Corporate travel manager | for Business

A corporate travel manager is a professional who takes care of the lifespan of business travel - planning and creating a travel policy for a company, detailing expenses, duty of care, and more. They ensure employees travel safely and that all travel follows the guidelines of the company's travel policy.

They are typically tasked with travel expense management, leading vendor and partner contracts, and monitoring the needs of business travellers. In the below article, we explore what a corporate manager is, what their four typical tasks include, and why their skills are important for corporate travel.

What is a corporate travel manager?

A travel manager helps design a company’s travel policy, manage travel arrangements and assist with choosing the best corporate travel agency for the business. They also organise and monitor travel expenses, and look out for the well-being of business travellers.

After a business trip, a travel manager is in charge of analysing data and using it to streamline and improve future travel. They must possess excellent communication and organisational skills as well as be keen, strategic thinkers.

Previously, the role of a travel manager was undertaken by an office manager or someone within the HR department who organised travel on top of their other responsibilities. Now, more and more companies of all sizes are seeing the benefit in hiring a dedicated corporate travel manager.

This position makes sense for all companies for whom employees are required to frequently travel.

The 4 main tasks of a corporate travel manager

Travel managers play a critical role in ensuring the success of a corporate travel program. They tend to be responsible for the following four tasks:

1. Overseeing travel plans and arrangements

Some companies decide to make their travel manager responsible for booking all the key parts of employees’ business trips, however other companies leave that up to the employees themselves. The two most important aspects are transport and accommodation, but responsibilities also cover travel insurance, airport transfers, visa arrangements, etc.

With the corporate travel policy established, travel managers seek to book trips in accordance with its pre-arranged guidelines so company managers know they are getting the best deals. Travel managers also include more specific details regarding transport and accommodation. For example, most corporate travel policies specify travel class (e.g. business or economy) and hotel categories.

3. Managing expenses and the travel budget

Another aspect of corporate travel that is relatively hard to predict is credit-card management and in-destination expenses. Travel managers are in charge of setting acceptable spending limits for trips to simplify finance tracking.

Putting a cap on credit cards and expenses gives the company more control over business travel expenditure. However, for employee morale, there needs to be a certain degree of freedom. A travel manager is responsible for striking the balance between freedom and cost-efficiency. As the cost of living varies from destination to destination, spending limits must vary accordingly.

A potential pitfall here is that it is difficult to gauge the right amount for each trip. Therefore, a travel manager with experience in the industry is often a good choice due to their knowledge and resources. They are responsible for providing expense reporting and forecasts for the periods to come.

3. Analysing data

While a corporate travel policy aims to cover all eventualities of a company’s business travel, it is important to analyse trips made. A travel manager must collate data from all trips to make informed decisions for travel policy going forward. This also includes conducting surveys prior to and following trips.

For example, if there are recurring instances of employees booking trips that exceed the budget, this aspect needs to be addressed. With a reliable dataset based on past trips, a travel manager can identify issues and consult employees to see what changes are necessary.

Finally, financial data is useful when setting KPIs and analysing the profitability of business trips. Travel managers can clearly see expenditure versus the gains of every trip to see which are most beneficial.

4. Evolving with new technology

Technology related to business travel advances very quickly and travel managers need to keep up with it in order to deliver the best results for their business needs. Improvements in booking tools make things faster and more efficient for the entire business.

Changes can also improve the travel experience of travellers greatly. With a travel policy in place, employees now have the option of booking their own travel while following policy guidelines.

Keeping up with new technological advances gives employees more autonomy and travel managers more time to focus on other things.

Travel managers' challenges

1. Lack of control

Travellers booking directly on external sites don’t necessarily have the travel policy in mind. They might be considered ‘rogue bookers’ and for the travel manager, policy violations are often not known until the traveller is back from trip and submitting their expenses.

Why is it a problem?

It’s a problem because you lose control of the traveller and it raises duty of care issues – how can you be sure where they are if it’s not within your system? Without the control, reporting also becomes an issue and it’s harder to get the costs for these trips, as you only get the data after expenses have been submitted.

How to overcome the challenge:

Regaining control of travellers, and particularly those who choose to ignore the travel policy is no easy feat, but research shows that visual communication is much more effective than written communication. According to studies, coloured visuals increase a person’s willingness to read a piece of content by 80% meaning you can engage your travellers with the hope they’ll be more willing to read/see your policy and stick to it.

Try creating a more visual version of your travel policy that’s easy to understand and easy to follow. It’s possible that the lack engagement is the real reason for the control challenge.

2. Poor data visibility

When data is spread across the organisation, in dispirit systems, it’s almost impossible to get a full picture of what is really happening.

Why is it a problem?

It’s so important to be able to access and combine high-level data to create timely and accurate reports. When it comes to reporting the spending to management, we found that over quarter of travel managers face this as a core challenge.

Without the data, it’s much harder to engage stakeholders within the organisation. They also need to be able to drill down into the data to find spending irregularities and provide predictive spend.

How to overcome the challenge:

The ideal solution would be to have all data, from all sources and regions, integrated into one system. This can take a lot of time and investment that you don’t necessarily have.

An interim process could be to choose a lead source/region and work to collect data from other sources/regions to bring together and normalise the data for reporting purposes.

3. Frustrated business travellers

Saving one of the most interesting challenges until last: frustrated business travellers and traveller satisfaction. It’s a challenge that divides many travel managers, as some believe traveller satisfaction is key, whilst others sway more towards keeping the traveller happy enough whilst also keeping the cost down and compliance high.

Increasingly, employees want to use the tools they use at home to arrange business travel and this stems back to why rogue travellers are such an issue. They don’t want to feel restricted by the company’s travel policy and therefore don’t comply. For example, if they find a cheaper flight option online, that also lets them earn air miles, they’re unlikely to turn it down for a less convenient option that is within policy.

Why is it a problem?

It causes resentment and distrust between travellers and travel managers. The business traveller starts to see the travel manager as a road-blocker rather than an enabler. If business travellers feel this way, then they’re less likely to book within policy.

How to overcome the challenge:

In many ways, the answer is a compromise. In most cases, business travellers want to do the right thing for their organisation. So, rather than policing them, look for solutions that allow you to bring their preferred tools into your system.

This way, travellers will be more compliant, less frustrated and hopefully more satisfied. But more than that, it reduces the challenge for you, as by bringing the tools into your system, you can still regain control, bring in the crucial data for reporting and the solution should reduce the number of direct bookers and therefore rogue travellers.

With modern tools, such as for Business, business travel managers are better equipped to manage the travels of their company’s employees.

Why are corporate travel managers important?

Costs related to business travel often represent the second-largest expense for companies, behind employee salaries and benefits. And while COVID-19 drastically reduced business travel in 2020, the industry is already recovering at an encouraging pace and is expected to make a full recovery in the coming years.

Both of these points mean that travel will continue to play a major role in a company’s expenses. Therefore, it is a good idea for corporate travel to be managed professionally.

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