Knowing who to hire for any job is a skill in itself. Knowing how many people to hire, what positions should exist and where is a whole other challenge.

What form should your travel management team take? Is one global travel manager enough, and how much experience is required? Should your company have separate travel managers per business unit? (Usually large holding companies with subsidiaries.) What really are the essential skills every travel manager needs?

While you might ask the above questions, it’s the bigger picture around them that supports recruitment. When it comes to building a travel management team there needs to be a structure in place.

The structure will vary depending on the industry within which the organisation operates, the size of the business, its travel spend and the culture, but generally it should be driven by the following five strategic drivers:

  • How much centralisation is needed within the organisation?
  • Does the organisation need local, regional or global consolidation?
  • How much outsourcing and insourcing is required?
  • What are the service priorities and budget allocation?
  • How much technology do you want in the process?

Once you have answers to the above, a solid structure can be constructed and the right people within (or outside) the business recruited to manage the program.

Where should travel management sit in an organisation?

Although it varies from business to business, travel management typically sits either within HR, procurement or finance. This is usually done on a ‘merged’ basis, where a travel management team contains stakeholders from one or several of those departments.

In some cultures (mostly smaller organisations) travel management can found alongside procurement, and is more closely aligned with finance, HR or facilities.

In many ways, it doesn’t matter exactly where travel management sits within your organisation, because every employee and department plays a role.

What skills do people need?

Based on where the travel management role sits in the organisation, you might not be surprised to learn that travel experience isn’t crucial but based on a survey we carried out, the most important skills required for travel management are as follows:

  • Being Organised – nearly 80% said that being organised was a key skill for the role
  • Being Proactive – Over 70% said that a proactive approach to job was key
  • Handling Pressure – Travel management can be a lot to handle at times so keeping a cool head and handling pressure is a vital ability.
  • Collaboration – Over 50% of those surveyed saw collaboration as an important skill, likely because you have to work and collaborate with many different areas of the business
  • People Management – Half of those asked also stated people management as being an important skill for the job
  • Time Management – With so many tasks and challenges to juggle, every travel manager should be able to manage their time well.

As well as the above, nearly half of those asked saw being innovative and leadership as important and desirable skills for a travel manager.

When thinking about these skills and how they’re used in the role, it’s important to think about what can be taught. The business travel knowledge can be taught as part of the job, but trying to teach someone to be organised or how to handle pressure can be more difficult as it might not be part of their personality.

Finding (and keeping) the right people for travel management

The travel industry is a dynamic one, with people regularly moving between organisations and roles. Finding the best staff and keeping them is tricky.

It’s sensible to have a quality graduate recruitment program that pulls in emerging talent from universities, but to also encourage others to join from different disciplines. Based on the skills required, it’s important to look for people who are great at managing relationships within an organisation – even if they have no experience in travel.

The best travel policy will quickly fail if it lacks structure and proper governance, but it remains a business function that is driven by great people.