Travel Buyer Q&A: Alan Ryan, SITA

Bob Papworth talks to the regional travel manager EMEA at SITA, and judge for the 2018 Business Travel Awards

How many frequent travellers come under your aegis, how many trips do you manage, and where are your travellers going?
SITA has 2,400 regular travellers making 15,000 trips per annum, with 96 per cent of those trips in economy. Our main destinations are Geneva, London, Atlanta and Singapore.

SITA is, in effect, a membership organisation with around 400 owner/members around the world. From a travel management perspective, what challenges does this present?
SITA operates as a global organisation throughout its business streams in the same way as PLCs and other multinational organisations operate. In terms of travel policy, etc, we have one global policy and one travel process across all countries that apply to all travellers. From a travel management perspective, this provides consistency and clarity to all – travellers and suppliers.

What are the basics of your travel policy and is it mandated? How do you communicate it, and what sort of compliance levels do you achieve?
SITA operates a ‘lowest fare on the day’ policy alongside a pre-trip approval process. This is combined with a managed global hotel programme. The policy is communicated to staff through an intranet page with new entrants being provided with copies of the travel policy during their initial induction. Our pre-trip approval process provides the basis for compliance reporting for both air and hotel programmes.

How frequently do you review your policy, and to what extent are you influenced by traveller feedback? Is ‘price vs productivity’ an issue?
Travel policy is reviewed on an annual basis considering any developments in the marketplace and travellers’ comments provided in our annual survey. Price versus productivity is a question posed by many, and we provide guidance in that travellers should use a schedule that maximises value for them and the business. Where the lowest fare on the day is not accepted, travellers must provide justification for the selected schedule so the approver can understand or challenge the trip.

How long have you been in your current role?
I started my career in banking with Midland Bank (now HSBC), and through a chain of events moved across into procurement with BP covering a multitude of spend categories, including travel for the UK and Europe. As consolidation progressed and travel was identified as a global category, I had the opportunity to move into travel management looking after operational and procurement activities.

In your current role, what would you say have been your greatest achievements to date, and what have been the biggest challenges? Looking to the future, what’s next on your agenda?
It’s been exciting in SITA throughout my time here. We have moved from a relatively localised travel programme to a globally managed one, which although challenging to implement, has been rewarding in its success. Next on our agenda is implementing an online booking tool in our top operating countries.

In general terms, how has the corporate travel manager’s role changed in recent years? What does the future look like?
A travel manager’s role is now accepted by many organisations as an integral part of managing third-party spend through a strategic approach to travel, incorporating all aspects from travel policy, to negotiating with suppliers, to the booking process, travel safety and security, and expense management. It is a long way from its formative years when it was considered an unmanageable spend category and provided little value. In the future, I suspect that travel management will continue to be as strong as it is today so it is always going to be a great area to work in.

To what extent do travel managers share ‘best practice’?
Sharing ‘best practice’ is one of the things that travel management/procurement, I believe, does better than most other third-party spend categories. I continue to do that within my network of contacts. It is important to understand how other companies manage travel and the issues they encounter in managing their programmes.

What advice would you give to a new entrant to the travel management sector?
I would encourage them to embrace travel by getting to know the industry as much as they can, by joining the travel organisations and participating in all the sessions to gain an understanding of all the various travel sub categories.

What are your outside interests? Come the weekend, what will you be doing?
I like to play golf, watch live music and go to sporting events. I might put my feet up this weekend – it’s been a busy week!

SITA says it is the world’s leading air transport IT and comms specialist. It is co-owned by some 400 air transport firms, and has around 4,700 employees speaking 60-plus languages serving 2,800 corporate customers in more than 200 countries. 

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