important for everybody to be consulted, and even more important for organisations to act on what has been said. If it is not followed through, people get disenfranchised and frustrated.

Travellers who feel they have direct influence on policy have a sense of ownership; they become ambassadors and that boosts compliance levels. To steer a balance between a B2B and B2C relationships, travel managers need to understand the relationship between employee and suppliers – and the employee needs to understand the corporate relationship with suppliers.

In my experience, employees want to do the right thing for the company because their career destiny is linked to that of the organisation, so being able to articulate to travellers why decisions have been made is really important. Knowing why travellers do not want to support the suppliers of choice also helps with compliance – there is always a reason. If you achieve that then the B2C balance is less of a challenge. Communication takes resource and focus, and is not to be underestimated. Some of the bigger firms have impressive engagement strategies and use technology such as Salesforce Chatter, closed groups on Facebook and their own platforms.

They make it easy for the travelling community to interact with the travel team and with each other, so they can share experiences and findings as they move around the globe; and the travel team has an effective channel for communicating updates to policy and other new information. This keeps the programme alive and gives travel a profile within the organisation, which in turn helps with compliance. The easiest analogy is to suggest you treat travellers like your clients and make it easy for them to do business with you.

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