As the demand for business travel grows year after year and companies get tired of working with agencies, the role of the Travel Manager has begun to take shape.
Travel Managers work together with multiple departments and are constantly in contact with business travelers and stakeholders. They need a unique set of skills to face the challenges of corporate travel management, adopt new tools, come up with creative strategies and work effectively in fast-paced environments.
A Travel Manager’s responsibilities include:
- Booking and approving trips
- Crafting travel policies and approval workflows
- Ensuring travel policy compliance
- Implementing technology to streamline processes
- Optimizing travel expenses
- Communicating with travelers and stakeholders
- Measuring travel spend KPIs
- Making sure the company fulfills its duty of care via a travel risk management plan
Here are 7 habits that every Travel Manager should adopt to excel at their job and effectively fulfill all their responsibilities.
1. Prioritize and delegate
For Travel Managers who want to stay on top of all their responsibilities, knowing how to prioritize and delegate tasks is essential. When you’re in charge of improving traveler experience, saving on travel spend, keeping stakeholders happy with regular reporting, selecting the best travel management software (then evangelizing it within your company) and who knows what else, you can’t expect to do it all on your own and at the same time.
Write a list of your most common daily tasks, rank them in order of importance and think about which ones you absolutely need to do personally. Delegate the rest. Then each day, sort your tasks by urgency and always complete one before moving onto the next.
Travel management systems can be super helpful when trying to free up some of your own time. For example, you can outsource travel support (modern travel management platforms come with a 24/7 support service) so that you don’t have to deal with incoming calls when something goes wrong. You can also keep track of your travelers in real-time, straight from your dashboard, so you can focus on your tasks without having to worry about where they might be.
2. Monitor travel policy compliance
As a Travel Manager, one of your most important responsibilities is to make sure your company has a clear and up-to-date travel policy. But that’s just the first step. Since high compliance is the number one way to cut travel costs, you also need to make sure your policy’s being respected.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should start playing sheriff and coming down on your travelers for their transgressions. The reason to keep track of violations is to be able to spot trends that could tell you something about how well your policy is working. Maybe your travelers don’t understand the rules or just need a reminder; maybe a change of policy is in order.
To find out, look at the data you have on off-policy bookings. Are there certain departments that overstep more than others? They might require more flexibility. Do you have a surprising amount of off-policy bookings for a particular destination? Perhaps you should look into hotel prices and see if you can set the limit a bit higher for that city.
Travel management platforms that allow you to customize your travel policy can be of great help when it comes to monitoring compliance data and making the necessary changes, without having to update your global policy.
3. Oversee the implementation of technology
Your company can subscribe to the most state-of-the-art travel software, but if your travelers don’t know how to use it, you’re not taking full advantage of it.
Make sure your travelers know what your travel tech stack – travel management platforms, booking systems, expensing tools, etc. – are for, what their features are and why you’ve chosen to implement them. Transparency encourages the correct use of these tools by making travelers feel more involved.
If the software you’ve enlisted is not too intuitive, organize training sessions and walk your travelers through it. Better yet, choose a user-friendly travel management platform that comes with a built-in booking tool and integrates with expensing apps so that your travelers can do everything from a single, easy-to-use platform.
4. Say no to micromanagement
The single most effective way to save time for yourself, avoiding micromanagement will have multiple positive effects on your company’s business travel culture.
Booking all your traveler’s trips yourself or approving all their requests is not sustainable in the long run, especially if your company is growing and all your processes need to be scaled.
Back-and-forth emails always lead to delays in bookings and missing out on good deals, which can hurt your company’s bottom line. On the other hand, giving travelers autonomy and letting them self-book their trips takes a lot of weight off your shoulders – and it doesn’t have to end in chaos.
So how do you escape the pitfalls of micromanagement? You could try to let your travelers book their own trips on consumer websites, however, this would quickly lead to chaos. Even though you'd be giving your travelers the freedom and flexibility they want, you'd also be increasing the chances of off-policy bookings and making the lives of your finance team super complicated.
An alternative is to use a corporate travel management platform that comes with a smart booking tool and empowers travelers to book trips for themselves. You can feed your travel policy into these platforms and customize approval workflows (accept certain requests automatically while requiring approval for others) so you don’t have to hold your travelers’ hands every step of the way. These platforms integrate with popular marketplaces such as Airbnb and Kayak, so your travelers can get what they usually look for on consumer websites in one place.
5. Align KPIs
As a Travel Manager, you have the insight needed to track Key Performance Indicators against your company’s travel budgets and industry benchmarks.
What you need to do is to make sure that your idea of the best KPIs to measure is aligned with that of the company’s management team. The numbers that are meaningful to you might not be the same numbers that stakeholders want to see.
Speak to your managers and the finance team about the metrics that they need from you. A travel management strategy is only effective if it aligns with the company’s overall business goals – so make sure you’re on the same page from the get-go.
6. Be kind to your travelers
Being good with technology and numbers is one thing, but the most important part of a Travel Manager’s complex set of skills is being good with people.
No matter what department you officially work in, when you’re dealing with people, you’re crossing over to HR territory. Providing a good traveler experience becomes your mission, and while you won’t be able to personally influence every aspect of it, you need to be patient, empathic and kind. Always have your travelers’ best interests in mind, whether it’s booking, changes in schedule or emergencies that you’re helping them with.
Happy travelers are more likely to book within policy. Keeping them satisfied will ultimately lead to making your job easier and your manager happy, too. It may sound counterproductive but giving travelers freedom actually gives you more control over travel spend, which is something that your finance team will appreciate.
7. Ask for feedback
How will you know if the travel management process you’ve implemented is working if you don’t talk to the people who use it?
Don’t let your travelers quietly fume over the faults of your company’s current process or complain to each other about it. Give them an opportunity to discuss their experience with you instead.
You can organize a meeting or send around a survey asking them about what they like and what they would change when it comes to technology, processes, options, etc. As long as you’re getting their take on things, you’ll be doing the most you can to make adjustments and optimize for traveler satisfaction.
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