Why You Need to Think of Your Corporate Travel Program Like a Business

Note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Ronda Shipley, Direct Travel’s EVP of Business Development & Strategies. We’ve republished these thoughts below as part of Direct Travel’s ‘Whatever It Takes’ series.

For those in the business of business travel, the unique needs of companies and their travelers have never been more relevant than they are today. At Direct Travel, we have experienced the far-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on corporate travel programs and are helping clients get their travel programs back on track. Notably though, the level of impact has varied greatly from business to business.

Yet, big or small, struggling or thriving—companies of all sizes can improve the efficacy and economics of their travel programs as they prepare to safely resume travel. One way to ensure success in this process is to approach your travel program as a microcosm of what it truly is—a business of its own.

Understand the Building Blocks

The building blocks of a successful travel program are the same as those of a successful business. Motivation, objective, resource allocation, and strategy all play a similar role when thinking of travel as its own business within the corporate environment.

Traditionally, travel is one of the most challenging operating expenses on a company P&L. While your T&E may be in flux as a result of the pandemic, you still need to make your corporate travel efficient and drive ROI. Ask yourself: How are your negotiations being handled; are they being led in a way that benefits your organization? This may mean evaluating your partner selection process or gauging the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of your current tools and technology. Understand that the solutions you present must be palatable from an economic standpoint and meet ROI goals. 

For instance, the process for tracking and managing unused tickets has been increasingly top-of-mind as a result of COVID-19 cancellations and route changes. If you do not have the proper technology or systems in place, unused tickets are the business equivalent of unaccounted cash left sitting in a drawer. Depending on a company’s size, $20,000 in unused tickets may represent a significant investment while $500,000 may be the threshold for a larger company. In either case, the money is being spent in an inefficient manner if those funds aren’t being maximized.

Evaluating Your Partners

Applying the principles of a well-run business to your travel program can be streamlined by finding the right partners and/or evaluating current partners' performance. In order to address the defining needs of your program, look for a Travel Management Company (TMC) that can help you fill your program gaps and provide insights into areas with which you may be less familiar.

For companies that have not been dramatically impacted by the pandemic, the temporary pause in travel has been used as a time to revamp their programs and assess with their TMC partners which areas failed at the onset of the crisis and in which areas they excelled. On the other end of the spectrum, companies without a managed travel program—or ones that favored using multiple partners for different services—may be evaluating their capability to continue forward with that approach versus consolidating their travel into a managed program.

Depending on where your business falls on that spectrum, you may want a partner that can shepherd your program forward from start to finish. For others, a TMC that offers a consultative approach and participates at key points throughout the process is preferred. Our team is well-versed in both styles, and we understand that the needs of a small or mid-market company are often different than those in the large market. There are complexities on each end to understand, but what matters most is creatively tailoring a solution to fill the needs of each program.

The Future Ahead

Corporate travel is evolving at a rapid pace unseen by most of us in our lifetime. From a business-focused mindset, the core objectives are not so very different, even if the challenges and processes have changed.

Most companies still have key markets they are eager to return to and travel program gaps they need to fill. Take this opportunity to rebuild the areas in your program that weren’t well-defined before the pandemic by assessing the shifting landscape through a business-oriented lens.

Once your organization is ready to resume your travel, download our Back to Business Travel workbook to begin the process of steering your corporate travel program back on track.