In the current business climate companies are looking to reduce costs wherever they can, says Tricia Holly Davis - and there's a burgeoning range of travel management tools on hand to help
Over the past decade, corporate travel buyers and managers have come to rely on a host of technological solutions to give them better control over their travel programmes.
The increased use of online self-booking tools (SBTs), expense reporting and reimbursement solutions have led to improved process efficiencies and compliance with travel policy, resulting in significant direct and indirect cost savings. Travellers, too, have benefited from more choice, fewer booking headaches, and more accurate and timely reimbursement.
Today, in the face of an economic recession, companies are increasingly looking to self-booking and expense management tools to help them reduce non-essential travel and curb costs wherever possible.
"In the current economic climate it is essential for companies to know how effective or not their travel programme is so they can cut costs and identify potential savings," observes Nigel Turner, director of public sector and industry affairs, UK, for Carlson Wagonlit Travel.
Frank Palapies, head of global commercial operations for Amadeus, believes the credit crunch is the primary driver behind increased corporate demand for tools that improve efficiencies. Speaking to Buying Business Travel in early December, Palapies said that, in the previous couple of weeks, Amadeus had seen a 100 per cent increase in demand for integration tools that link booking and expense systems.
A recent survey of global senior finance executives conducted by Amadeus in June confirmed that companies view travel management primarily through a cost-control lens. However, the majority of respondents admit their companies are not taking advantage of today's technology. For example, while 60 per cent of the 120 respondents believed that managing travel costs is very important, under half thought their companies are managing them well.
And despite its perceived importance, finance executives say that travel cost management has, as yet, made a minimal contribution to overall cost management at their companies.
While integration may be the Holy Grail, most companies are far from achieving it - nearly three-quarters of survey respondents thought that integrating travel management systems with expense management systems is important, but less than 20 per cent have a "highly integrated" solution.
Although managing costs is the primary motivator for companies to invest in travel management solutions, it is not the only consideration. As environmental concerns have moved up the corporate agenda, travel management tools are increasingly used to help companies measure and track the carbon footprint of their operations and that of their suppliers.
For larger companies, such as Swiss Re, greening their operations goes hand-in-hand with reducing costs.
The bank plans to link a reduction in CO2 emissions to a reduction in travel spend, with a target of cutting emissions by 25 per cent in 2009.
Travel managers equally rely on these tools to stay abreast of global security threats and keep precise tabs on travellers' whereabouts, enabling employers to alert staff of potential dangers and contact them in the event of a natural catastrophe or terrorist attack, such as the recent raid on Mumbai.
- Advito CSR Toolkit
A 'how-to' on responsible travel management that outlines a fi ve-step implementation plan, starting with the analysis of goals, infrastructure, stakeholders and carbon footprints, then offering practical tools to support implementation. These include guides to supporting demand management through virtual meetings, achieving sustainable travel procurement, offsetting emissions and addressing travel risk management and duty of care. There are also best practice examples of companies that have successfully integrated responsible travel management into their end-to-end process.
- American Express@Work
An online reporting tool providing access to management information reports correlating to corporate card statements. Users can sort and filter reports against specific metrics, review and report on card data that is updated daily and access regional and global data. Reports can be viewed and searched online and downloaded. Last year, Amex launched an enhanced version of the tool, called American Express AXIS@Work, which unifies information from 60 global business markets to present corporate travel purchasers and managers with centralised, online access to travel spend data.
- BCD TripSource: NetSearch
This tool integrates web-only fares into clients' managed travel programmes via the agent's desktop environment. The tool enables greater productivity by reducing the time travellers and travel arrangers spend searching for fare quotes from multiple sources. The search and purchase functionalities deliver help to meet policy compliance and savings objectives. Clients can also take advantage of DecisionSource, which delivers managed travel data throughout the reservation lifecycle.
- BCD TripSource: Profile Manager
This is a web-based, automated traveller profile system that is fully synchronised with the client's reservation system, online booking tool and other data sources. The tool won the annual Innovation Award at the 2008 Business Travel Show in Dubai.
- Concur Cliqbook/Travel & Expense
This tool links the SBT with an expense solution to provide a fully integrated T&E solution. It provides detailed itinerary data captured at the time of booking, and reconciles the information with corporate card and direct supplier charges incurred during the trip.
- CWT Diagnostic Tool
A benchmarking tool for the travel and account manager (aka programme manager). Benchmarks compliance to policy, hotel programmes and so on, and produces recommendations to improve travel programmes.
- CWT Listens
A new tool that generates a survey when travellers make a booking, with the aim of improving service and encouraging adoption.
- CWT Programme Management Centre
A tool which uses a 'traffic light' report which can be edited and houses customisable metrics, such as how many travellers book online and in advance, providing travel managers with online adoption statistics. It also enables managers to track travellers' whereabouts and carbon emissions. The tool can be linked to a firm's expense management system and e-procurement tools.
- CWT Savings Calculator
A simpler version of the diagnostic tool that generates monetary savings, especially useful for smaller customers.
- CWT Travel Portal
This is similar to above but is intended for both managers and travellers. It is a customisable portal that can be edited by the travel manager and acts as a communication tool, linking to documents and relevant websites. It also houses an online SBT and an online traveller profile tool.
- Amadeus e-Travel Management
This integrates the SBT with a company's back-office enterprise resource planning (ERP) system (e.g. SAP, Oracle), expense tool and human resources system, and provides travel profile synchronisation. The latest version includes a request feature, allowing travellers with mobility impairments to book special assistance, such as a wheelchair or guide, at the time of booking trips. Amadeus e-Travel Management version 12.0 offers an expanded choice of hotels and air fares. The SBT shows Premium Economy class fares in a single view display; the Best Available Rate Hotel Indicator lists 50,000 hotels participating in the Amadeus Best Available Rate programme; and 'Passenger type' discounted fares lets travellers select a 'passenger type' where they qualify for a discounted fare.
An internet-based self-booking rail tool created specifically for travel management companies (TMCs). Offers agents the ability to book rail reservations online and generate tickets. The tool is fully customisable, allowing TMCs to reflect their individual customers' travel policies, and provides online MI on each transaction. The cost centre validation functionality enables agents to upload a cost centre validation table on a per corporate customer basis, validates the information entered by the booker against the table stored in the system and prevents the booker from proceeding through the booking process if incorrect data is entered.
- GetThere PNR Acquisition
This can be used for trips booked offline and online. It collates online and offline trip information and matches it against TMC bookings and automatically updates travellers' 'my trip' section.
- GetThere Travel Arranger
A new tool specifi cally for traveller arrangers, such as PAs, allowing them to act as an informal travel agent. They can select a top 10 of travellers, then track where they are going on a calendar, view what they booked, and see whether bookings or reservations are on hold. The tool also alerts travel arrangers if travellers' passports or credit cards are about to expire.
- GetThere Green
A tool that can integrate with a company's carbon calculator and link to all hotel, air and car reservations - this can then allow travel managers to recommend a rail trip over air, for example. Hotel indicators let travellers know which hotels have passed the 'green' test, while a dynamic messaging capability lets them know where to take public transport rather than hire a car or even where to hire a bike. Results for rail also show up alongside air in the booking process.
- Sabre Traveller Security and Data Suite (TSDS)
Launched last year, TSDS enables travel managers to track travellers' whereabouts and tap into individual traveller profiles. It can be implemented with the GetThere booking tool.
Thetrainline.com offers online reservations to all major UK rail operators, including Eurostar, as well as major hotel chains. There is a corporate expense tool, which provides detailed management information, and a carbon calculator, which allows travellers or travel arrangers to compare how many carbon miles they have saved by booking a rail trip versus travelling by car. Business travellers spent £1.3 billion on rail travel last year. Those that booked on the Thetrainline.com website saved an average of 39 per cent compared to buying their rail ticket at the station.
- KDS Corporate
This tool combines back-end expense and front-end pre-approved travel, reconciling credit card charges with pre-authorised trip expenses and automatically queries discrepancies. Travel arrangers can configure the system to favour preferred suppliers, such as displaying an airline exclusively on specific routes, and it can track rules such as class of service for which a pre-defined category of travellers are allowed to fly. KDS estimates the cost for an online booked reservation is as much as 50 per cent lower than an agency assisted reservation.