For as long as I’ve been in the travel industry, corporate travel managers have been focused on a set of long-established best practices designed to command and control the ways employees purchase travel, often putting employee needs and wants secondary.
In recent years, however, there’s been a revolution in the travel industry. Instead of command and control, travel managers are now focused on enlightenment and empowerment as they react to changing employee expectations, emerging technologies, and the rise of global mobility. Never before have employees demanded so much control over their own business travel.
As a result, travel managers must evolve to become enablers rather than blockers. To do so, today’s travel managers should prioritize these five initiatives:
- Data and analytics: While travel spend is a significant line item for many enterprises, travel managers have traditionally struggled to identify and overcome invisible spend. With some 37% of hotel reservations and 15% of air bookings made by employees outside of corporate channels, supplier-direct bookings can not only increase costs but may also keep travel managers from optimizing their programs to meet employee needs. Before travel managers can improve the company’s program, they need to understand how, where, and why their employees are traveling. That can be challenging enough for any business, but for a global enterprise, the challenge is compounded by disparate systems. A single integrated travel management platform can help global enterprises create the single source of truth needed to drive action.
- Evaluating new technology: Many travel managers are dealing with tech fatigue: It feels like there’s always another app, platform, or service to deal with. And the tech fatigue is only beginning; once 5G becomes common in the next few years, bandwidth speeds will be 10 to 20 times faster than they are now, unleashing a new wave of innovation in terms of AI-powered apps, augmented reality, Internet of Things, and other technologies. It will be impossible for travel managers to keep up with the pace of innovation on their own. Instead, they’ll need to closely collaborate with their IT management teams to implement a technology platform that can both incorporate the enterprise’s legacy systems and be flexible enough to add new service providers as they come online.
- Traveler safety: In a world of global mobility and connectivity, there’s an increasing moral and legal responsibility for corporations to help their employees travel safely in an unsafe world. While it’s just one part of a company’s overall risk management strategy, duty of care simply can’t be ignored. From natural disasters and disease outbreaks to terrorism and political unrest, it’s not a matter of if something is going to happen when your employees are traveling, but more a matter of where, when, and at what magnitude the incident will be. Travel managers must lead the charge when it comes to traveler safety to protect both employees from harm and the company from risk.
- Employee satisfaction: Compared to past generations, today’s employees aren’t afraid to switch jobs multiple times in their careers. Businesses must evaluate every aspect of the employee experience if they want to compete for and keep key talent. For employees who are road warriors, the travel program is going to have an outsized impact. A program that’s clunky to use or doesn’t provide localized help and options to make travel easier, wherever employees may be, is going to drive employees away. Travel managers must work to build programs that are “consumer-friendly” by making it easy to book travel, providing access to desired travel vendors and simplifying the expense process.
- Driving value: Travel managers have always been tasked with driving savings. However, today’s travel managers have the tools in place to not only cut costs but also to drive value. Too many times I’ve seen a travel manager save $200 on an airline ticket, only to force their travelers to waste $400 in billable time on a layover instead of flying non-stop. In addition, programs like VAT reclaim can help employees avoid paying unnecessary taxes on income earned while traveling for work. There are far more ways travel managers can drive ROI than just by negotiating supplier discounts.
Too often, the only thing holding travel managers back from accomplishing these initiatives are themselves. Many travel managers still prescribe solutions instead of taking the time to understand employee needs globally. At the same time, they may lack support from senior management due to a poor understanding of the important role travel plays in a company's operations.
Instead, today’s travel managers need to prioritize being in alignment with both senior leadership and employees so that everyone agrees on the goals and expectations of the travel program. Put industry best practices aside for a moment, and, instead, work to build what’s best for your unique organization. Only then will you be able to standardize, simplify, automate, and scale your travel program in a way that will help it adapt to future growth, employee expectations, and new technology.
Learn more about how to transform your travel management program with the power of SAP Concur.