How corporates can learn from government – a word from the reigning Travel Buyer of the Year


Maureen Masuku won the title of Travel Buyer of the Year 2016 during her tenor as group travel manager at the Industrial Development Corporations of SA (IDC). Now embracing corporate life as head: travel and marketing sourcing in Rand Merchant Bank’s procurement department, she is bringing her experience in government to innovate the way she does things in corporate.

Corporate travel management versus government travel are two extremely different entities, Maureen Masuku, head: travel and marketing sourcing – Procurement Department at Rand Merchant Bank says straight off the bat.

“I’ve done research to understand which of the two are stronger when it comes to travel policies and processes, and found that government is stronger in this area,” she says – adding that it is still possible to find travellers in this space not complying, but the overall processes and policies associated with government travel are very good.

Masuku, who began her travel career as a consultant for Connex travel (now BCD Travel) before moving around various in-house corporate travel agencies as a consultant for American Express, made a name for herself when she joined mining company Foskor. She established a fully-fledged in-house travel agency, complete with consultants hired by the company itself and issuing tickets on an IATA accreditation that she obtained in a few weeks. It was a model she picked up during her time at SABC. She was then moved to the IDC (the parent-company of Foskor) and served the various subsidiaries thereunder as group travel manager.

Now head of travel and marketing sourcing in the procurement department at Rand Merchant Bank, Masuku says government processes are stronger and more direct – meaning they are either hot or cold, never mild - whereas most corporates prefer an owner-manager approach to policy which is seen as a guide not a rule book.

There are negatives and positives that come with an owner-manager approach to policy, as it is always open for different interpretations, says Masuku. “In corporate, we trust that, for instance, if we give a traveller a corporate credit card, they will comply with the relevant rules therein. This assists travellers to also use their own discretion as corporates don’t necessarily want employees to be unable to fulfill their duties because they were inconvenienced in terms of travel. This also varies with different companies’ cultures,” she says.

When it comes to government travel policies, the National Treasury clamps down on its entities, telling them they have to comply or face the wrath of the Auditor-General, Masuku says. “Whether it is the ceo, the executives or whomever - if you deviate from the policy, you have to follow the necessary disciplinary procedures, which is great as it forces travellers to comply.”

At the same time, Masuku says she has seen this being interpreted differently by the various departments within government in order to suit their business needs since they all differ - which also creates issues for travellers i.e. when a traveller is travelling with another traveller from the same company, but in a different department, one person could be in business class for an international flight and the other in economy.

“It is therefore the job of the travel manager in both the corporate space and the government space to educate their travellers on why certain decisions should be taken over others,” she says.

The secrets of travel management

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to travel management, Masuku says, but there are aspects that all travel managers should have in common if they want to make a difference in their company.

1.All-round knowledge of travel

In order to be a truly efficient travel manager, one needs to have an all-round understanding of the travel industry, says Masuku.

“I find that a lot of companies will see that someone is currently a good PA, for instance, who is able to coordinate the booking for the CEO – so when the travel manager position becomes available, they say that person will make a good fit. But it does not work like that.”

Ideally, travel managers should have gone to a tertiary institution to become a trained travel consultant. This experience, says Masuku, will equip the travel manager with key skills needed to excel at their jobs – such as negotiating practices, rules and policies with regards to booking travel as well as the core skills of travel management.

“Travel is a commodity that needs to be learned and changes all the times, so if you need more understanding, familiarise yourself with the travel programmes at various tertiary institutions or take part in training courses offered by associations like the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) to equip yourself and understand the language of travel. There are very difficult terms in travel that can easily get you caught out if you do not understand them well enough,” she says.

2.Prioritise industry relationships

If you want to be an efficient travel manager, you need to be a people’s person, says Masuku. This means having good relationships with peers, travellers and suppliers.

She says information-sharing is paramount, and networking is key. “It is important to have peers and friends in the industry that you meet with and share tips with on compliance, traveller behaviour and the like,” she says.

It is just as important to have this type of relationship with your travellers. “Travellers need to know they can trust you. While it is likely that the same traveller that you, let’s say, stopped an aircraft for so they could board, will be the same person criticising you later on down the line, so you have to have a thick skin and be patient with them,” she says.

But a good relationship with suppliers is the real key to success, says Masuku. “Your suppliers can make you shine. They will say, ‘oh with Maureen, the waitlist vocab doesn’t exist,’ – knowing that as the travel manager I have done nothing special, but rather my relationship with that supplier has garnered better service for my travellers.”  M

Nominations are open for the Travel Buyer of the Year 2017. Nominations will run until September 30 and the winner will be announced at the annual GBTA conference in October.

Click here to place your vote now.

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