The world of travel management in 2023 is very comprehensive. Elements like duty of care, traveler safety and satisfaction, managing expenses, sourcing suppliers and many more are only a part of the terms you’ll meet in business travel.
With this complete guide of business travel management, you’ll get the whole overview of not only how to get started, but also how to reorganize or modernize your travel program.
1. What is travel management and why does it matter?
Business travel is important to your organization's business interests. It gives your company a chance to make a face-to-face impact with customers and partners worldwide.
As someone dealing with business travel management, you work at the forefront of a rapidly expanding, trillion-dollar industry. That comes with a lot of responsibility and an in-depth knowledge of business travel management.
The main areas where you will make a difference every day as a business travel manager are:
- Creating and maintaining a travel policy
- Monitoring travel policy compliance
- Overseeing travel spending/handling costs
- Duty of care, which means ensuring traveler safety
- Working with travel service providers, including travel management companies and online booking engines/tools
- Ensuring traveler satisfaction, which can be directly correlated to employee satisfaction and retention
If you comply and hit every point above, you can manage costs effectively, increase traveler satisfaction and safety and improve policies.
How to create an ideal travel policy?
Creating the perfect business travel policy can be done through trial and error. The best starting point is to conduct a SWOT analysis.
Once you’ve gathered input from employees and colleagues, perform a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis. This is a handy tool for gaining an overview of the status quo and figuring out which steps to take next. Here’s an example of some points your travel management SWOT could include:
- You have a clear travel policy in place.
- You already have well-negotiated agreements with suppliers like travel management companies.
- Your organization's travel needs are very predictable, so you can easily plan.
- Your travel needs are rapidly changing, making it difficult to plan.
- Your organization lacks the IT infrastructure for efficiently reporting travel expenses.
- Your organization's travelers are not used to complying with a strict travel policy.
- You can count on your company’s leadership to support and implement a new/improved travel program.
- Your organization is exploring partnerships with new travel suppliers.
- Your organization is prepared to invest in improved expense reporting infrastructure.
- Your organization's business requires traveling to risky geopolitical regions or remote locations.
- Outdated technology makes it difficult to track your travelers.
- Prices for one of your key destinations are volatile due to political developments.
Consolidate your strengths
After completing your SWOT analysis, you’ll know whether your organization's travel management program is already working well. Make sure you design further policies that will take advantage of your strengths and opportunities while trying to balance out weaknesses and threats.
For example, if your company already has very effective lines of communication between travelers and the home office, avoid disrupting this by introducing overly complicated new reporting rules. Or, if your company’s travel needs are very predictable, use this as an opportunity to negotiate stronger partnerships with suppliers.
For each strength you listed above, think of ways to continue using this strength to improve your organization's travel program. If you listed ‘We already have a strong travel policy in place,’ for example, consider working with HR or the training department in your organization to fully educate employees about the policy and improve compliance even further.
Balance out your weaknesses
The weaknesses and threats you identified in your SWOT analysis help you determine the areas that need improvement. Use your travel program’s strengths wherever possible to balance these issues out.
For example, if one of your opportunities is that you have the support and endorsement of your company’s leadership, this can be used to balance out weaknesses like lack of compliance. Leverage your partnerships with internal stakeholders wherever possible.
Teamwork is essential for creating any successful travel program. If your organization deals with excessive travel risks (such as dangerous or volatile destinations), you will definitely need a strong travel insurance policy, including the services of a travel security provider.
Think of all the weaknesses and opportunities you’ve identified. Now, see if you can match them with existing strengths and opportunities to balance them out. If not, consider what steps you’ll need to take to balance and overcome your strengths and weaknesses.
If your organization is dealing with excessive ‘rogue’ travel spending, you may decide to take the following steps:
- Survey or talk with travelers and see how policies and procedures can be improved to better suit their needs and preferences.
- Review the existing policy to see what’s going wrong.
- Explore alternatives, including online booking engines.
- Redesign the travel policy to make it more realistic while still protecting your company’s business needs. For each step you identify, always look back on your existing strengths and weaknesses to see where potential support already exists.
What is travel policy compliance?
Following the rules of travel policy is known as travel policy compliance. Your responsibilities as travel manager are important primarily for two reasons:
- Expense management – keeping travel spending within budget and saving costs wherever possible.
- Duty of care – keeping travel activities transparent, so you can monitor and ensure the safety and well-being of your travelers. This also includes travel insurance issues.
To ensure travel policy compliance, you need to be realistic and tailor them to your company’s specific situation. The best way is to set flexible, realistic business travel policies.
Your company’s travel policy will be determined by many different factors: the number of travelers, budget, and different classes of travelers. As a business travel manager, you’re responsible for keeping employee travel spending in line with your company’s travel policy. As you will see, the most important part is defining an effective travel policy in the first place.
7 main tasks of a business travel manager
A business travel manager needs to keep up with a lot of responsibilities. The most important are:
1. Be directly involved in booking
The travel manager may be involved directly in the booking, or the travelers will call or correspond with an external supplier (like a business travel agent) to make travel arrangements. These options vary depending on your company’s size and business travel culture. Some companies have a highly digitized/automated travel culture, whereas others use more traditional methods for making travel arrangements.
2. Determining travel costs
A business travel manager has to have a clear overview of how employees are spending the company’s money, so that valid travel costs can be reimbursed correctly, and spending can be kept within budget.
3. Duty of care
Your responsibility is also towards your travelers. Essentially, duty of care refers to an employer’s legal and financial obligation to provide safe working conditions to its employees. This ranges from ordinary workplace safety precautions to preventive health screening, training and relevant insurance coverage.
4. Managing travel risks
Business travelers are exposed to many kinds of risks that may not affect non-traveling employees. This makes a travel manager’s duty of care responsibilities particularly important. For example, geopolitical unrest, terrorism, abduction, or extreme weather events are all risks that disproportionately impact business travelers compared with other employees of a company.
Special travel insurance is designed to protect travelers and their employers against these risks.
5. Keeping us with business travel trends
Tracking travel spending enables you to spot trends as a business travel manager, so you can help your company to spend its money more strategically. This is another way you contribute to your organization's success as a travel manager.
If you spot specific travel trends (like an increase in spending for a specific destination, event or time of the year), your organization can use these to negotiate better deals with the suppliers your travelers need.
This strategic role for travel management is becoming increasingly important as traditional travel management tasks (like collecting receipts and approving expenses) become increasingly automated by online travel management software.
6. Ensuring traveler satisfaction and being always on-call
Many companies are beginning to recognize the value of business travel as an employee satisfaction and retention tool. Also, business travelers today see traveling for work as a rewarding experience. However, it’s crucial that employers provide an adequate safety net and support system to their travelers. This means establishing clear protocols for what to do in case of an emergency. It also means maintaining open lines of communication. As a business travel manager, you may be expected to remain on call after hours in case a traveler encounters a problem in a destination many time zones away.
7. Make a plan and think ahead
Whether you’re creating a new travel management program or updating an existing one, it’s vital that you create an action plan to ensure you’ve got everything covered.
Follow our steps here to get your business travel program up and running in the best possible way:
- Background research – It’s a good idea to start by gathering detailed information to get a clear view of your company’s travel culture. That means talking to your colleagues and travelers within your organization to figure out what’s working and what’s not. Choose a research method that is effective for your company’s size and structure. Online survey tools are a great option if you need to reach large numbers of employees spread out in various locations.
- Create or update your travel policy. Once you’ve identified the right measures for creating or improving your travel policy, it’s time to put things down in writing. We recommend using the convenient Visual Travel Policy Builder created by Booking.com for Business. This handy online tool will help you put your policy into action without leaving out any important topics.
What is travel expense management?
Controlling costs is an important part of your job as a business travel manager. In many organizations, travel managers even serve an official double role as travel and expense managers. Depending on the size and structure of your organization, you’ll often work closely with other departments like finance, procurement and HR to handle the way employees spend the company’s money on their business travel arrangements.
Your travel policy should contain rules for how your employees can spend company money on travel, how they are reimbursed for travel expenses and how your company keeps track of employees while they travel.
Most modern business travel program use software and web-based services to keep track of travel spending. This is by far the most efficient method, and if you are working for a large company, it will be essential.
Corporate travel is only on the rise for 2023; whether you’re new to business travel management or you’re already working with an existing policy, it’s always good to have a complete guide on hand.