The ultimate guide to small business travel management

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How to choose a corporate travel agency for a small business

Managing resources can be a challenge for any small business owner, especially if employees are frequent travelers. If bookings aren’t made in one channel and there’s no consideration to travel policies, a business can quickly lose time and money.

There are many options readily available for small businesses to maximise resources and centralize travel spend. More small to medium-sized businesses are choosing travel agencies to manage their business travel.  If you’re unsure if your small business would benefit from enlisting an agency or if you’re wondering if there’s a better solution out there, this guide can help you. 

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What is a business travel agency?

As the name suggests, a business travel agency specializes only in business travel. What they’re responsible for will depend on each companies needs, but generally, they’ll:

  • Book and manage all company travel, including meetings, conferences, and events.
  • Provide support for cancellations, modifications, and on-trip assistance.
  • Track and report travel spend.
  • Create a suitable company travel policy.
  • Process travel expenses.
  • Negotiate rates for corporate and group bookings.

Like businesses, there are many different types of corporate agencies with different expertise. Some agencies may be large, with international offices and multiple language support, whilst other agencies focus specifically on region or industry. The typical costs for using an agency varies and some charge per transaction; others by a fixed monthly fee. 

What makes a travel agency a good fit for a small business?

A travel agency is one of the options available to small businesses. Rather than trying to manage everything with no travel manager, or in-house team, a corporate travel agency can provide the services needed, leaving employees to focus on the job they were hired for. 

A travel agency should understand your business needs and enforce a travel policy to meet budgets and save costs.  

What are the advantages of using a travel agency for and SMB?

There are many reasons why a small business may seek the help of a travel agency. Here are some of the top advantages:

  • Increases company efficiency - Agencies can report spending by team, department, or project, giving a business the opportunity to control spending and optimize budgets.
  • Saves valuable time - Businesses won’t need to spend time booking itineraries, gathering invoices, or interacting with 3rd party customer support. 
  • Save costs through negotiated discounted rates - Corporate travel agents can negotiate better rates for their clients which may not be available to the public.
  • Agents have the expertise - If your company has a complex traveling system or makes frequent changes, agents have the knowledge and experience to help. 
  • Maintain travel policy and expenses - An agency will streamline a companies travel program and ensure bookings fit within a travel policy.
  • Offer travel support - In the case that something goes wrong whilst traveling, or a reservation needs to be changed last minute, a travel agency is usually available 24/7 to help the employee.

What are the disadvantages for small businesses?

There are other options available for small businesses to manage business travel that are more flexible and cost effective. Before signing on with a corporate travel company, it’s worth considering the disadvantages and the alternatives.

  • No freedom for the traveler -  More business travelers want the opportunity to book for themselves easily and within company policy, which isn’t an option with a business travel agency.
  • Lack of control for management and administrators - Instead of having easy access to reports, administrators will need to reach out to the agency to request information in advance.
  • Technology isn’t as advanced - Travel agencies often contact clients over the phone or by email, there is not one user-friendly location to view all trip information.
  • Limited inventory - While travel agencies have partnerships and deals, most agencies don’t usually offer low-cost vendors which means they can’t book the cheapest option available.
  • High fees - Business travel agencies increase overall travel spend due to their fees and service markups.

What small businesses should look for in a travel agency

If you own a small business, it’s important that energy and resources are focused on what will make the biggest impact. Here are some things to consider when finding an agency that meets your business needs.

  • Clear costs. It’s important that you’re aware of how the agency will charge for its service. Set payment agreements and look out for any extra charges and commission. 
  • Consumer-grade travel inventory. More choice means you can book the cheapest option and lower your travel spend. Options that are available to regular consumers should be available to business travelers.
  • Great support. What kind of support does the agency offer? Is it 24/7? Does it support your language? This is extremely important and where the agency can offer real value. 
  • Travel spend reports. To improve budgets, insight into travel spend is essential. Look for an agency that can process expenses and can provide in-depth reports and analysis.
  • Specialized and scalable. Make sure the agency has connections in the locations you travel to the most and has the ability to scale and develop as your company grows. 

Is there a cost-effective alternative?

If you don’t believe a travel agency is the best fit for your small business, or you have financial concerns about using an agency, there are alternatives readily available that help businesses in the same way as a travel agent.

Travel management tools can help small businesses to book, manage, and automate business travel without the need of hiring a corporate travel agent. Most tools allow the traveler to make their own travel arrangements, whilst adhering to travel policies and budgets. The management and finance teams can get easy access to reporting, with a clear overview of employee spends. 

There’s a tool out there that can help your business at each stage of the travel process, and it’s likely that there is a free version that you can access; making them a cost-effective option to manage small business travel

What's the best travel agency for small businesses?

In short, the best travel agency for a small business is no travel agency, but a travel tool. The objective of hiring a travel agency is to save time and resources on the booking and management process. Travel agencies used to be the best option available for this. However, tech tools with 24/7 support like TravelPerk offer the support of a traditional travel agency with all the advantages of an online booking platform.

TravelPerk 

With the world's most extensive inventory and a wide array of integrations, TravelPerk offers businesses a comprehensive corporate travel management system. As well as benefitting from the best rates in the travel industry, business travelers have access to real-time security notification and can speak to a human agent in just 15 seconds, 24/7, 365 days a year. 

Key features of TravelPerk 

  • Advanced expense management includes streamlined invoicing from providers plus a VAT recovery solution that saves businesses up to 25% extra on their annual travel budgets. 
  • An automated travel booking approval system that guarantees policy compliance and improves the travel experience for employees. 
  • FlexiPerk fares offer users peace of mind with the ability to cancel business trip arrangements up to two hours before departure with a guaranteed refund of 80%, no questions asked.   

FCM 

Traditional travel management company FCM has pivoted to offer tech solutions for busy business travelers with their new platform. From booking business trips to monitoring traveler safety, FCM allows organizations to complete various tasks on desktop and mobile devices. 

Key features of FCM 

  • An approvals system can be established incorporating travel policies to improve compliance. 
  • Syncs with AirPlus to streamline payments. 
  • Customizable dashboards allow teams to generate reports to monitor travel spending. 

TravelBank

Offering various tools for expensing and booking travel arrangements, business travelers can take advantage of negotiated rates for accommodation and transportation and support through TravelBank's dedicated Slack channels. 

Key features of TravelBank 

  • While security notifications are unavailable, there are provisions for support from travel experts to help with difficulties after departure.
  • Combines with a handful of major credit cards and common personnel and expense management software. 
  • Per-user subscription models allow organizations to choose between booking and travel expensing features.  

CTM

Known for specializing in arrangements for the energy and marine industries, CTM provides a range of travel services to assist businesses, including an online booking tool with fare forecasting to predict potential cost increases. 

Key features of CTM 

  • Provides concierge services to handle group travel and organize events.  
  • Allows travel managers to track individual employees' booking behaviors but cannot integrate corporate policies for greater compliance at this time.  
  • Establish an ongoing subscription for travel management services based on the size of your organization.

Corporate Traveller

With their quirkily named tech platform Melon, business travel agents Corporate Traveller are expanding their offerings. Melon's dashboard allows employees to book airfares, car rental, and accommodation while providing a smattering of integrations to aid busy travel managers. 

Key features of Corporate Traveller

  • Provides duty of care support with traveler tracking sending notifications for a range of security concerns, and updates to travel plans.   
  • Offers a host of negotiated corporate rates but has a smaller inventory than other business travel management tools. 
  • Syncs with commonly used expensing and HR tools but combines with fewer tools than other travel management solutions.