Travel management is undergoing a huge shift—away from micromanagement and towards trust, transparency, and simplicity.
The fact is that “control” and “compliance” have dominated the conversation around corporate travel management for some time. And it’s no wonder. Business travel is the 2nd largest expense after employee salaries, and when managed effectively, companies earn $12.50 or more in incremental revenue for every dollar invested in business travel. It's a known business need that does come with high costs.
Today, business travelers demand easy self-booking and greater travel options. Simultaneously, companies want to reduce costs and improve the ROI of corporate travel. Having a managed travel program or working with modern travel management software can help you achieve that.
Our guide to travel management will help you achieve all of these goals and more.
What is corporate travel management?
Travel management is the process of controlling, tracking and reporting on a company’s travel-related expenses. Business travel can be managed by external corporate travel agencies, an in-house travel manager or by an admin professional, such as those charged with office management.
Regardless of the role in charge of managing travel, most businesses also rely on a corporate travel platform to track business travel expenses, among other key features.
What does a corporate travel manager do?
A corporate travel manager is typically an internal employee who manages the travel program and all business trips for the entire organization (an external resource who isn’t on staff is called a corporate travel agent).They set the corporate travel policy, handle duty of care and risk management, and help the company navigate global business travel in an efficient and effective way.
Depending on the size of the organization, there might be a whole team of corporate travel managers. Their key duties include:
- Booking trips for travelers (not only c-suite executives, but employees in any role).
- Helping individual departments track their travel spend so they can stay under budget.
- Providing travel support to travelers before, during, or after their trip.
- Selecting and managing any travel vendors or travel tools used.
- Working to negotiate corporate rates on hotels that the company uses often.
- Booking group travel.
- Organizing ground transportation like rental cars or rail
- Analyzing company travel spend, or delivering travel spend reports to the CFO for analysis.
What does a travel buyer do?
A travel buyer is in charge of either purchasing or outsourcing the purchasing of corporate travel. This means partnering with vendors, negotiating rates, and/or choosing a corporate travel management company and overseeing or reviewing their work.
The travel buyer typically makes decisions that impact the entire company, not just individual departments.
How does a travel management company work?
Not every corporate travel management company is a travel agency. There are also software companies and online booking tools that fall into the travel management category and who provide self-booking platforms for businesses alongside 24/7 support.
A travel management company is in charge of either taking over everything to do with travel management, or of giving your employees the tools they need to manage travel in a fraction of the time. This can include:
- Self-booking within policy
- Concierge booking
- Group booking
- Travel support
- Travel spend reporting
- Travel policy creation
- Travel budget tracking
- Tagging and categorizing travel spend
Common issues with corporate travel management
When your company is using a process that wasn’t designed for how you travel (the solution is either too robust, or non-existent), what ends up happening is that neither corporate travelers nor admins get their needs met.
- Booking travel requires endless email threads that destroy your productivity and ruin your day
- The admin team is overworked and stressed out by handling all travel arrangements, booking requests, flight changes, and cancellations
- The finance team is at the breaking point trying to figure out who’s spending money on what trips and why
- The operations team spent hours making a travel policy that no one reads
- The finance team oversees every trip booking to control spend the only way they know how—by micromanaging
- Travelers lack the freedom to choose the exact trip they want, as they would when booking their personal travel
- Travelers complain about how they’re forced to book travel, and they frequently insist on booking online, outside of company policy
Problems faced by
- Consumer booking sites: Need to compare various websites and pay out of pocket. OR send back-and-forth emails to admin doing the booking. No support for issues on the road.
- Travel Agency: Online booking tool is typically buggy and has bad UX. Employees end up calling support to book, when they’d rather save time by booking for themselves and get the options they want.
- Traditional corporate software: Clunky user experience that travelers don’t enjoy. Offshore customer service, typically ranked as the top frustration in customer reviews.
- Consumer booking sites: Lots of back-and-forth emails when booking for travelers. No support; overwhelmed with issues, changes and cancellations.
- Travel agency: Lots of back-and-forth emails between travelers and agency to finalize trips.
- Traditional Corporate Software: Overly complicated and feature-laden. Impossible to control travel when travelers don’t want to use the tool.
- Finance Teams
- Consumer Booking Sites: Seemingly great prices, but nonrefundable; fees for cancellations and changes (commonplace in business travel). Manual expensing, reimbursing and inventory tracking. Impossible to guarantee travel policy compliance.
- Travel Agency: Costly service and above-market travel prices. Limited reporting and integrations.
- Traditional Corporate Software: Costly. Lacks low-price flights and hotels available online. Travelers dislike the software’s user experience, so they end up booking elsewhere out of policy. (Statistista, Business Travel Industry 2018)
Stakeholders in the travel management process
Updating your travel management process and systems is absolutely a team effort. Depending on your company size, this may require collaboration with:
- In-house corporate travel manager
- Office manager or office team
- Head of operations / COO
- CFO and finance managers
- Panel of frequent employee travelers
- Current corporate travel agency or company
Some colleagues will be heavily involved in the process (such as finance and operations) whereas others will give feedback and approval (such as frequence c-suite travelers).
The pillars of modern travel management:
- Trust – Trust travelers to book using the approved process and policy, and make it easy for them
- Transparency – Let travelers see what they’re allowed to spend and choose accordingly, and let finance and administrative teams see what is being booked and why.
- Simplicity – Create a process that works and meets everyone’s needs.
- Impact – Measure the impact of business travel on the company and reduce unnecessary trips that leave travelers exhausted and businesses with needless expenses.
With these three pillars in place, you can bid farewell to manual, complicated booking processes, back-and-forth emails, and requests for reports. Most importantly, you can say goodbye to confusion.
Five steps to managing corporate travel effectively
At companies of any size, here’s how to manage corporate travel:
- Choose a smart booking tool
- Assure 24/7 travel support
- Create policies and approval workflows
- Organize and utilize travel spend data in real-time
- Improve collaboration between admin and finance
1. Choose a smart booking tool
It’s no surprise that with the advent of online booking sites, businesses around the globe started to book travel on consumer sites.
Guess what happens when a business is using consumer tools to book travel? The CFO lacks oversight, and so is forced to become the bad cop. Finance departments are forced to micromanage travel spend for every department, in a way that’s overly conservative and controlling.
You can’t get the transformation without the tech. The first step in managing travel the modern way is to select a tool built on trust, transparency, and (don’t forget) simplicity.
Here are the main features to look out for in your new travel management platform:
- Self-booking within policy – Trust your travelers to book what they need, and set up policies and parameters
- Consolidated invoicing – The ability to get one monthly invoice for all travel from one vendor, instead of having it spread across the web
- Travel spend reporting – Easy access for all finance and administrative team members who need to track travel itinerary details and spend by cost centers, tags or labels
- Easy booking process that travelers love – Invoice consolidation and accurate reporting are impossible if employees want to cheat on the approved tool, so choose a tool that’s easy to use with consumer-grade UX. Make their entire travel experience, from booking to coming home, as easy and smooth as possible. Introducing a mobile app is just an added bonus!
- Great inventory – Inventory is not a side note. Make sure the platform you use has every available option you can find online and that the company is committed to adding more inventory
- Travel support – You need travel assistance that’s available 24/7 in your native language so that employees can get help even when the internal admin team is unavailable
2. Assure 24/7 travel support
Providing travel support 24/7 isn’t easy, unless you’re a vampire who never sleeps. If you’re not Count Dracula (and you like your free time), you can get hit with cancellations, changes and other requests on nights and weekends, or have these things consume your workday so that you have to work longer hours in order to wrap up important projects.
And, if you’re unavailable to help, then travelers get stuck waiting for fixes, and ultimately this costs the business time and money. The logical solution is to rely on a partner who can deliver 24/7 travel support so you, as an office manager or travel manager, don’t have to.
Here are the requirements to look for in travel support:
- Available 24/7
- Easy to reach a real human
- Guaranteed follow-up and follow-through
- Native language support
- Fast escalation for big issues
Many office managers and travel managers are still hands-on with travel (and all of its last-minute problems), and that’s great. The point is having a partner that’s available when you’re not, so you can choose what’s important for you to handle, and where you can get help.
In addition to getting coverage for routine trip support like changes and cancellations, you’ll also want to look into getting help booking group trips. Large trips of 8 or more people can really weigh down the office management team. When vetting tools, see if they’ll help book group travel for you, including negotiating on the price.
3. Create policies and approval workflows
Automating your travel policy creates a trio of benefits in your business travel management processes. You increase travel policy compliance and maintain it around the clock. The administrative team saves time because they’re no longer booking all trips. Travelers get to experience the freedom of booking for themselves.
Do certain departments, offices or specific travelers have unique travel needs? If so, your travel policy will be more complex, as you won’t have one policy that works for the entire company.
For most companies, these are the basic factors that their travel policy or business travel program requires:
- Maximum cost of airfare
- Maximum cost per hotel per night
- Minimum amount of days booked in advance
- Hotel star rating
- Flight class allowed
But that’s just the beginning! You can get more specific, such as setting clear cost control of hotels per city, for example.
When setting up automated travel policies you have different options for how strict or lenient you want to be. Here are 3 very different styles, when it comes to automating policies and approving trips that are outside of the limits:
- No approval required for any trip
- Approval required for some trips
- Approval required for every trip
If a traveler attempts to book a trip that is outside of policy, you want to have a simple approval process in place. The traveler should be able to request approval inside of the app, which will notify the admin. No need to write emails!
Next, you need to decide who is approving the trips: the office manager, corporate travel manager, CFO, or multiple department leads?
For an admin who is regularly approving trips, one of the most helpful things is a platform that shows you all the trips waiting for your approval right inside the dashboard. That way you have a central location for every trip that’s still in-progress and you never have to search your email for anything.
4. Organize and utilize travel spend data
Effective travel management isn’t just for your admin team. Expense management in collaboration with your finance and operations teams is also really important. Why? You want travel spend reporting that is not only accurate but insightful!
By using cost centers, labels and by making sure all of your trips are available in the reporting tool, you can generate smart reports that will help the finance team identify trends, leaks, and opportunities for budget optimization.
- Cost centers – Does your company use different payment accounts for different geographical regions? How many cost centers does the company have? Make sure that travel spend is getting charged to the right accounts and that you're making accurate expense reports.
- Tags and labels – Beyond cost centers, are there any important filters that the finance team would have to have when viewing travel spending reports? For example, would they like each trip tagged by team or by project? Decide upfront so that the tagging system can be implemented clearly from the get-go.
- Keep all travel in one place – to get accurate travel data, you need to keep all travel in one place—whenever possible. Work with a travel management solution that integrates with providers that matter to your company, such as budget airlines, AirBnb or European train lines. If your company has negotiated hotel rates, you want your corporate solution to be able to book those rates for you, so you don’t lose the travel data by booking direct.
5. Improve collaboration between admin and finance
The most important thing in modern travel management is that it serves the whole entire company. We’ve talked about equipping travelers with stellar support. We’ve talked about saving time as an admin. So what about finance?
Here’s what the finance team wants and needs:
- Streamlined approvals process – If your approval process requires action from the admin and the finance team, try to make this as seamless as possible.
- Easy access invoices – The finance team needs to grab all invoices quickly so they can reconcile expenses and set clear reimbursement processes. The best way to do this is to use a platform that consolidates travel spend into one monthly invoice.
- Ability to track spend instantly – Consolidate all travel spend into one platform so that they can generate reports on what is being spent, by who, and why (when using tags and labels). Same as with the invoices, determine whether you need to send them a monthly report, or if they want to download it themselves.
- Cost savings on trips – Fixing travel isn’t just about saving time. Many businesses are still using travel booking platforms that were built in the 80s and 90s. This means that they markup the inventory so that the company is paying more than a consumer would! Impress the finance team by reducing travel costs and introducing consumer-grade prices for trips.
The bottom line: it's time to upgrade your travel management
Let’s bring it all together!
Set the best travel management strategy for your company in 5 easy steps:
- Choose a smart booking tool – Meet everyone’s needs
- Share the burden of travel support – Don’t try to do this alone
- Set up cost centers and labels – Let the tool reflect the business
- Create policies and approval workflows – Put the policy inside the booking process
- Improve collaboration between admin and finance – Grab invoices and reports