A well-defined, clearly communicated travel policy plays a key role in helping companies manage business travel costs, whatever sector they operate in, and no matter how large or small their business travel spend. But what do today’s corporate travel policies look like? What’s rising up the agenda and what’s dropping off? Is cost-cutting the order of the day or cost containment? Which companies are taking an alternative approach or finding success with new initiatives? How are companies ‘selling’ their policy to staff? Find out in this interview with Jaydev Pandit, Account Development Manager, UK & Europe, Wings Travel Management
Have your clients tried to streamline their travel policies over recent years and, if so, how have they carried out this process?
At Wings, we work with a variety of SME and large enterprise clients across diverse sectors. The travel policies for each client and sector vary according to the size of the business, the culture and their global footprint. In my experience I have noticed that SME clients normally have a business travel guide as opposed to a clear travel policy. As these businesses grow, the cost of their travel increases and they often look at streamlining their processes to increase productivity, efficiency and reduce costs.
Any such process starts internally at first. Once the key targets are identified, it’s important to engage with the travel manager to understand them and work in partnership to provide bespoke solutions. This can be a variety of options such as introducing travel policies, negotiating deals with key suppliers, introducing online booking tools and expense management systems to name a few.
How do clients encourage travellers to stay within policy – do they generally mandate the policy or is it more about encouraging them to make the right decisions that stick within the rules?
Communication: communicating the policy, training and educating the travellers to ensure they understand the policy can be the most effective way to encourage policy compliance.
Mandating preferred suppliers: clients often negotiate preferred rates with suppliers on key routes, destinations, etc. and mandate them in their travel policy and self-booking tool
Realistic policy: expecting the traveller to take the cheapest option is not always effective to drive compliance. For example, expecting a traveller to take a 4-5 hour layover/transit to achieve a £100 saving might not be ideal, however, the traveller may consider it if the saving was a lot higher.
Encourage advance booking: business travel is often tricky and involves last minute changes due to change in plans and circumstances, however, clients can encourage their travellers to pre-book flights for conferences, board meetings and any such travel which is not likely to change as the dates are fixed. Travellers can take advantage of pre-paid/restricted fares that can drive considerable savings for the client.
Visual guilt: highlighting missed saving can increase compliance as the guilt factor itself can drive travellers to take the lower fare on offer.
Strict approval processes: travellers should be encouraged to use cost effective options for their travel. Some clients have strict approval systems in place whereby if the traveller declines a saving for a comparable option, this results in non-approval of travel costs.
Is it more about carrot than stick these days – or does it depend on the client, industry sector and their internal culture?
There is no definitive answer to this question. Most often the travel policy is a mixture of the carrot or the stick approach and is definitely dependent on the industry and client culture.
The Carrot: there is always a strong preference for a particular supplier amongst business travellers. This can be for a number of reasons like comfort, loyalty points, value added benefits. This can often increase travel costs and leads to poor travel policy behaviour amongst business travellers.
The Stick: some clients build in restrictive travel policies, strict approval processes and guilt of missed savings and at times punitive measures as tools to influence good behaviour.
In my various roles within the travel industry, I have spent a lot of time presenting my clients with options to choose from, which not only reduces the friction of personal preferences versus costs but also adds value to encourage a change in behaviour. I call it the happy balance.
Where do issues such as duty of care and traveller wellbeing fit in – are they becoming more important as part of your clients’ travel policies?
Definitely. From a safety perspective, we have clients at Wings who travel regularly to high-risk parts of the world and this drives their travel policy. There are internal approvals required prior to travel to such areas and briefing from their security teams on the do’s and don’ts for the trip.
From a wellbeing/health perspective, travel policies include variations around class of travel. Most often than not long-haul overnight travel is permitted in business class.
Business travel has become so important in today’s global age that businesses use their travel policies as a tool to attract and retain employees.
There was a lot of talk about gamification a few years ago to encourage good behaviour and drive compliance. Is this is still happening or has the industry moved on to find other ways of improving compliance?
Gamification was introduced as a way to use social media channels to showcase good behaviour in business travel by way of online badges, high-fives, leaderboard, etc. to enhance compliance. Unfortunately, this digital pat on the back was not a sufficiently popular incentive and as a result gamification largely failed to achieve its purpose.
How should clients best communicate and promote policy to travellers? Has technology made this easier – can travellers easily check whether they are staying within policy before making a booking?
There are various ways to communicate and promote the travel policy within a business. It can be introduced as a part of the employee induction plan, added onto the intranet, etc. Any changes or updates can be communicated in an email.
As self-booking tools are becoming more of a norm in the digital age, Wings Travel Management can build the client’s travel policy into our online booking system. We can set up a traffic light system to show if a particular trip is within policy or not and provide the user with a visual guide to drive good behaviour. Further to this, preferred suppliers, negotiated deals and approval systems can also be built into the tool and any variance can be reported in the MI data which can provide valuable insight to the client on their traveller behaviour.
What one thing would help to make travel policies more effective and drive higher levels of compliance? Can technology further help this process?
The travel policy needs to be clearly defined, accessible and updated regularly to drive compliance. Exploring new technology that provides an end to end solution, from booking to expense recording, post travel reporting and analysis can definitely lead to increase in compliance. The use of technology in the form of online booking tools not only drives the cost of booking down but the visual guilt alone drives higher levels of compliance.