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March April 2017
For Business, Corporate Travel & Meeting Buyers & Arrangers

Travel buyer Q&A: Sarah Marshall, DAI Europe

International development company DAI Europe’s travel and security manager talks to Bob Papworth about the challenges and rewards of her role...

DAI is currently active in around 50 countries – could you describe its travel patterns?

Patterns change on a monthly basis, de­pending on project and business develop­ment requirements – our top destinations last year included Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Abuja, Lusaka, Accra and Freetown.

How many trips do you deal with in an average year?

On average 1,500 trips – either arranged through DAI’s excellent and patient travel administrator via our TMC’s [travel manage­ment company’s] branch office, or travellers using our TMC’s online booking tool.

Do your travellers understand the importance of your travel programme?

DAI’s travel department arranges travel for all levels within the business. It’s impor­tant they all receive the same high level of service and everyone is treated equally – everyone has different requirements and we try our best to accommodate them. As we manage government-funded develop­ment projects, it’s essential we have a streamlined, user-friendly booking process in place and everyone in the company at all levels appreciates we must get the best value for money from our travel budget.

DAI is involved in some of the world’s more challenging destina­tions – how easy is it to source reliable travel providers?

At times booking a suitable hotel in Brus­sels can prove a ‘challenge’. Up-to-date local knowledge is essential but I think the key is building relationships with an understanding and flexible TMC. Relation­ship building is important but takes time. Not everything can be booked via the GDS [global distribution system] – DAI’s TMC is always prepared to ‘think outside the box’ and pick up the phone to try and contact a small remote hotel to secure that last-minute hotel booking, even on a Friday afternoon.

Your role incorporates security as well as travel – which comes first?

Travel and security has to work hand-in-hand. The safety of our travellers is essential and we have lots of tried and tested processes in place to ensure this. Our travellers are sensible and understand they are also responsible for their own safety. It’s not my role to advise people not go somewhere but to highlight the risks and ensure the most appropriate decision is made about a potential trip.

How do you communicate with your travellers on aspects of security?

In my role I am part of DAI’s global security department, and we communicate with all travellers on a frequent basis via email, DAI’s portal, a travel-tracking system, SMS and regular staff talks on various security-related topics. Communication is not just about sending out alerts and information – it’s about being available to listen to travellers’ particular concerns and giving appropriate, tailored advice.

What aspects of your job do you find the most challenging and which are the most rewarding?

I enjoy the challenges of my job – but ask me the same question when I’m working with DAI’s visa agency to track down a last-minute, urgent visa! I like knowing that the support I provide travellers ensures they can conduct their assignments within budget, on time, and safely, and that the work they are doing can directly improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in some of the poorest countries in the world.

What was the career path that brought you to this role – was travel always in your blood?

I ended up in my current role more by luck than judgment – I started out as a travel administrator providing six-month maternity cover, booking a few flights a week, and my role has expanded with the business... and 15 years later I’m still here.

I can’t say working in travel was always in my blood, but there’s certainly never a dull moment – and paying my mortgage makes me happy!

Do you travel on business yourself? What is your favourite destination, and what’s on your ‘bucket list’?

As part of my security role, I have un­dertaken assignments in various project offices, which is a wonderful opportunity to understand DAI’s work and the chal­lenges in the field. Kenya was a particular highlight, but business travel can’t be confused with holiday travel. I hate the phrase ‘bucket list’ – it can apply too much pressure for something to be perfect. But, saying that, drinking an ice-cold beer in The Stage bar in Nashville gets pretty close to perfection...

DAI is an international development company working with governments and NGOs to tackle fundamental social and economic development problems – primarily, but not exclusively, in Africa and Asia. The company has 350 employees at its headquarters in Maryland, US, and additional offices in London and Brussels.

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