Getting back to basics with business travellers

How much does the average business traveller know about travel programme management? I would argue strongly that the answer is very little which is a problem. How much does the average travel buyer know about the practicalities of using travel to meet individual traveller’s needs? Again I would argue very little except for their own particular experiences. Is this a healthy state of affairs? No.

It has always vexed me how little time and effort is spent educating, briefing and convincing business travellers of the rationale used when creating a travel policy. How can a company expect their travellers who obviously know their budgetary and practical travel needs better than anyone else to follow a policy that seems diametrically opposed to their objectives. Should they be told simply to do what they are told? Or should they have the company policy fully explained and justified.

I am not talking rocket science here. To start with one could get down to basics. Key travellers and budget holders should be approached and asked to explain any reasons why they have issues with the policy and invited to ask specific questions to illustrate these concerns. This will bring out the usual range of arguments about why certain airlines are used, why prices vary so dramatically and why can they not simply go out and choose the best fare for their own budgetary and travel needs.

These arguments are the underlying reasons why most corporations have significant known (and unknown) travel compliance issues yet very little is done about it. The average company seems keener to go out and negotiate prices with suppliers than undertake possibly more productive internal ‘housekeeping’ through communication and collaboration.

Here are a few basic example answers to basic questions that might provide surprising results if travellers understood why certain things are done that way:

Q: Why do I have to use agent X when if I book direct with an airline or use another agent I might get better?
A: The company as a whole needs a total picture of its spending and location of travellers for safety, security, financial and procurement reasons. Part of our contract with agent X ensures we get all this information and support in order to maintain control and drive improvement. Any bookings made outside the programme are lost to the company and weaken its ability to support the individual and corporate needs of all stakeholders.

Q: Why am I made to use certain airlines and certain fares when I can possibly go out on my own and find something better?
A: When the company negotiates these deals with airlines it looks at the total annual requirement of the group. It agrees fares that will be available throughout the period which represent significant discounts and other benefits. There will be occasions when lower fares will be possible but availability will be strictly limited and restrictions will apply. By going outside the programme and taking these one off individual discounts it will weaken the company’s ability to get greater benefits for all over a longer period resulting in higher cost. The overall benefit to the company of a negotiated deal is far higher than the occasional individual saving
Q: I went to an overseas conference and found other delegates who travelled on the same plane but paid less for their ticket than me. What’s going on!
A: The likelihood in today’s market of any person on a plane paying the same as another is very small unless they were booked together at the same time or booked on a fixed price. Airlines shift their prices constantly linked to time before travel, numbers booked and historic data. For example there is no such thing as a standard price on a low cost airline. That is why it is best to book early when fares are historically cheaper.

Q: Why should I pay fees to agent X? I could do it myself much cheaper.
A: The fee to Agent X is not just for making your booking but for a vast range of services provided by them to you and the company. These include back up, management information, billing, account management and a raft of others. All this is lost to you and the company if you book outside the programme to everyone’s detriment.

These roughly drawn up examples hopefully illustrate the need to communicate with
travellers to explain that the company is not totally mad and has valid reasons for
requiring their compliance. I bet that if you asked your travellers these questions they
would not give the same answers! After all, how can you expect people to do what
you ask when you don’t explain why? Surely a better way than introducing a mandate
and trying to enforce it on an incredulous traveller.