Guest column: Cooking up the perfect business trip

Chris Baker, SVP and MD EMEA North, and Dafydd Llewellyn, MD UK SMB, from SAP Concur give BBT the winning recipe for ensuring travellers have a successful business trip

For the uninitiated, looking after travel for a business doesn’t seem to be hugely stressful. Yes, you need to make sure that employees are safe and happy but, apart from that, it’s just arranging transport and accommodation isn’t it?

For those in the catering business, people often have similar comments: ‘oh, I’ve made that that dish before’; ‘it’s nice cooking for people’; ‘cooking and washing up doesn’t seem too difficult really’.

What unites these two disparate jobs is the fact that there is a great deal more happening under the surface that the average worker doesn’t realise. In fact, whether you are a travel manager or are a caterer, there are dozens of smaller but important steps that need to be taken.

The role of a travel manager
For those working in travel – whether they are specialists or someone who has been tasked with looking after the role – it can sometimes appear overwhelming – and when a task feels over-complicated, that’s when corners may be cut. Consider budget sign-off, dates and times to be negotiated with the person being met, the type of travel (how economical/environmentally friendly/safe is it?), the type of accommodation, compliance to company travel policy, ensuring a full duty of care programme, tax, visas and VAT issues. The simple business trip is never that simple.

Of course, it is also worth bearing in mind the fact that, for smaller businesses, they may not have a dedicated travel manager – instead, someone who wears many different hats will have to learn the role and oversee travel. Even more so for people in this scenario, clarity as to what business travel entails is important.

So how can this be approached in a way that doesn’t burn out travel managers and lead to issues arising from a trip? This is where considering the analogy of catering for a private dinner party can help to break down the trip into manageable chunks.

Firstly, you need to do your preparation – sorting the recipe, getting ingredients and arranging any equipment. Second is the cooking itself, which needs a constant, careful eye. Lastly, like it or not, is where the washing up, reorganising and payment takes place.

From the catering truck to the Ritz
In regards to travel management, the second major point that is often forgotten about is just how universal it is. From a microbusiness of five people through to an international organisation of thousands, many people – including those working in the space – are amazed by how little changes in travel organisation and structure between SMBs and multi-nationals. Budgeting, duty of care, data visibility, compliance; these are all areas that are universal and need to be addressed.

The only difference is that at enterprise-level, these areas are being addressed at a larger scale and sometimes with more advanced technologies. Think of a professional chef cooking at someone’s home for a private event versus the same chef cooking in a professional restaurant’s kitchen. You still need to prepare, cook and tidy away – all with the same high standards – just in different settings and on a different scale.

Breaking the trip down
So, in order to have a clear idea of the trip and the various stages that need to be brought together, the overall task needs to be split into the following three stages:

Pre-trip: The preparation for your meal. You need to pick a recipe, make sure you’ve got the correct tools at hand and source all of your ingredients. At this stage, business travel managers need to start with signing off the trip. Is it needed, does it fit within budget and do the timings work for the wider team? Once this has been agreed, rates are very important to address. Corporate rates are often in play with certain brands, so visibility of these in the booking process will be important.

In fact, data visibility makes up a great deal of the preparation stage, as bookings are often made out of official channels – and without being able to see this, the process will suffer. Any issues regarding visas and days of entry to countries will also need to be planned ahead for.

During the trip: Cooking the meal to the guests’ requirements and presenting this to them. During the trip, communication with the traveller is vital. Duty of care is a huge component so visibility into the wellbeing and whereabouts of the traveller should be prioritised. This can come down to small change in guidance and policy, such as requesting travellers use trackable automotive apps such as Uber, to ensure that they don’t fall into the well-known black hole between their flight and arriving at their accommodation.

There also needs to be clear lines of communication with the traveller – delays and cancellations need to be relayed, tips to aid productivity (you have access to this airport lounge, your hotel will take 45 minutes to reach, etc) shared and emergency messaging and location for duty of care available.

Post-trip: Finishing up; clearing up the trip, washing up and ensuring that everything is put back where it should be. Some of the most important work from a travel manager’s side will come after the trip has concluded. Expenses, regardless of whether they have been submitted during or post-trip, will need to be audited and signed off. These will then need to be reimbursed. There will need to be checks on possible VAT reclamation and the tax that may be due from crossing and working in different countries. Again, having visibility into the traveller’s data is imperative to ensuring that all lose ends have been tied up.

The perfect dish
Throughout the stages of arranging a business trip, there is one thread that runs as a constant: data. Without visibility of this information and the right tools to capture and analyse it, duty of care, expenditure and legal matters will all be much more difficult to sort. Think about trying to cook that meal with the recipe and key equipment missing.

But if the data is available and travel managers have this visibility, breaking the trip into stages can then help bring clarity to the job too. Bon appetit!

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