When it comes to business travel, the role of a corporate travel manager is indispensable. From crafting strategic travel policies to overseeing expenses and ensuring the safety of business travelers, these professionals play a pivotal role in optimising the corporate travel experience. This guide delves into the key responsibilities of corporate travel managers, explores the significance of travel policies and unpacks why their expertise is crucial for business success.

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 corporate travel manager is an essential asset for businesses, responsible for designing travel policies, managing travel arrangements, and selecting the right corporate travel agency.

They prioritise the well-being of business travelers, ensuring compliance with the company's travel policy.

In today's dynamic landscape, dedicated corporate travel managers are increasingly becoming a strategic investment for companies of all sizes, offering specialised expertise to enhance the efficiency of business travel.

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.

What do corporate travel managers do?

The core tasks of corporate travel managers include but are not limited to:

1. Crafting strategic travel plans

Corporate travel managers are instrumental in overseeing travel plans and arrangements. Whether handling bookings directly or empowering employees to adhere to travel policies, they focus on transport, accommodation, insurance, visa arrangements, and more. By aligning with the established travel policy, travel managers secure the best deals and maintain consistency in travel class and hotel categories.

2. Expense management and budget oversight

Navigating the unpredictable terrain of credit-card management and in-destination expenses, travel managers set spending limits to simplify financial tracking. Balancing the need for cost control with employee morale, they strike a delicate equilibrium. Drawing from experience, travel managers provide valuable insights through expense reporting and forecasts, ensuring optimal budget utilisation.

3. Informed decision-making through data analysis

Beyond crafting a comprehensive travel policy, corporate travel managers analyse data from past trips to make informed decisions for future policies. Conducting surveys and collating data, they identify patterns and areas for improvement. By leveraging reliable datasets, travel managers assess the profitability of business trips, allowing for continuous refinement of travel policies.

4. Embracing technological advancements

In the ever-evolving landscape of business travel technology, travel managers stay ahead to enhance efficiency. Modern booking tools such as the Booking.com for Business tool, and technology advancements empower employees to book travel within policy guidelines, offering autonomy while maintaining compliance. This proactive approach ensures a seamless travel experience and allows travel managers to focus on strategic aspects.

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 Booking.com for Business, business travel managers are better equipped to manage the travels of their company’s employees.

Why are business travel managers important?

Corporate travel managers are indispensable in overcoming the following corporate travel challenges:

1.  Regaining control over rogue bookers

The challenge of travelers booking outside the established policy raises duty of care issues and reporting complexities. Visual communication, such as a visually appealing travel policy, proves effective in engaging travelers and encouraging adherence to guidelines.

2. Achieving data visibility

Centralising data from various sources remains a significant challenge for travel managers. While integrating all data into a unified system is ideal, interim solutions involve prioritising data collection from lead sources to create comprehensive reports.

3. Addressing frustrated business travellers

Striking a balance between traveler satisfaction and cost control is vital. By integrating preferred tools into the system, travel managers can enhance compliance, reduce frustration, and foster a collaborative approach that benefits both parties.

Business travel managers and travel policy

One of the primary tasks of corporate travel managers is the creation and management of travel policies. A well-designed travel policy sets guidelines for booking, expenses, and safety, ensuring uniformity in travel arrangements.

Travel policies streamline processes, contribute to cost-effectiveness, and enhance compliance, making them an indispensable tool in the corporate travel manager's arsenal.

Travel managers and duty of care

Duty of care, a critical aspect of corporate travel management, involves the responsibility to safeguard the well-being of business travelers. Corporate travel managers implement safety measures, provide support during emergencies and ensure that employees are aware of health and safety guidelines. This commitment to duty of care not only enhances employee satisfaction but also mitigates potential risks.

What’s the difference between a travel manager and a travel agent?

While travel agents facilitate bookings, corporate travel managers go beyond by designing travel policies, managing expenses and ensuring compliance. Travel agents may focus on individual trips, whereas corporate travel managers provide a holistic approach, aligning travel with company goals and policies.

When should you hire a corporate travel manager for your business?

Companies should consider hiring a dedicated corporate travel manager when business travel becomes frequent and complex. A travel manager adds value by optimising travel processes, reducing costs, and ensuring a strategic approach to business travel. The benefits of hiring a travel manager far outweigh the initial investment for companies with regular travel requirements.

What skills should business travel managers have?

To succeed in the role of a travel manager, individuals must possess a diverse skill set. Effective communication, organisational prowess, strategic thinking and adaptability are paramount. Proficiency in Global Distribution Systems (GDS), financial acumen, and the ability to analyse data are additional skills that empower travel managers to navigate the complexities of business travel successfully.

How to become a travel manager in 2024

The landscape of corporate travel is evolving, and aspiring travel managers must adapt to the changing dynamics. Pursuing relevant education, gaining experience in the travel industry, and staying updated on technological advancements are crucial. Networking with industry professionals and obtaining certifications, such as those related to GDS, enhances credibility.

Elevate your business travel experience by recognising the integral role of corporate travel managers. From crafting effective travel policies to managing expenses and prioritising duty of care, their expertise contributes significantly to the success of your business travel program. Stay ahead of the curve, embrace technology and make strategic decisions with the guidance of dedicated corporate travel managers.

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