Travel Buyer Q&A: Kevin Swindells, Royal Mail Group

Bob Papworth talks to Royal Mail Group’s senior procurement manager, business services – and 2017’s Travel Buyer of the Year

How long have you been in your current position, and what has been your career path to date?
I have been with Royal Mail since 2010, and have held my current position as senior procurement manager in business services for the last five years, adding travel and events to my portfolio in 2014. Prior to joining Royal Mail I spent 18 years in consulting for top flight international management consultancies across a broad range of industries, and five years in line roles with blue chip companies.

Tell us about your travel policy
Our travel policy is reviewed regularly. We operate a one-size-fits-all programme from our management, through to our front-line delivery teams. The travel policy is available via our intranet, is communicated to all new starters on joining the company, and is mandated across the company. 

What is your approach to the so-called sharing economy?
This evolving trend is something that no travel manager can ignore and, like my peers in other large organisations, I am looking at how RMG can support our travellers and meet their needs while retaining control over spend, management information, quality, and security of travel.

To what extent does traveller feedback influence RMG’s policy?
Myself and the team take feedback from our travellers seriously, and always make sure that any feedback received is evaluated thoroughly, and any potential for improvements in the programme is addressed promptly. 

How ‘green’ is RMG’s travel?
I review monthly and year-to-date the carbon footprint of our travel, and compare our travel against generic and anonymised data to see how we compare with our peers. We have good policy compliance, use greener travel options (rail over air or road), and have over the last four years been reducing our travel needs by using available technology for meetings rather than face to face.

In your current role, what do you see as the greatest travel challenges – and opportunities – confronting you?
Our biggest challenge is getting travellers to book their travel arrangements further in advance, rather than leaving it to the last minute. The difference in cost and availability by booking rail, air or hotel requirements over seven days in advance can have a material impact on annual travel spend. While this advance booking is not always possible in fast-moving businesses, in the vast majority of cases people’s travel is planned weeks in advance, and if the travel is booked at that time the impact on cost and availability can be significant.

What about the challenges facing the sector?
The biggest challenge I see for corporate travel is to provide travellers with a joined-up, mobile app-based booking and information system that the tech-savvy travellers of today expect. Today we live our lives via our mobile technology, but despite huge investment by the travel industry we still don’t yet have a single joined-up mobile solution for rail, air, and hotel booking that provides on-the-go updates and full-trip visibility, together with detailed MI for the back office.

There are notable exceptions of single applications that do provide punch-outs to other providers so can consolidate the information, but the traveller has several different user experiences to contend with to achieve a single trip. Likewise, the leading TMCs are making huge inroads into developments in mobile technology, but as yet there is not a seamless single solution for our travellers. Whoever solves this problem first will set the minimum standard for everyone else to achieve.

How did you feel after being named 2017’s Travel Buyer of the Year?
Receiving the award was a great achievement given the competition we were up against, but was only down to the fantastic support I had from our business travellers around the company and the excellent relationships we have built with our preferred hotels, rail operators, airlines and our travel management company, Capita. I’m always astonished at how positively our travellers and travel partners respond to changes to policy and programme that I propose.

Having good ideas is one thing, but having a supportive team that can deliver solutions against those ideas is the most rewarding part of the role. It’s those solutions to problems that the judges voted for, and where my focus continues in 2017.

When the working week is over, how do you like to relax?
I’m a great fan of the theatre in London, we’re so lucky to have so many great shows available to us. I also enjoy good food, and living in the centre of London I find lots of opportunities to indulge both of those passions. I’ve also recently taken up golf, so that should take up any residual spare time I have (particularly judging by my first few outings!).  

Royal Mail Group
The Royal Mail Group traces its history back to 1516, when Henry VIII appointed the first ‘Master of the Posts’. Today’s company employs more than 160,000 staff and has reported 2016 pre-tax profits of £335 million.

Enter the Travel Buyer of the Year category in the 2018 Business Travel Awards


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