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BBT July/August 2018
July/August 2018
For Business, Corporate Travel & Meeting Buyers & Arrangers

Mystery buyer: recognise our value

IT’S THAT TIME WHEN WE ARE SUPPOSED TO HAVE MADE New Year resolutions, and I’d like corporates the world over to make 2017 the year when they recognise the role that travel managers play and, more importantly, recognise that role.

I would love to have us accepted as a trusted and acknowledged job ‘family’ within our own industries, one that is not only heavily influencing bottom-line savings but also acting as a major talent pool and magnet. We don’t do this as a hobby, but have become real multi-disciplinary experts, and to have that acknowledged would be a real gift. We want to be able to stop having to explain what a travel manager does, and to be recognised for what we can do.

But there’s only so much we can do. We try to control and even reduce those costs, using more efficient booking technologies and encouraging advance bookings, for example, but it’s still a cost, and always will be.


And ‘cost’, to a finance director, is like a red rag to a bull: “Why are we spending all this money?” I’d love to be able to tell you why, but in my position I’m not always in pos­session of all the facts. My job is to ‘facili­tate’ travel – but that’s only one side of the story. I don’t necessarily know the value of a trip to New York. I have to assume that the traveller has a good reason for going, since the trip has been authorised by a line manager. My job, surely, is to make sure that the trip goes smoothly, and at the low­est possible cost to the company.

Is it my job to know what the return on that investment might be? If it is, am I in a position to refuse to book the tickets if I don’t believe the benefit will outweigh the expense? Of course not. In my case, a lot of our trips are for ‘internal’ meetings. How many of these meetings are simply scheduled on a regular basis regardless of whether there is anything to discuss?

Again, I don’t know. If one of my travellers insists they have to go to Amsterdam for a conference, is it my job to question the value of their attendance? Or to ask whether the trip is necessary in the first place?

Of course, we need to have face-to-face contact with our customers and suppliers, but how frequently does that contact need to be made? Monthly? Quarterly? I don’t know. And of course we need to explore new business opportunities, but is this a hot prospect or a shot in the dark? I don’t know.


Given that it’s my job to ensure that trips go smoothly, I am actually making business travel a relatively pleasurable experience. As a result, some travellers may actually look forward to a few days out of the office. Is your trip really necessary, or just a break from routine with only a minimal business purpose? Again, I don’t know.

All the way down the line, I have to work on the basis that the traveller has justified the reason for the trip, and a manager has accepted that justification and au­thorised the trip. I don’t believe it is cur­rently part of my role to challenge that, but I do think that it could be – and possibly should be.

We see all kinds of facts and figures about T&E spend, and endless surveys of traveller satisfaction, but where is the analysis of business travel productivity? An employee travels to Berlin four times a year – I can show you the cost, but I can’t show you the benefit, because that information isn’t readily available to me. Is this traveller getting ever closer to a mega-deal in Berlin? Yet again, I don’t know!

Travel managers are often asked about how they communicate travel policies to their travellers, and there are seemingly endless instances of failure at board level to appreciate what we do. I would venture to suggest that we could play a much bigger, and much more cost-effective, role.

The key, as always, is communication – up to board level, and down to our travellers. This is what we do, and this is what we could do. In 2017, let’s make it happen.

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