Buyers guide: how to run an effective non-profit accommodation programme

How does a non-profit organisation run an effective accommodation programme? Our travel buyer talks us through his programme, and explains how an ethos of ‘doing what’s right’ can help compliance

ROD RICHARDSON HAS BEEN TRAVEL MANAGER for biomedical research charity the Wellcome Trust for ten years. The London-based organisation provides more than £800 million a year in funding to a wide range of healthcare projects and initiatives around the world.

“We have around 650 travellers based in the UK, plus a large number of inbound travellers from across the world to attend meetings and conferences,” Richardson says. “The hotel programme is largely UK based and I manage it with our HBA [hotel booking agent] HRS.”

GREATEST FLEXIBILITY, try to blend negotiated rates and best-on-the-day. I have a number of hotels, mainly in the London area, for which I have nego­tiated rates. But where we don’t have the volume for that, we have best-on-the-day, which we purchase via HRS. There will always be occasions when you will find a rate on offer at one of your preferred hotels. Ask them how they feel about you using the lower rate. I find they are fine about it – that comes down to the rela­tionship. Our travellers do not have a self-booking tool for accommodation – my team books and pays for all hotels, with about 80 per cent going through HRS and the rest via the global distribu­tion system or online directly.

COMBINE YOUR HOTEL AND MEETINGS SPEND. Most of our conferences and events team’s spend comes through my team, so that we can combine our meetings accommodation with day-to-day business use in negotiations. Any hotels you use should be keen to provide a good group rate to attract business. Our properties add our event figures into my overall spend for the year when it comes to negotiating business. It works very well.

MONITOR COMPLIANCE. It helps that we don’t offer a self-booking process to travellers for hotels, but we do have a bit of leakage – for example, if someone is attending a conference on a package that includes accommoda­tion. I am provided with a monthly report that details all leaked spend. Controlling hotels is notoriously diffi­cult and there will always be an element of leakage.

MANDATE WHERE YOU HAVE PREFERRED RATES and where you don’t, and cap spend according to the destination. The Wellcome Trust has a value-based travel policy and our travellers can manage their budget the way they want. If someone chooses a higher rate, it would just be recorded on an exception report. Value comes into it because, as an em­ployee of the Wellcome Trust, we expect people to think about what is right for the organisation. We have the ‘red-face test’: employees ask themselves, if this expenditure was made known to my colleagues, would I be red-faced about the costs? If the answer is yes, then maybe they should think about whether it’s the right thing to do. It works: we introduced that a year ago and our compliance levels are still in the 90s.

CONSTRUCT YOUR POLICY AROUND YOUR BUSINESS NEEDS and communicate changes. A lot of corporates have had issues concerning Airbnb because of the lack of duty-of-care. We have adjusted policy by including serviced apartments for the first time this year to capture the Airbnb spend. We tell travel­lers that as an alternative to Airbnb, we can offer you a great serviced apartments company and we will book it for you and pay for it on your behalf.

LOYALTY PROGRAMMES CAN BE USED TO INCREASE COM­PLIANCE. At the moment, we have a corporate loyalty scheme for air travel but not hotels. We are looking into a corporate hotel scheme and will roll it out to staff that stay at hotels within the programme.

MI [MANAGEMENT INFORMA­TION] IS ESSENTIAL and should be supplied by your travel management company and/or HBA. We get great MI from HRS and from Airplus, our card company. We channel all hotel spend through the card and capture lots of rich data from that one statement and can drill down into any invoices.

WORK WITH YOUR AGENCY SUPPLIERS TO NEGOTIATE RATES – they should be able to leverage their spend on your behalf. My HRS account manager used HRS’s buying power to get some of my rates down. As our programme stands now, it is very healthy and contains something for everybody. Do not add too many properties, because you risk spread­ing the programme too thinly.

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