How to Become a More Strategic Travel Manager

Travel managers are busy people. Tracking program performance, talking with travel suppliers, and overseeing traveler itineraries are just a few of the seemingly endless tasks on the travel manager’s to-do list. Sometimes the travel manager is also the office manager or housed within the human resources or finance departments, depending on the structure of the company.

There’s no question that a lot is expected from travel managers today. And with leadership always looking for ways to reduce cost and increase efficiency, travel managers struggle with competing tactical objectives and providing overall travel guidance simultaneously.

So, how can travel managers be more strategic, enhance the overall business plan and successfully guide a managed travel program? The following tips can help increase strategic leverage while effectively prioritizing objectives at the same time.

Generating value through negotiated travel supplier contracts

Managing contracts and building relationships with suppliers is the most time-consuming activity for travel managers according to a study by the Global Business Travel Association (Travel Manager 2020: Foundational Shifts In The Role Of The Travel Manager). A well-managed travel program relies on the discounts and benefits that are developed in partnership with preferred suppliers. Streamlining the process and generating the best partnership often requires:

  • Data – Collect, analyze and provide relevant data to suppliers so they can accurately assess how they can help. Data such as the number of travelers per year, most-frequented travel destinations and accurate travel spend gives suppliers the ability to create a custom solution.
  • Volume – Share detailed volume data points with suppliers, including the number of employees who utilize airlines, car rental agencies, and number of hotel rooms booked each year. Travel partners can then offer the best discounts based on these numbers.
  • Travel Policy Enforcement – Establish measures to have better control the travel policy. Travel suppliers need to feel confident that employees are booking within policy to reinforce the ability to stay within their parameters for discounted travel.

Supplier relationship management will require the time and resources of the travel manager. But through excellent data collection, consolidation, knowledge of traveler habits and adherence to policy, the process can be streamlined to generate added value to the managed travel program.

Understanding the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that matter most to leadership

It’s imperative for travel managers to know what matters most to the leadership team. A travel manager should be familiar with business benchmarks and goals in order to see how the travel program fits into the overall business strategy. And if benchmarks and goals are not clear, then working with various business stakeholders within the business will help the travel manager gain insight into this important information.

Offering a strategic perspective to business travel management requires the knowledge of how travel can improve overall business success. For example, if one business objective is increasing overall margins within the business, how can travel be managed appropriately to leverage volume discounts or reduce ancillary fees? Can value be offered through obtaining industry benchmarks that the travel program can be compared to?

The key is knowing what leadership is working towards, and then communicating corporate travel program value that contributes to the business’ overall goals. If travel is a big part of the business model, travel managers need to collaborate with leadership to ensure the best outcomes.

Evaluating and applying technology to streamline corporate travel

Travel managers must be able to efficiently and effectively evaluate and apply technology. In the same study by the Global Business Travel Association, 75% of respondents stated that technology will be very important to them in the near future.

There are many technology options available for travel managers, but with limited time to research the latest and greatest while also figuring out what would work best for the business and corporate culture, it is wise to consider the corporate travel problems that cause the most issues first. Is it the limited use of the online booking system? If so, a travel manager should research and evaluate why travelers aren’t using the system and then update the system to meet their needs. Are road warriors having trouble turning in receipts after travel? Investing in an automated travel and expense system can virtually eliminate this issue.

Identifying corporate travel pain points and focusing on ways technology can make the process easier is the first step towards a streamlined travel program. Once the problem is clear, travel managers can focus on productivity improvements, compliance and overall savings that additional technologies can bring.

Communicating and enforcing the travel policy to achieve cost savings

Setting a clear corporate travel policy and enforcing it consistently are two of the most important strategies travel managers can use to reduce travel costs:

Step 1: Develop travel program goals

Step 2: Infuse them into the corporate travel policy

Step 3: Communicate the policy

Step 4: Ask for leadership support in enforcement

When the travel policy is followed, travel chaos is reduced, resulting in increased employee productivity, safety and direct cost savings to the company's bottom line. The travel policy is also beneficial for data collection. When travelers follow the policy, travel managers have a clear picture of who is traveling, when they are traveling and what pieces of the travel puzzle are being neglected. This information provides strategic direction when negotiating supplier relationships and assessing technology investment opportunities.

The travel manager’s job is critical to the development and execution of the company’s business plan. Following the tips above will help save time and establish strategic corporate travel leadership, resulting in increased productivity, cost savings and satisfied travelers.