The ACTE Column: New Directions

When the going gets tough, the tough get multitasking...

IS BUSINESS TRAVEL a cost or an investment in your organisation? The answer is probably both, but many travel managers struggle to articulate the value of business travel and many think it's not even their role to do so. However, if the automatic default position is to cut travel costs when times get tough, we should ask if travel buyers can add value by collaborating internally within their businesses to strategically identify and communicate when not travelling will cost more than travelling.

The role of the travel manager is fast morphing into the role of travel director, as the skills required continue to develop far beyond the traditional operational management and procurement roles.

Travel management has traditionally been a combination of controlling and cutting cost as well as managing, promoting and communicating traveller safety and wellbeing. The function, when well executed, also helps mitigate risk to protect corporate reputation and can be a strategic contributor towards achieving environmental targets.

There are, however, progressive travel managers who have started to work internally with their finance and HR teams to identify whether their business travel spend ratio has any correlation with profit and business growth, and whether the policy has a bearing on staff retention and recruitment costs. Armed with new channels and sources of information, they can start to work more strategically with their businesses. Instead of looking only in the rear-view mirror to set policy based on statistics derived from a relatively blunt set of criteria (historic spend, average ticket price, class of trip, preferred suppliers etc), they can use data differently to set and communicate policies to enable greater freedom within a controlled environment.

In short, progressive travel managers or travel directors can help budget holders make better decisions about how they choose to spend their budgets, and how to get more out of each pound, euro or dollar they spend. They can help department heads spend smarter to increase the return on investment (ROI) of the budget available.

Some organisations are focusing trip sign-off on the purpose of the trip rather than the cost of it. Some cost parameters still exist under fare and room rate-caps, but as long as there is a good reason for the trip, and the cost doesn't deviate too far from the set of pre-determined and reasonable price margins, it will be approved. This approach offers those responsible for trip sign-off the opportunity to focus on what ROI the trip can generate, rather than what it costs.

The fact is the value of social capital is utterly intangible. Whether revenue-generating or for internal purposes, when two professionals meet and exchange ideas, magic can occur and great new initiatives and ideas are often born. We hope that you will join us at our upcoming ACTE events in London on November 8; and Doha and Dubai on November 21-22 to discuss the changing travel management role and strategic value the function can bring. Local planning teams of industry experts in each region have collaboratively helped us to develop relevant education programmes to harness the intellectual capital available through professional interaction. We hope you will come along and find out the value for yourself.

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