How to stay one step ahead of the game

Corporate travel is evolving at a rapid pace, increasing the need for forward-thinking travel buyers to remain one step ahead of the game. Debbie Badham speaks to GBTA regional director of the EMEA, Catherine McGavock, about current global best practice.   

AS THE regional director of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, for the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), Catherine McGavock is considered an authority on international best practice in the corporate travel arena.   

Interestingly, her career began in marketing and events, where she specialised in membership programmes – hence the link to her involvement in associations. McGavock’s prior involvement in the travel industry included time spent working for Capita plc – a large UK-based outsourcing plc – where she was involved with the corporation’s entry into the travel market when they purchased a TMC and then Evolvi, a rail booking tool. McGavock managed the division’s marketing needs. “I loved the travel industry and was delighted to become involved in the sector again when the opportunity to join the GBTA arose,” she says.

During her time with the GBTA, McGavock has developed a wealth of knowledge around travel management, sharing valuable insight on a variety of topical issues.

Person-specific policies

When it comes to best practice around developing a single, coherent policy that includes booking and reconciliation procedures, McGavock says travel buyers should not focus on developing a single policy at all. “While in the past focus has been on a single policy, the current trend is to acknowledge that one size doesn’t fit all.”

In order to encourage greater compliance, McGavock says it’s particularly important for the travel manager to take local and regional variances into account when creating a global travel programme. “There has been a definite move away from global consolidation to region-specific solutions that take cultural variances and infrastructure, such as GDS capabilities and content availability, into account.

What’s more, advances in technology now enable organisations to implement person-specific policies with variations that take individual traveller and business unit needs into account. “It’s about developing a policy that works for your company, with buy-in at all levels and the systems in place to make compliance easy and reporting effective.”

She says that to do this, the travel manager must understand the needs of both the business and its travellers as well as the content available for the environment in which they are working. “To be adopted, the travel policy must be sensible and appropriate for the organisation in question. It also needs to be communicated well so that people know what’s expected from them.”

Focusing specifically on compliance, McGavock notes that performance should be tracked and, more than this, travel buyers should recognise compliant behaviour and address non-compliance. “The GBTA foundation recently conducted some valuable research into the levels of and reasons for non-compliance in a number of key markets globally – information like this can give travel managers valuable insights into what levels of compliance are realistic and alert them to possible issues to address.”

Informed benchmarking

Not surprisingly, McGavock highlights the need for a greater understanding of the travel programme as vital to success. She says travel buyers should first understand their own programmes and then benchmark them against other effective programmes to develop a clearer idea of policies they should be implementing and achieve a greater sense of what success looks like. “Whatever the chosen model, it’s important to note that traveller safety and duty of care are paramount,” she advises, adding that when implementing new initiatives, travel buyers should tackle those projects that will make the greatest impact first.

Optimal outsourcing

A greater understanding of the travel programme and the organisation as a whole will assist the travel buyer with decisions around outsourcing. McGavock believes that there are many ways in which outsourcing can bring value to a travel programme whether this involves outsourcing the entire function or specific elements of it – this might include demand management, support, technology, the booking process or data capture and analytics. “What works is highly dependent on the organisation’s need and the expertise of the outsourced provider,” she maintains. “The key to success is to develop a good understanding of the organisation’s current requirements and what it is likely to need in the future.”

Thereafter, travel buyers should embark on a rigorous process to select the right partners and ensure that the contract, with its service level agreements (SLAs), penalties and incentives, is designed to drive the exact service needed.

The false economy

McGavock warns that travel managers need to be extremely careful about placing too great an emphasis on transaction costs – particularly when working with a TMC. “It is wiser to focus on achieving savings in terms of the overall spend because if you squeeze your transaction fee so much that the TMC can no longer afford to serve you, it’s a false economy,” she says. In other words, while you might save the company money in the short-term, over the long run, you stand to waste and even lose money by missing out on more significant savings. However, McGavock says that it is possible to incentivise the TMC to reduce overall costs in different ways – for example through demand management (looking at why business trips are taken and their return on investment); through influencing booker and traveller behaviour; or through more efficient sourcing.

Competitive environments

One way to drive down costs, according to McGavock, is to maximise price competition among suppliers. She says that to do this, travel buyers first need to understand and leverage competitive environments. “They need to develop a good understanding of what’s available in the marketplace and make use of these insights as part of their negotiations.” What’s more, it’s important that buyers know when, and are prepared to walk away from a negotiation when they find themselves unable to get the deal they need.

Accurate data

When it comes to data collection and analysis, accuracy is of paramount importance. McGavock’s advice for travel buyers is to be specific in what they are measuring, to make sure they know what they are looking for and to be vigilant in ensuring information is consistently collected. “Ultimately the key to capturing data is to make sure that your booking channel works from a functional point of view and that it offers appropriate content,” she says. “Otherwise your travellers will be tempted to book elsewhere – which will result in leakage, and will then render data incomplete.”

To avoid this, McGavock recommends that travel buyers create feedback systems for travellers so that they have an easily accessible platform from which they can keep the travel manager informed that the necessary content is there and that the systems work.

Game changers

There are a number of major trends influencing travel at the moment, says McGavock. These include:

  • Big data – suppliers have a far greater understanding of travellers and how to monetise that knowledge.
  • Distribution – a far greater number of ways in which travellers can now book travel.
  • Technology – the increasing prevalence of video conferencing and explosion of mobile technology.
  • Demographics – the rise in Gen Y travellers.

She maintains that these factors are all serving to make traditional travel management far more difficult. “Travel managers can either choose to embrace or at least accommodate these changes; or resist them – although that would seem rather like King Canute trying to stop the tide.”

Collaboration amongst the organisation’s different departments can help to address challenges brought about by change. “There seems to be an emergence of collaborative environments whereby the travel manager is linking in with other departments in the organisation, for example HR, finance, IT and security, as well as with external service providers such as the TMC, to help with the management of the travel programme,” McGavock says. 

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