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The How-to Guide for Building a Corporate Travel Policy

Can corporate travel policy really help manage all aspects of your travel program? Hint: yes.

A successful corporate travel policy supports every aspect of your travel program, from trip planning and booking to on-the-road support, travel expense capture and reimbursement, and data collection that facilitates budgeting and business planning. Whew! That’s a lot of ground to cover. Can a corporate travel policy really do all that?

Yes. Without a travel and expense policy, your company is spending a lot of money but not necessarily going anywhere. Read on, for a how-to guide to building a corporate travel policy that works. That is, it works to support travel program goals, overall business goals, traveler needs and back-end administration and finance.

Tips on best practices for corporate travel policy

A well-conceived corporate travel and expense policy is an investment in business growth, more agile financial management and better employee relations – if it’s based on best practices. Before you can get started, though, you need to know:

  • Why you are you doing this. Maybe you read somewhere (perhaps in our helpful Lola.com blog) that effective travel management requires a formal policy. But not just any policy will do. Learning about best practices that drive creation and execution of a stellar company-specific travel policy will save precious time and deliver broader results than you might think.
  • Why your employees travel.Who they are, how often they travel, where they go and what they need to accomplish determine travel expenses and policy requirements.
  • Your budget. Managing travel expenses allows you to protect your budget by controlling costs and to predict future travel expense needs more accurately.
  • Current travel management status. Is your “travel program” a DIY free-for all? Do you have existing rules but little policy compliance?

Travel management can be hardest for small businesses without official travel managers. Focus on these key policy elements:

  • Flexibility. Travel is unpredictable, no matter how much planning goes into it. And every person who travels is different. Policies must reflect that by offering choices within whatever parameters you set, especially regarding flights and hotels. Policies should also be reasonable, to accommodate those times when it actually makes more sense to upgrade a flight or room in order to meet the mission of the trip or make the trip itself more expeditious.
  • Adaptability. Policies must serve your needs now but be agile enough to evolve as your company grows and your travel needs change.
  • Simplicity. Effective travel management depends on policy compliance. Make it easy to do that.

Who can you consult with regarding your business's corporate travel policy?

The key to successful policy creation is getting input from everyone who touches or is touched by your travel program:

  • Travelers!
  • Corporate travel managers, or the EA, HR staffer, or whomever currently coordinates employee travel
  • Your finance/accounting department
  • Your HR department
  • Your legal department  

Talk to us, too. Our team here at Lola.com is expert in business travel management solution.  

 Approaches to corporate travel policy compliance

There’s no point in having corporate travel policies if employees don’t take them to heart and follow the booking guidelines. Why is corporate travel policy compliance important to overall travel management?

  • Saves money by controlling travel expenses
  • Ensures consistent experience for all travelers
  • Consistent vendor usage facilitates future negotiation of lower prices and/or more traveler amenities
  • All employees know that booking and other travel expectations exist and how to comply
  • Supports proactive duty of care by assuring 24/7 traveler support and assistance

Creating a travel and expense policy is a fundamental step toward controlling travel expenses. But we’re not talking only about cash outlay here. The hidden costs of not having a policy can kill your budget and your corporate momentum. Unnecessarily frustrating, tiring, and uncomfortable travel experiences lead to poor performance on the road, job dissatisfaction, low morale and turnover.

Thankfully, a well-considered travel program includes policies that alleviate these worries by giving travelers a supportive, personalized experience.

How can you make it easier for employees to comply with your corporate travel policy?

  • Set policies that are realistic and make sense for your individual travelers.  
  • Focus on key requirements for everyday use – simple, easy to understand and follow.
  • Clearly define what is expected of travelers and what help they can expect from the business when they’re on the road.
  • Keep it simple. Create a one-sheet that outlines common booking and expense needs, and post the “whole enchilada” travel policy on your company’s intranet where it’s easily accessible.
  • Make it flexible, because travel is fluid by nature and individual preferences matter (a lot) to travelers.
  • Give them an online booking tool (such as Lola.com).
  • Make it easy to submit business travel expenses. The best way to do that is to eliminate paper. Nothing wastes time and increases frustration like fussing around with handfuls of receipts. Inevitably, some get lost, or they’re illegible. That delays travel expense reporting and obscures visibility into overall travel spend. All those little receipts have to be entered into your accounting system, which wastes valuable staff time and invites mistakes. Adopting a comprehensive corporate travel management tool such as Lola eliminates all that. Everything is digitized and immediate. Complete, accurate expense reporting takes just a few clicks, and the corporate travel big picture is always clear.

Consider what makes business travelers compliant

  • Desire to do the right thing – as long as everyone else is doing that, too. Consistent travel management policies ensure fairness.
  • Booking flexibility. Companies vary widely, as do their workforces. Figure out what motivates your travelers most and design policies that align with both company culture and individual travel preferences.  
  • Perks that show you care how much travelers are giving up to hit the road on the company’s behalf. The obvious example is allowing everyone to retain the loyalty rewards they earn while traveling for business. (Note that if your guidelines allow booking through the Expedia Affiliate Program or similar options, employees will not earn the loyalty points they expect.) Make bleisure an approved – officially encouraged -- option, too.
  • An easy-to-use booking tool that incorporates corporate travel guidelines and expedites every aspects of travel, from planning and booking to expense submission and reimbursement.

How to create an effective corporate travel policy

As noted earlier, the level of compliance determines how “effective” your travel policy is. If employees ignore all or parts of your policy, something is wrong. You won’t be able to achieve your goals. Therefore, the more up-front effort you invest in creating a relevant, easy-to-use travel and expense policy, the more likely your team will embrace it.

What should travel managers do first to create an effective corporate travel policy?

  1. Conduct a travel management status assessment -- do you have guidelines for travelers now? If so, which policies are working well and where is compliance a recurring problem? Are there gaps or out-of-date requirements that need to be addressed?
  2. Review your “why” – reasons your employees travel, where to, and how often.
  3. Review your goals – do travel program goals support your strategic business goals?
  4. Get input from all key stakeholders – anyone who will directly use the travel policy in some way (travelers, travel managers or EAs, accounting, legal) and also heads of all departments that include travelers or are affected by your business travel program. That ensures you’ll get a 360o perspective of travel needs. Don’t forget the C-suite, because buy-in from on high is a prerequisite for the success of any travel program.

An effective corporate travel policy includes booking and travel expense guidelines such as:

  • Flight, rail (maybe), hotel, and rental car booking
  • Preferred air and hotel vendors
  • Ground transportation such as taxis or Uber
  • Meals and entertainment
  • Pre-approval requirements and process
  • Which travel expenses are reimbursable (and what will not be paid by the company)
  • The process for expense submission and reimbursement
  • Traveler support and assistance while on the road
  • How to use your company’s online booking tool

How detailed should an effective corporate travel policy be?

  • There should be enough information so employees can handle most bookings, etc. on their own. Or, conversely, so corporate travel managers can handle bookings for them efficiently, without the need for back-and-forth conversations about preferences, etc.
  • Any situations requiring pre-approval should be clearly identified, along with the process for travel managers (or others) to do that.
  • Receipt requirements should be clearly stated, along with the process to capture receipts and the timeframe in which to submit travel expenses and expect reimbursement.
  • How to get help when on the road should be clearly explained. Remember that employees might need assistance with travel-related problems such as flight cancellations, but they may also need help with a personal emergency.

Your travel and expense policy should also include any supporting details for these key topics plus extraneous information such as how to handle “what if” situations. Your goal is a comprehensive document that covers anticipated questions and needs. That said, the best practice is to create a separate one-sheet document that makes essential points easy for travelers to access.

Keep in mind that “comprehensive” doesn’t mean you have to include every single conceivable detail. For one thing, that’s impossible. Business travel is often unpredictable. In addition, the industry and the world are constantly changing. As we’ve noted, an encyclopedic travel management document will be shunned instead of used.

Focus instead on covering the essentials that matter most to your company and travelers. Consider what can be handled individually versus what requires approval. Then outline a process for handling truly unusual circumstances. 

Tools for creating a corporate travel policy

If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, there is good news. There are numerous resources available to help you develop an effective corporate travel policy. Many are right at hand:

  • Travel managers (your or those with other companies). Don’t have a formal travel manager? That’s not unusual for smaller businesses. But the person currently charged with coordinating employee travel is a front-line resource for policy development. They know what’s working, what’s not and what’s missing that could streamline and boost policy and compliance effectiveness.
  • The folks in accounting. Getting to some destination and getting work done may be the reason for corporate travel, but it all adds up to one of your biggest annual expenditures. Controlling costs and otherwise managing the financial side of travel is bottom-line critical. That starts with expense reimbursement policies and processes that ensure accurate, effective forecasting and budget management and a simple, fast reimbursement process.
  • Human Resources staff — training falls under their purview, and training is critical when it comes to effective travel management.
  • Company lawyers, because your business has a legal duty of care that extends to employees when they are traveling for business, not just when they’re on-premise.
  • Travelers! Talk about going to the source. These are the people who live your travel program every day.

Outside corporate walls, you can:

  • Find a wealth of information and advice online.
  • Subscribe to our blog. As your technology partner in travel, Lola.com offers a wealth of information via our Resource Library and podcasts as well as our blog.
  • Give us a call here at Lola.com. We work with small and mid-size businesses every day, outfitting them with the travel management and booking tools that put travel policies right at everyone’s fingertips. We know about best practices because that’s how we designed our platform. We also know the travel challenges SMBs face every day, and how other businesses have teamed up with Lola to conquer travel booking challenges and boost travel program effectiveness.

What are some tools for ensuring compliance with your corporate travel policy?

Review sample policies. There are numerous examples available online, and they can be very helpful as you’re thinking through your own travel guidelines. But you cannot simply fill in the blanks on some template and expect an effective result. Most templates will include elements which aren’t applicable to your company, but they will also tip you off to important elements you might otherwise overlook. Relevant company-tailored policies inspire compliance.

Create a training and communications plan – not just a big roll-out event, but ongoing reminders about key points of your travel policy and the importance of following the rules. Go over all the main points and explain the reasoning behind them. But don’t expect people to memorize every policy detail, tell them where to access the information when they need it. Include new hires as they come on board, even if their job won’t include travel initially. Everyone should be aware that you have an official travel policy, in case they become a corporate traveler in the future.

Equip your team with digital travel management technology that’s both mobile and desktop-friendly. Employees need instant access if you expect them to follow your booking and other guidelines.

What are the best tools for creating an effective corporate travel policy?

External resources and tools can help you formulate travel and expense policy details. To be effective, though, your policy must be based on internal factors. With that in mind, the two best tools you can use are:

  • Your company goals and culture. Self-knowledge allows you to make employee travel policy choices geared toward your unique business needs and workforce.
  • Your internal team. Their knowledge and varied perspectives are fundamental to creating travel policies that makes sense and work well for everyone.

Conclusion

Employees who travel for business aren’t just milling around out there. Every single trip is a deliberate mission to build your company and/or expand your employees’ professional development. By following best practices to create and implement your corporate travel policy, you ensure your travelers are safe, comfortable and productive while they’re away, so they remain enthused about their next opportunity to hit the road on your behalf.

How does your corporate travel policy stack up?

Posted by

Jeanne Hopkins
better corporate travel starts here.