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BBT Forums: travel policy in the spotlight

Senior travel buyers gathered in London and Dublin to debate key policy issues, at forums hosted by BBT & ACTE.

The events, entitled Policy & programme: defined, designed, aligned, were held at the Grange City hotel in London and the Carlton Airport hotel in Dublin.

The opening keynote was given by British American Tobacco global category manager Caroline Blackmore. She gave an insight into the culture of BAT and how it’s reflected in the travel programme.

“We’re a leading company that’s successful worldwide and in a controversial industry we act with responsibility and with integrity. But there can be a stigma attached to our company, despite our strong corporate reputation, so we work hard to attract and retain good talent, and we are lucky at BAT that they look after us, which is shown in our travel policy,” said Blackmore.

She noted that for grades just below herself and upwards, employees fly business class for anything over three hours, although they must take the lowest available fare in applicable class and it must be a restricted fare booked 14-21 days in advance. All travel must be booked through its TMC, Carlson Wagonlit.

She said air travel compliance is very high, but BAT’s accommodation programme is currently only 50 per cent compliant. Blackmore said this was the “biggest challenge” in her current role – and one she had least control over because the travel policy is owned by HR.

She added that her main focus is compliance, which “in turn will drive cost savings”, giving this example: “By raising compliance in the Americas to just 80 per cent, my negotiated rates would have saved a very significant amount of money...that’s just air, how much would we have saved if my travellers booked all hotel stays through the TMC?”

She added: “I’m not even going to mention my savings target. It’s high. And will be higher in 2017. That’s why closing the loopholes and gaps in the policy is critical for me and why driving compliance is my number one focus.”

Goal scoring 
Sessions moderated by HRS managing director Jon West looked at defining goals and objectives when creating a travel policy that is fit for purpose.

West cited research from a recent GBTA report that found only 21 per cent of travellers are in a mandated programme, with almost half unmanaged. “If you have a large number of your travellers unmanaged the question is why bother having a policy at all,” said West.

One European buyer in the banking sector said: “A policy should control cost and in an era where we operate with duty-of-care as a high priority, cost should not be at the top of your list. We have that approach in our organisation where safety has no cost.

Andreas Koster said Lufthansa works with buyers to “individualise” their air programmes noting that every company operates differently both “culturally and financially”.

Delegates asked about managing local vs global policies in multinational organisations. BAT’s Blackmore said: “We have one global policy that is simple to understand, but each local market is free to have their own – but it has to be stricter. For example in Canada, a three-hour trip is still in the country, so we wouldn’t want people travelling business class to their neighbouring office so they might stretch that to six hours. The global policy is the foundation and the local policy can be different but only in a much stricter way.”

One buyer commented on the “mindset” between small companies and large companies. “I’ve been in smaller companies where travellers are given more responsibility to book what they like if they know the budgets.

“The ridiculousness that comes out of some policies which are over managed is probably why it can be hard to get buy-in from board level,” he said.

A living document
BCD Travel’s Tony McGetrick said the basics of building a policy “should start with aligning the corporate and traveller objectives for any organisation. If we took our top 50 performing companies and look at their policies they would probably be all quite similar... but there are some that realise you must change it to reflect your business and make it a living document which is constantly reviewed.”

This prompted debate about how often policy should be reviewed and updated, with differing opinions, but several buyers citing an annual review as ideal. However, a challenge for many is finding time and resources to do this.

Another session, moderated by Nina & Pinta’s Jo Lloyd, looked at implementation and communication. Buyers spoke about the advantage of using social network tools such as Yammer and Chatter to communicate with frequent travellers. Some reported a jump in compliance after engaging with travellers through these channels. 

One buyer from a large multinational company said they had thousands of employees using the instant messaging tool and said it was an “invaluable” way to hear about issues affecting their travellers and also communicating changes to policy.

Another said: “We thought about how we could get closer to the travellers – a challenge as we operate in 90 countries. We set up a business travel group on Chatter, and engaged with our marketing and comms team, who offered advice on how to get more interaction and involvement in the group. One year later we have more than 60,000 users and one of the most used Chatter groups in the company. For us it is now an essential tool.”

While many agreed the two-way communications on company social network platforms are beneficial, some delegates warned that negative feedback and “travel trolls” are a challenge.

Inform Logistics MD founder Ian Flint led a discussion around KPIs and benchmarking policy against best practice, and other issues raised included behavioural economics, measuring ROI (return on investment), and improving the approvals process.

The Forums are sponsored by BCD Travel, Diners Club, Enterprise, HRS, and Lufthansa Group. 

Read 10 top tips for your travel policy taken from the London and Dublin forums

If you are interested in attending the next BBT/ACTE Forum then contact Emma Gordon – 

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