Opinion: 7 ways to be smarter about business travel

Travel booking and management can be a huge drain on resources for HR professionals, so how do you make sure that you're not wasting your time and getting real value for your travel spend? Darrin Grafton has the answers

Opinion: 7 ways to be smarter about business travel
Travel booking and management can be a huge drain on resources for HR professionals, so how do you make sure that you're not wasting your time and getting real value for your travel spend? Darrin Grafton has the answers
For businesses there's two ways to book and manage travel. Do it all in-house - which is called an ‘unmanaged travel program’, or pay a travel agent to manage it for you, which the industry calls 'managed travel'. Many large corporate organisations have a managed travel program because it saves them money and helps them keep control over their spend. 
By the same token, if you’re not a big business spending millions each year on travel, it doesn't mean you can't take some of the learnings and principles from managed travel and apply to them your business. If you are interested in getting more bang for your travel buck then follow these seven principles:
1) Shop around
Most businesses operating unmanaged travel programs basically behave like consumers, using the same websites that people booking their holidays book (Expedia and Booking.com typically). You'll be surprised to find out that there is a big price discrepancy between the different suppliers. Based on Serko’s analysis, 33% of rooms are priced the same, which means 66% are priced differently.
2) Know the difference between instant purchase, refundable and pay on departure hotel rates
Hotels often sell the same room at a variety of different price points depending on the level of flexibility on offer. The cheapest rates are typically inflexible (no refunds, cash up front, no cancellation). They're fine if you're travelling tomorrow, but if you're booking further out and there's a risk that the trip might change, then look for Pay-on-Departure rates, or at the very least, refundable rates. You pay a bit more, but you will save in the long run.
3) Book Flights and Hotels at the same time whenever you can
Hotels offer something called 'package rates' which means that they charge a lower room rate if there's a flight being sold as part of the package - the savings can be great. So buy on sites that offer flights and hotels. Be aware that package rates can sometimes be quite restrictive, so check the T’s and C’s carefully before you commit. 
4) Define a clear Travel Policy and enforce it
A Travel Policy is simply a set of rules that determine what people can and can't book. For example, most large businesses have a room night cap of $300 for major cities and $200 for regional cities. This stops people (that should know better) booking the Penthouse. They have a no Business Class and No Premium Economy rule on Domestic and Trans-Tasman and they have a rule that says people should book the cheapest flight within a defined time window. It's basic stuff, but applied with vigour it can start to drive real savings by shaving $50 here and $100 there....
5) Use an approval process
An approval process is simply a mechanism that ensures that someone eyeballs and approves all of the expenses associated with a business trip, before any money actually gets spent. Most businesses say they have a process, but very few actually enforce it and as a result often end up paying the price. Just knowing that someone else WILL look at the proposed itinerary before it gets booked has a significant impact on what people propose. Again, the savings are $50 here and a $100 there, but it soon all adds up.
6) Trust the Traveller
For a lot of businesses, the answer to the policy and approval question is to funnel all bookings through a central administrator or Office Manager. This works to a point but it's not really the right answer as more often than not, there's double handling involved. The traveller does the searching and the booker does the booking and the net result is 1.5 or even double the time investment. With the right policy, the right technology and the right approvals process, travellers can and should have the freedom to book themselves.
7) Use technology wherever you can
Technology can solve a lot of the problems associated with travel management, and the right technology can drive huge cost savings and productivity gains for businesses. Large organisations learned this a long time ago, which is why they insisted that their managed travel partners provide them with online booking systems and mobile apps that addressed all of their travel management needs. To this point the technology has been out of reach for smaller businesses. However serko.travel has changed the landscape.
Darrin Grafton is the CEO of Serko. To learn more about how Serko is helping smaller businesses maximise their travel spend, click here. For corporate travel information click here 

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