Alex Blyth talks to Mark Payne, travel and office services manager at Santander Global Facilities, and named Travel Buyer of the Year at the Business Travel Awards 2013
Have you always worked in corporate buying?
Not at all – I’ve been in the travel industry for more than 20 years, and for the first half I worked as an account manager with various travel management companies [TMCs] like Expedia and BCD. I joined Santander UK in May 2009.
What attracted you to the role at Santander?
It was a new role within the Santander Global Facilities team and so it gave me an opportunity to use my knowledge and, ultimately, to make the role my own.
What is the greatest challenge you face in your current role, and how are you dealing with it?
The various business units across the company have different cultures and widely varying expectations. It does lead to some non-compliance but we know we have to keep an open mind and be flexible.
What is the best thing about your job?
We’re not here to make travelling difficult – we’re here to make it the best experience possible for the traveller, while ensuring that they spend money wisely. It is immensely rewarding when we have made a visible difference to the business’s bottom line but also get direct feedback from travellers that their experiences have been positive. It’s not always easy to achieve that outcome, but hard work and perseverance really do pay off.
What would you say have been your greatest achievements in the role so far?
Control and travel policy compliance had not been managed effectively in the past at Santander, and this led to increased costs within the business, many of which were avoidable. My primary role has been to tighten up these areas and give the control back to the business by setting clear objectives.
I defined these as being to cut costs and to improve the user experience for Santander’s bookers and travellers through partnership with our travel suppliers. I have been able to make changes, especially in the last 18-24 months, which are delivering tangible results in all areas.
How has travel at Santander been affected by the squeeze in the financial sector?
It hasn’t made a noticeable impact. Our business profile has changed from being domestic to global and we’ve been bucking the trend in many ways. We already had the processes and suppliers in place to allow us to make smarter purchasing decisions. Policy compliance, authorisation and effective travel programmes have meant that we were already focused on cost and efficiency.
How has the role of the travel manager changed since you entered the industry, and how do you see it changing in the years ahead?
Gone are the days of simply achieving the best fare or room rate. The introduction of the Corporate Manslaughter [and Corporate Homicide] Act made it more important than ever to get maximum compliance and ensure duty of care to our travellers.
Technology has created a double edged sword: while policy control, pre-authorisation and bespoke reporting are a travel manager’s dream, we have to work harder to counter the ease of booking directly through mobile.
Looking to the future, I think we need to begin recognising that travel is far from just a ticket – it’s about the total journey and the cost of everything associated with it, from wifi to a cup of coffee. In the same way, it’s about the traveller’s experience from booking the travel, leaving the front door, getting home, expense claims and every touch-point in between.
You mention the role of technology – can you tell us more about how technology is affecting the work you do?
Technology has had a massive impact. Prior to appointing Capita Travel and Events as our TMC, our service was almost entirely offline, but we knew that if we could shift activity online it would generate significant benefits. It would increase compliance and realise lower average transaction values. It would also give us greater control.
It was never going to be easy though. We needed to navigate internal Santander processes such as defining which employee grades would be entitled to use bill-back. We also needed to give all employees total confidence in using the online booking system.
How did you achieve that?
The emphasis was on keeping it simple, as we didn’t want to put our staff through a major training programme. We created a portal through which Santander employees are strongly encouraged to book all business travel and accommodation. Its functionality is consistent with the Santander brand and other internal systems. The travel portal was integrated with the Santander intranet, and is directly accessible to the bank’s employees. Online adoption jumped from 4 per cent to over 75 per cent in just a couple of months, which far exceeded our expectations and targets.
What’s your view on the ‘unmanaged travel’ concept?
I’m not a fan. If an organisation has a programme and policies in place, they are there for good reasons, whether that’s duty of care, total cost savings or consolidation of spend for benchmarking and future negotiation. My preference is engagement with stakeholders and education around these goals with the benefits to the business and travellers from booking within policy – and this is possible. It’s not realistic to expect 100 per cent compliance, but we do achieve high compliance and online adoption through working with our agency and all of our stakeholders.
You are Buying Business Travel’s current Travel Buyer of the Year – what effect did winning the award have on you?
To be recognised for my drive and determination to deliver process and costs efficiencies, and cultural change for the benefit of my organisation is a real honour. The total savings and cost avoidance demonstrated within my first nine months in the role was in excess of £2 million, but it was a team effort.
Winning the award has certainly built my profile within the industry. I was already a member of associations such as ITM and regularly attended industry and networking events, but I’ve been able to take a more active role, and offer my support and that of our organisation to other travel and meetings buyers.
What about the Business Travel Awards ceremony itself – fun or terrifying?
I can’t remember the last time I was that nervous! I suppose that shows how much it meant to me.