Travel buyers and experts gathered at the Grange City hotel last week for the autumn BBT Forum, where the theme was ‘Creating a travel programme to drive efficiency’
In a changing landscape of technology, budget constraints and duty of care, travel managers have taken on even more responsibility for making sure their company’s programme is running as efficiently as possible. However, an experienced travel manager pointed out that it’s important to remember the end user when developing strategies.
“A key focus when I was putting together my company’s travel policy was staff retention and engagement,” she said. “My team sat down with stakeholders from each department to ensure we were on the right track. These days, we communicate with employees through Sharepoint, Yammer, emails and corporate communications. A few years on, we have high compliance and staff members are happy to stay on policy, which helps us maintain duty of care. We’re transparent with our data, which shows travellers how their behaviour affects the company.”
Engaging to optimise
The human element was a common point of discussion throughout the day, with the first session moderated by BBT editor Paul Revel focusing on how to influence behaviour to optimise your travel policy. Revel asked a panel of buyers and travellers if they felt behavioural science could really help travel managers.
One buyer who had implemented behavioural practices said: “You can’t start implementing new technology solutions until your policy is at the right stage, and engaging your travellers in the correct way is essential to reaching that point. Make sure you’re sending out the right message; your ‘nudge’ has to be positive for the traveller rather than purely focusing on compliance.”
Frequent traveller and UK recruitment & resourcing manager at Turner and Townsend, Jonathan Cohen, commented that although he understands businesses have to keep costs down, he believes managers should consult with staff before implementing policy changes. He pointed out that purely making decisions based on cost can sometimes be detrimental to productivity, mentioning a specific scenario in which he had to explain that booking late flights meant he would be less effective at early morning meetings.
Donna Miller, HR director for Enterprise Rent-a-Car's European operations, agreed, adding that it can be fine for businesses to prioritise savings when booking trips for those who only travel once in a while, but ‘road warriors’ need to be treated better. “If your policy means their personal life is impacted, they’ll leave. Everyone wants to do their best, and sometimes that involves spending a bit more to ensure they can do that.”
Operational efficiency through tech
The second session moderated by Douglas Green, MD of HRS UK & Ireland, moved on to technology as a driving force for efficiency, but it started out with a warning for travel managers.
“Perhaps we need to stop layering technology as a solution to our problems,” said Johanne Young, director of Opteva. “It’s time we take a step back to try to understand the end-to-end travel process and find vendors that fit our company culture. If you’re not utilising technology efficiently, it’s pointless.”
Alain van West from Concur argued that it doesn’t really matter which tech is being used, so long as travel managers can retrieve data and use it to make informed decisions. He said there’s too much emphasis on changing traveller behaviour rather than embracing the technology they use and finding a way to integrate it into policies.
Nour Mouakke, CEO of Wizme, added that technology can offer a wealth of benefits in terms of data. “So many bookings are still being made offline, which limits the kind of information you can collect. I don’t really get why there’s such a disconnect between personal tech and business tech.”
Green pointed to HRS research, which showed travel managers want to prioritise simplification but face challenges in execution. Young commented that pre-trip processes might be getting in the way of implementation. She recommended speaking to travellers to find out why they do what they do and how technology might be able to make the process easier on them.
Is a Millennial revolution affecting the travel landscape? Mouakke said it definitely is, as evidenced by the fact that travel managers have started considering the traveller experience when developing or changing their policy.
The day finished with a discussion of control and oversight efficiency in international policies moderated by consultant Chris Pouney. Tony McGetrick, director of sales and marketing, UK & Ireland at BCD Travel, said the business travel industry is complex enough in a single market, let alone companies that operate in multiple countries.
Ajay Thakkar, director of sales and account management at Travelport, brought the discussion back to technology, saying companies should look at tech solutions that may be able to help them streamline processes across multiple offices.
Adrian Steele, marketing director at Diners Club, said one way to simplify processes is to look at streamlining the transfer of money, to which Ian Blackie, director of sales and account management at HRS, added that travellers are more likely to comply with policy if they don’t have to spend their own money and fill out expense forms.
One buyer pointed out that a centralised payment system would be the perfect solution if only more suppliers were able to accept virtual solutions. McGetrick agreed, saying while companies might be able to implement such solutions in one market, another might face problems when dealing with hotels and other suppliers. He hinted that travel managers might have to start fresh in each market since each office will have its own ideas and needs.
A buyer asked the panel how technology partners can help them ensure they’re getting the rates they’ve agreed with hotels. Blackie said HRS follows up with each supplier that doesn’t feed the correct rates, while another buyer said audits go a long way to driving compliance and efficiency.
Pouney then asked if there are specific challenges involved with consolidating to a single payment solution. Steele commented: “If you bang your head against the wall long enough, it stops hurting, so while making changes can be difficult, it’s necessary to make things better.”
But virtual payment solutions may be a long way off in some markets, as McGetrick pointed out that hotels in the US still don’t understand the bill-back process and insist on taking physical payment from travellers when they check out. Thakkar said he’s also experienced issues with airlines, having been refused boarding because he didn’t have a copy of the card used to book the tickets.
When asked about future technology, McGetrick said he believes blockchain will have a huge impact on the travel industry and provides positive opportunities for data collection. “With blockchain, you own your data and can decide who can access it,” he said. “It offers more security for travellers and businesses compared to today, when your data sits within someone else’s system, which could be hacked.”
The forum ended with an opportunity for buyers to ask questions, and the general consensus of the discussion was that technology is the way forward when it comes to streamlining policies and developing an efficient travel programme. However, one buyer pointed out that no matter the solution, programme managers need to keep duty of care in mind and involve their travellers in every decision they make.
The BBT Forum was supported by ACTE and sponsored by Concur, Diners Club International, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Grange Hotels, HRS and Lufthansa.