To say that the world of business travel is in a state of flux is an understatement. More than ever, travel and events buyers need specialists to help them clear a path through the maze, so they can focus on core business. A good travel management company will employ a wide range of experts and skillsets to make sure you have the edge when it comes to safety, wellbeing and cost. Read on to discover the ten roles that today’s travel management companies can put at your disposal.
1. Guardian angel
Any travel management company will tell you that fulfilling their duty of care towards travellers is the top priority for corporates in the boardroom today.
“I’m seeing far more security and HR stakeholder involvement in the travel contracts, with an increased number of questions on the subject in RFPs,” says Trevor Elswood, chief commercial officer at Capita Travel and Events.
Set against unsettled markets and global terrorist threats, this is one area where business travel companies can shine. They can centralise data from third-party providers, including global alerts from risk management suppliers and news feeds from the likes of BBC and Sky, to keep communication flowing.
Traveller tracking tools can make sure employers know where their travellers are at key points of their journey. And in the event of any danger, that risk can be mitigated by communicating safety protocol, making new travel arrangements and, if needs be, evacuating travellers.
2. Cost controller
After traveller safety and security, making savings is the second priority for most travel buyers – and engaging a travel management company is irrefutably the best way to keep costs under control. According to the Global Business Travel Association, implementing a managed travel programme can help companies reduce total travel costs by at least 45%.
The start point is to ask whether costs can be avoided – by the use of videoconferencing and online-meetings technology, telepresence or using internal meeting space – or how best to leverage that cost if employees do have to travel.
And these savings are accessible to small and medium-sized companies, too: “We use our leverage in the marketplace to aggregate buying volumes, so we can deliver recognisable value to travellers,” says Elswood. “That’s value that cannot be accessed by travellers direct.”
3. Industry expert
The days of buyers obsessing over reducing the travel management fee (typically 2.5% to 6%) are largely over. The buying community has accepted that in an ever-evolving world of business travel, managed travel intermediaries bring invaluable specialist knowledge to the table.
This ‘conversion’ has been helped by travel becoming far more complex, not least because of new-fangled sharing economy providers such as Uber and Airbnb.
With day-to-day bookings now largely automated, business travel organisations can concentrate on giving expert advice. That could mean sharing knowledge on creative ticketing, spot buying, buying via virtual licences in other countries to access better deals, or web scraping (harvesting online data on price changes) to check that the rate is optimum right up to date of departure.
4. Technology geek
Increasingly, technology is the one big differentiator between travel management companies. At a minimum, a travel management company should be able to provide an intuitive self-booking tool, expense management and traveller-tracking tools, and present all of that data on a single screen that’s tailored to each customer.
“Travel management companies are investing in technology that gives clarity to the marketplace,” says Elswood. “Technology underpins everything, as it gives customers a holistic view of their spend – from supplier deals and purchase orders to who authorises unmanaged travel.”
“The balance is getting great user experience and powerful, cost-compliant solutions working in harmony,” he adds.
5. Number cruncher
Data has become the key for any managed travel programme when it comes to unlocking greater savings and providing a complete picture of your spend.
“To understand your true journey costs, data needs to be collected from disparate places outside pure travel – such as expenses from the trip, car-hire cost and so on – and brought together,” explains Elswood. “Most corporates think they’ve got all the data at their fingertips, but it’s a new world and the process is evolving all the time.”
The new science of mining that data to spot trends (otherwise known as predictive analytics), has turned account managers into business strategists who can help companies aggregate and consolidate management information. Predictive analytics can provide valuable insights, such as forecasting future traveller behaviour, as well as alerting buyers to budget overspill and the like.
Find out how Capita Travel and Events is using data to drive Smarter Working practices.
6. Meetings specialist
Bookers have always dreamed of being able to combine transient travel and meetings spend. Now, specialists can capture management information to discover the total cost of a meeting. Moreover, the latest meetings management software can help companies optimise empty internal space and mandate its use, reducing the need for external venues.
The experts can also deliver added value to your meetings: “It’s a combination of meeting costs coming down, and securing additional value,” says Elswood. “We don’t disrupt the existing relationship between a booker and a local hotel. We nurture that relationship, to find new ways of working together that benefit both.”
7. Behaviour changer
Getting your travellers to behave in the way you would like – that is, comply with your travel policy – is a growing part of a managed travel programme. Incentives and modern ideas such as gamification (employing point-scoring, leaderboards, inter-departmental competition and the like to encourage compliance) can help influence booking behaviour.
However, as Elswood stresses, the bottom line is giving travellers what they want. Which means an airline seat or hotel room at the right price, available when they need it and within company policy. That, and good communication, will keep them from looking outside your policy.
“People are generally good corporate citizens and happy to comply with policy, so we influence behaviour by using the right language, engaging with them at the right time in the booking process, and sending reminders. It’s the smart way to tackle it,” he says.
8. Content compiler
Being able to collate data from disparate sources in one place, creates ‘rich content’ – something of an industry buzzword right now.
“Everyone’s building an ‘open architecture’ – flexible computer software that makes it easy to add, upgrade and swap components,” says Elswood, “so it’s becomes simple to import third-party content and make it work for each customer’s needs.”
Capita Travel and Events is well placed to provide this kind of rich content, says Elswood: “We can capture content from various sources to ensure we deliver the right price and availability.”
Capita Travel and Events can also provide interfaces to push booked data into third-party expense systems such as KDS, Concur and Traveldoo.
9. 24/7 support from your travel management company
Crucially, a travel management company is available round the clock, so when one of your travellers is stuck at an airport after a cancellation – or has lost her laptop, or can’t find the hotel – help is at hand.
Flights can be re-booked, the refund process begun and your traveller can be on his or her way with the minimal inconvenience. An unmanaged travel space, such as a booking website, would provide none of that.
As Elswood puts it, “Out-of-hours is an enormous part of our knowledge base.”
10. All the rest!
The remit of today’s travel management company is vast, ranging from expediting visas to providing country profiles that help with cross-cultural issues in alien territories. The sector has experienced true ‘service creep’, as companies evolve from bookers to full-service providers.
The experts can advise and book leisure trips, negotiate deals on your behalf, add buying muscle to smaller organisations by exploiting their own buying power, and much more.
And whereas in most organisations these specialisms are spread across multiple departments such as marketing, IT, HR and procurement, this wide range of skillsets can all be found within a business travel organisation.
Contracting out responsibility for travel to a travel management company will ensure that your organisation’s travel-related spend is managed effectively, keep costs low, encourage compliance to policy and ensure maximum productivity on the move – all while maintaining your duty-of-care obligations to travellers. Surely you can’t get fairer than that?
Want to find out how our travel management experts could benefit your company? Get in touch with Capita Travel and Events today