Gold-Plate Your Travel Program: Tips From Business Travel Experts

Gold-plate your travel program

Australian companies spend in excess of $20 billion a year on corporate travel, but with an ROI of around $12.50 per dollar spent, business travel can be worthwhile. Given this investment and potential for business growth, a business travel program isn’t something that should be left up in the air.

Following corporate travel management best practice and establishing a business travel program can move your business travel benefits beyond the bottom line. Read on for expert advice to build a gold-plated business travel program.

What is a business travel program?

If your business has employees that travel for work, you have a business travel program, whether you realise it or not. According to Sally King, National Account Management Leader at Corporate Traveller, a business travel program is the overall management process of a company’s corporate travel.

“A business travel program encompasses all aspects of the management of a company's travel expenditure. All customers have a program, even if it’s not an official document; the policies and processes that go into travel management form the program,” says Sally.

More than just a company’s travel budget, a travel program will include things like:

  • What systems a company will use;
  • Processes for making a travel booking;
  • The company’s business travel policy;
  • Measurements of compliance and success;
  • Overall cost control;
  • User and travel satisfaction; and
  • Reporting structures and systems.

You may recognise these elements within your company, whether they form part of an official travel program or not. And while they may exist on some level, there is likely to be room for improvement.

How to upgrade your business travel program

Whether you’re looking for solutions to your corporate travel management challenges, or you’re just looking for additional benefits from your business travel, upgrading your business travel program starts with asking ‘why?’

Know why you’re travelling for business

Ask yourself: what is the reason for travel? Do your employees work FIFO? Perhaps you have offices in multiple cities around the country. Or you might have international operations that draw your employees overseas. All of these scenarios will call for different priorities, processes and policies, so it’s important to understand the main reasons for travel to ensure your business travel program reflects your needs.

“The most important thing is to understand why your travellers are travelling. What is their reason? Are they miners travelling to site for work? Or are they business people travelling for client meetings? It’s really important to understand these things, as they’ll form a part of the consideration of the overall travel program,” says Sally.

  • Find your ‘why’ to shape your business travel program and inform processes, technology, policies and reporting.

Establish your travel program goals

Just like you should know why your employees travel for work, you should also know what you are trying to achieve through your travel program by setting goals. This could be about reducing your budget through cost savings or making sure you’ve got the right tools in place to make the booking process easier, or your goal might be to establish a duty of care policy.

Whether it’s about budgets or employee satisfaction, Sally says the important thing is that goals are set: “It could be anything that a business wants to achieve; but goals need to be established and measured, to ensure we’re working toward achieving the goals.”

  • Set goals for your business travel program to form the foundation of your travel program and provide direction for your travellers.

Meet your business needs with the right travel policy

Just as knowing your ‘why’ will help to inform your travel program requirements, understanding your travellers’ needs will help to ensure your travel program is suitable. Do your FIFO employees need multiple flights to get out to a mine site? Or does your traveller heading to a remote destination need to remain contactable? Perhaps your corporate travellers are staying in Brisbane for an extended period and need homely accommodation.

Once you know what your travellers’ needs are, elements of your travel program can be tailored to suit, says Lisa King, General Manager of Corporate Traveller WA: “Companies often question whether a business travel policy is suitable; for example, if their insurance policy is good enough for the type of travel that their employees are doing and the locations they are visiting.”

  • Understand your needs to ensure the right type and level of policy is in place to protect your travellers and your business.

Enhance your travel booking technology

If an online booking tool isn’t yet part of your business travel booking process, then this is perhaps the easiest and most effective upgrade you can make to your business travel program. Booking platforms, such as artificial intelligence-driven Savi, have the travel policy built within the system to keep travel bookers in line with your company’s booking guidelines.

AI integration enables platforms to remember previous selections, such as flight times or hotel room types, providing an element of personalisation and efficiency and removing the need to make too many decisions, which, in the case of business travel, is a good thing.

“Unlike booking your own holiday when you can spend hours going through the options out there, people want to streamline their business travel. They just want to know that they’re staying somewhere safe and secure, the car’s good, the flights are at a great time; you just want to be able to go straight through the booking tools or a Travel Manager without having to make all these decisions,” says Lisa.

Use business travel booking agents

Known in the industry as travel management companies or a TMC, business travel booking agents essentially support companies with their corporate travel management needs. From providing advice and establishing a business travel program, to setting up specialised online booking tools and providing support with reporting and measuring, a TMC is like an extension of your organisation. Given this, you should be able to trust them like an employee.

“It’s important to partner with a TMC that you trust because a good TMC – one that is proactive and constantly on the lookout for ways to improve your business travel program – will be invaluable to your company. They’ll support you every step of the way and provide the right tools for you to benefit from your travel program,” says Lisa.

  • Maximise your business travel program’s potential by consolidating all travel through your TMC rather than using multiple platforms.

Use data to support decisions

With online booking tools providing easy access to dashboards and reporting functions, many companies don’t realise the power of the information they have at their fingertips. Data-driven decision making can support improvements in not only your company's travel program but wider business operations.

Reports can show you patterns such as how far in advance your travellers are booking and whether this is costing you more in last-minute changes, as well as where your travellers are around the world so you can ensure their safety is monitored. In terms of your travel program, this sort of information can help to inform decisions on booking timeframes and destination suitability.

And just as your company evolves and changes, so too should your travel program, says Lisa: “A travel program should be reviewed at least every six months so it can grow with your business. Look at your travel policy and consider: does it save time and money? Is it looking after your travellers’ safety? They’re the big things.”

  • Simplify your reporting processes and improve your business travel program with the support of measured data.

Learn from your people’s experiences

Your people are at the forefront of booking and travelling, and their experiences can provide invaluable insights into your travel program. While data may support decision-making processes by providing insights into booking and travel behaviours, it can’t report on the human elements of travel, and as Sally says, travel is essentially about the personal experience.

“Data is great to realise some opportunities and measure outcomes, but it can’t measure crucial elements such as productivity and traveller satisfaction. As well as using data, talk to your travellers and travel bookers, as they can provide really important insights into the company’s processes and where there are opportunities for improvement,” says Sally.

When businesses rely solely on data, they ignore the travellers themselves and miss opportunities to improve the travel program. Instead, make it a collaborative approach and learn from your people’s experiences.

  • Engage with your travellers and travel bookers about their experiences and learn from their insights to improve your travel program.

Forge a path of least resistance

Your company might have the most thorough travel program, but it will be meaningless if it doesn’t have the buy-in of your staff. Promote your business travel program by educating and training your employees to ensure a smooth implementation and integration process. And this change management process revolves around making sure your people understand your ‘why’.

“Getting people involved with their travel program and understanding why the business makes certain travel decisions is one way to support change management. When people understand the reasoning behind decisions and why they have to book a certain fare, or choose from a limited range of hotels, or use a specific car company, it reduces confusion and questions, and makes the whole booking process a lot smoother,” says Lisa.

Reap the benefits of business travel

Now that you know what goes into a gold-plated business travel program, you can reap the benefits that come with planned corporate travel management.

The next step is to implement these tips within your own business travel program. Contact a Travel Manager to find out how we can help you.