Ask travel managers about maverick travellers and everyone has a story to tell. It’s human nature to bend the rules, but for a few travellers defiance starts in pre-school and ends in belligerence in hotel bars. Typically, the industry is tight-lipped about these outliers.
“I have a few stories but none that would be suitable for sharing or that aren’t covered by contractual NDAs!” says one anonymous travel manager. It seems the most shocking stories of defiant travellers only come to light in a confessional, in confidence, or through the courts.
Take “Xavier X”, the married French businessman who had sex with a stranger on a business trip. Not so extraordinary… the only issue was he had a heart attack and died in the act. His company, a French engineering company, was held to be liable. It raised eyebrows in the global travel management community because it was deemed an “accident du travail”; yes, an accident at work!
His employers argued they weren’t accountable as Xavier was not even in the hotel room it had booked and he committed an adulterous act. The judges disagreed saying an employee on a work trip remains the responsibility of the employer, regardless of what the employee does during and after work hours.
It’s certainly had some managers scrambling to review their travel policies and think hard about such eventualities. “Within any policy there should be very clear guidelines on what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour,” explains Jo-Anne Lloyd, partner at Nina & Pinta.
“All organisations should ensure that workers are familiar with it. That way, they can at least demonstrate that they did everything within their duty-of-care to ensure that their employees are aware of the company policies and their own responsibilities.” she adds.
Like doctors, travel managers are in the business of diagnosing and dealing with maladies, albeit travel ones, offering up prescriptions, cures or even better preventative measures.
The proverbial medical bag isn’t full of stethoscopes or forceps but travel policies, booking tools and out-of-hours calls with TMCs. And as the case studies that Buying Business Travel can (legally) share, it’s essential for travel managers to stay one step ahead of their travellers.
The case: Repetitive cancellation syndrome
Our travel doctor: Jodie Edwards-Locke, managing director UK, TAG
We deal with one particular frequent flyer who often has to change his itinerary because he enjoys his trips so much; he keeps on missing flights. He’s more than a little reckless, shall we say.
On one occasion, this traveller’s flight was cancelled from Asia to London because of his activities. Flights were then rebooked. Crisis averted! Or so we thought. The traveller then missed the next rebooked flight, because he was distracted at the airport bar!
We then had to pacify him, as he suddenly realised he needed to be home for an anniversary. We booked him into an airport hotel for the evening while working on new flights. On waking the next morning, and because he doesn’t have the best memory, the traveller made his way to the airport without checking his emails, contacting his PA or our team first. He assumed he was on the first direct flight home with his preferred carrier. On finding he wasn’t, he contacted our team, and with much swearing and shouting, demanded to be booked on the next flight.
Once he was reminded that his TMC had attempted to get him home twice already and that his behaviour was the reason why he wasn’t already half-way home, he calmed down and worked with our team to choose the quickest available option to get him back to the UK.
Yes, he apologised for his manner during a stressful period brought on by his rogue ways, especially when he needed our help in ordering flowers for his wife at home to apologise for his delayed arrival! For a tricky traveller, such as this one, being more forward thinking in your approach is crucial. Staying one step ahead of travellers is essential, as is being pro-active. We’ve also found that transparency between clients and our teams, improves loyalty.
The case: A rash of “points means prizes”
Our travel doctor: Pam Booth, group procurement manager, Impellam Group
We’ve had a massive issue with a number of staff going maverick and booking a certain hotel chain, which will remain nameless, and collecting the points personally. They’re all motivated by the points and redeeming them. This has sometimes involved the odd director using their corporate card, rather than booking in policy through our TMC. There is nothing in our policy that details any reason as to why they should book this hotel group.
One administration assistant was even booking all her travellers into one particular hotel sub-brand and collecting the points herself and then spending them. This had been going on for four years. We only discovered it when the hotel business manager happened to mention it during a conversation about reward points. The hotel in question had done a particular deal with the assistant personally.
The fact is, hotels can do deals with the booker in question! We used to only ever find out afterwards, but not anymore. We had a significant journey to get to where we are now. Unfortunately, we still have a handful of rogue travellers who continue to book this same hotel chain.
After analysis, we showed that this hotel sub-brand wasn’t cheaper than other hotels in the area. We showed this to the administration assistant. Data and proof is crucial in all cases. We then agreed to centrally collect points as a company rather than give them to individuals.
Travel manager verdict: Mavericks in the fashion industry
The case: Hard pressed in Hong Kong: the high cost of treatment
Our travel doctor: Ken McLeod, director for industry affairs, Advantage Travel Partnership
The patient: Mavericks come in all shapes and sizes, but the most outrageous request I’ve had to deal with was from an executive traveller calling from a five-star hotel in Hong Kong. He wanted his trousers pressed, so instead of dialling the in-house service because the price was too high, he called the 24-hour, international TMC helpline instead. He wanted us to arrange for someone to pick up his laundry and return it to him duly pressed and ready for use. He was clearly oblivious of the fact that we were billing his company for this service and it probably cost three times the amount compared to the hotel service.
The diagnosis: The request was dealt with politely, we talked to the hotel manager and arranged for the hotel to handle it free of charge. We had leverage since we were booking the hotel on numerous occasions. It was eventually brought up at the review meeting with the company and used to show them ways to save money, rather than rebuke this maverick. If TMCs are going to continue to thrive in this personalised world they’re going to have to provide more concierge-type services anyway, but as long as everyone’s aware of the costs.
The case: Nasty outbreak of angry-itis
Our travel doctor: Rosie Mohammad, head of travel, Pinsent Masons LLP
An irate travelling executive called our TMC’s out-of-hours service, frustrated that she had been booked on the wrong train. At the time of calling she was extremely dissatisfied, with little tolerance, and demanded another booking, instantly, for the next train.
The issue was that we don’t use the TMC she was calling to book rail tickets, but another company. So the TMC could not find the original booking anywhere, of course.
However, the traveller had little patience for the mix-up. She just wanted the issue fixed. We’re all human and mistakes happen from time to time. It doesn’t matter who it is – the rail booker, the TMC or the travel manager. It costs us in the end with the use of the out-of-hours service and the extra rail ticketing via the TMC. We didn’t have time at that late hour to go back through the original supplier – the rail provider.
The diagnosis: The TMC was called in, everything had to be explained to our accounting department and why a new rail invoice had to be issued. The good thing was that the TMC wasn’t defensive. The key thing here is for there not to be a culture of blame. Resolution is crucial; so is professionalism.
The case: Delay repay criminality
Our travel doctor: Anonymous
The patient: One service manager for a large charitable organisation was booking flexible open train tickets through the official accounts. Lots of them in fact. They were purchased legitimately, but some of them were never used. In fact, they had no intention of actually using these tickets.
Instead they used a smartphone app to identify journeys that were delayed. They then submitted online claims for compensation, personally racking up delay repayment on these journeys.
So, the organisation was footing the bill for the travel, and then Virgin Trains were footing the bill for the non-existent delayed journeys, mainly between Leeds and London. Claims of £1,500 were made and this went on for two years! An investigation by British Transport Police uncovered the scam after suspicions arose due to the incredulously large number of claims.
The diagnosis: He was eventually caught in the process. Needless to say, he didn’t have a job for long, and wasn’t likely to get another with his criminal record for fraud. The case reached the Magistrates Court. The whole delay claim process has been taken away from the traveller and is now done through the TMC. There are companies like Railguard now that can process claims as well. This removes the traveller from the claims process and the case itself was enough to make other travellers comply.