Two depressing statistics emerged this week.
The Barclaycard Business Travel Survey of 2005-06 found that 38% of companies have no travel policy and a survey by the UK Institute of Travel Management revealed that up to 30% of travellers ignore company policy and do their own thing.
These are figures which might make pessimists throw up their hands and say – ˜Why bother?’
Fortunately for those who believe in managed travel, there was a voice extolling its value.
Greeley Koch, president of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives and a senior executive with TQ3 Travel Services, delivered his “defence” of its value at a seminar at the London Business Travel Show.
Indicatively, among the audience were buyers who faced various and very different problems. One said the pressure from above was constantly on the need to save â€“ ‘it was money, money, money’ as she put it.
Another said he was being pressed on the duty of care without anyone telling him exactly what this meant and what was expected. A third found that travellers at his company refused to contact the agent’s implant team and because they were “outsiders” and insisted on going through him for all travel needs.
The problem of praising the value that managed travel delivers is, as Mr Koch pointed out, not only that these values change but, more crucially, they mean different things to different people.
“To upper management, “value” means “cost containment” and is directly tied to the amount of money your travel programme has saved the company.
“For those still receiving commissions as a profit centre, “value” is determined by the revenue you’ve generated.
“To the travel management company, “value” defines the unparalleled excellence of the product they’ve delivered at a price that no one else could ever meet, nor would ever be inclined to beat.
“To the traveller, “value” is the process that streamlines the act of travelling, providing them with a reasonable level of comfort to compensate for their time on the road while offering support services to boost the productivity and return on investment of each trip and getting their expenses back to them in record time,” he said.
In the middle of all this is the travel manager whose job is somehow to satisfy all these often conflicting demands.
If they just handled travel, that would be fine, he said. But their job, far from declining, has expanded to include much else. Among the new responsibilities are security, terrorism, possible contagion (avian flu), health and safety issues for passengers on the road and knowing exactly where they are while away and ever changing rules and regulations. It’s a balancing act few would relish.
The one constant is this changing world, Mr Koch said, is that “the value of the travel management position is forever linked to the perceived value of the travel programme.”
Any travel policy has to demonstrate its value both to top management and the traveller.
It is not an easy trick to pull off and the main weapon to give it any chance of success is communication, constant communication.
If the object is to contain costs, senior management and the traveller need to know why going for the best fare of the day is not always the best option. If the traveller does not know, he or she is more likely to become a rogue booker.
They need to be told the role that the agent plays and that it is not just booking tickets and why there are some suppliers who are preferred to others.
Finally they need to know that managing a travel policy is not and can never be solely about costs – there are always other factors, like security, health and comfort to consider.
The last word to Mr Koch: “The essence of real value in a travel department is cost containment, plus safety oversight, alignment of corporate strategic goals and travel objectives, guaranteeing the value of services delivered, and streamlining the travel process to boost productivity, profitability, and growth.
“Deriving that value means looking far beyond the typical role of the travel manager.”