The skills required by modern travel managers are changing. In particular, a report by Radius Travel uncovered that 51% of surveyed travel managers believe data analytics skills will become more important in the future.

What is changing in the world of business travel that means data analysis is becoming more important? And what can travel managers do to face this challenge?

Here are two key reasons data analytics is moving up the travel agenda plus a practical framework to help travel managers use data to make proactive improvements to their travel management programme.

#1 Travel is moving to a strategic level

84% of travel managers are seeing their role become more strategic [Source: GBTA].

They see the benefits of having a clear plan for travel, such as budget certainty, understanding the return on investment to the organisation and realising the softer benefits of business travel.

But for travel to move from an operational to a strategic level, travel managers need data that speaks to key stakeholders and this means becoming an expert in gathering information, analysing it and then acting on the evidence.

#2 The volume of travel data is growing

According to a recent IBM report, 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years. Travel is no exception. Currently, it’s estimated that only 0.5% of all data is ever analysed [source: Forbes]. So, there’s real potential to do more with the data we already have at our disposal.

For travel managers, data provides evidence to help identify issues and gain support for proposed solutions. For example, if there is a high rate of open bookings, data analysis will determine the size of the problem – How many open bookings? How often is it happening? Is it a growing trend?

Ideally, travel managers need a solution to capture all this data, at a global level, regardless of how bookings are made. Otherwise, bringing together this data to make informed decisions will be more difficult.

Turning travel data into action

Simply having data isn’t enough to bring about change or improvements. Frequent and thorough data analysis, including trends over time, enables travel managers to be proactive and:

  • Track and monitor the ongoing progress of the travel management programme – especially in priority areas like cost control
  • Promptly identify business travellers who are not adhering to the travel policy
  • Identify performance gap between different offices or departments, compared with organisation benchmarks and goals
  • Measure the impact of proactive interventions designed to raise awareness about travel policy and travel management programme

Then to make the next steps using a framework like Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act can help travel managers use data as part of continuous improvement cycles:

Plan – Establish the objectives. Where possible, start on a small scale to test
Do – Turn the plan into action. At this stage, ensure data is being gathered to enable to ‘Check’ and ‘Act’ stage
Check – Study the results, using data collected against the objectives set
Act – If the ‘Check’ stage shows that the plan was an improvement, this becomes the new standard for the organisation. If not, then the current benchmark remains.

This whole process is then repeated to try and make further improvements to the travel management programme.