How Can Executive Assistants Become Better Travel Managers?By Jeanne Hopkins
As an executive assistant, you're likely roped into doubling as a corporate travel manager. So you might as well get good at it.
Who knew that as an Executive Assistant you’d wind up being your company’s travel guru? Sure, your job description hinted at something such as “coordinate travel arrangements.” But that was buried among a rather lengthy list of other tasks and responsibilities. And no one said you needed any experience planning business travel. So, what happened?
Maybe you started out at a start-up or a smallish enterprise as a personal assistant to the founder/CEO. Part of your job was making travel arrangements for him/her as they zipped from here to there looking for sales, marketing opportunities and new sources of investment capital. Now, the company has grown, perhaps considerably. Travel continues to be mission-critical, but now there is an entire cadre of employees who are on the move on behalf of the company.
Instead of planning one person’s travel and keeping in touch with them while they’re away, you’re herding the entire flock. The magnitude of this has grown exponentially, yet you’re still just one EA.
You know that saying about turning lemons into lemonade? Coordinating business travel is no lemon — after all, it turns out to be a very important part of your job, so of course it has value. But, with a few smart moves, you can turn it into a sweet opportunity. Maybe even a career opportunity, if it turns out corporate travel is your thing.
These tips will help you become a crackerjack corporate travel coordinator without sacrificing your myriad other responsibilities.
1. Network externally
Who cares if you didn’t come to this job with a resume packed with travel planning experience? That’s what networking is for. Your boss likely belongs to relevant industry organizations, and you can, too. Join the American Society of Administrative Professionals or the Association of Executive and Administrative Professionals and start making friends and finding mentors. Who better to give you the inside scoop than your fellow EAs and experienced corporate traveler managers!
If your company uses a corporate travel agency, building rapport with them is essential. It will make your job easier day to day and give you a resource when you need help troubleshooting travel-related problems.
2. Make sure there’s a clear policy
Does your company have a formal travel policy? If not, recommend to your leadership team that this become Priority #1. They grapple every month with the expense and reporting ramifications of business travel. Creating clear guidelines that cover booking, expenses, etc. is one of the most useful steps you can take toward controlling costs (and making your travelers’ lives easier, too). This article will help you present strong arguments and also set you up for success as the person in charge of creating your corporate travel policy.
3. Network internally
EAs are used to heading up committees, task forces, etc. so you know how to get folks together to get their input. The best way to create a travel program that functions easily and efficiently for everyone is to make them part of the solution.
- What does your finance/accounting department need to understand travel from a bottom-line standpoint?
- What do those who travel, especially those who are gone longest or most often, need to make their trips more convenient, comfortable, and productive?
- What do you, as de facto travel guru, need to provide the best possible support for your teams?
- What’s working now, what’s not working well, and what’s missing altogether?
The answers will help you work together to devise clear, concise travel policies. Getting the group together periodically (or simply inviting individual feedback) will help you keep your policies useful and relevant.
4. Go high-tech
Using your EA position and skills to help create a corporate travel policy is a major step forward for your company’s travel program. But having guidelines won’t help if they aren’t easy to implement. So recommend to your leadership they also need to invest in a comprehensive digital travel management platform. (We designed Lola.com specifically for small to mid-size companies like yours, though many large organizations also prefer it.)
Yes, “invest” means cost, but your company will get dramatic time and money savings in every aspect of travel, from planning and booking trips to capturing and submitting expense information, to gathering data needed to sharpen business decision-making. You’ll be one of the primary beneficiaries, because you’ll always have the complete travel picture right at your fingertips.
There’s another benefit for you as well. As an EA, you’re probably the office touchpoint for co-workers who are on the road and need help – with everything from missed or cancelled flights to lost phones or presentation handouts to real emergencies. You can’t be available 24/7/365, but Lola is always standing by with live help.
5. Buff up your negotiating skills
If travel is extensive enough at your company, you may be able to negotiate price discounts or amenity upgrades with air carriers and/or hotels. Since everyone knows EAs can do anything and everything, this may fall on you as well. Becoming a sharper negotiator will help you make the best deals for your company and travelers.
Boost everyone’s business travel experience, including your own
As an EA, your job is to make everyone else look good by anticipating their needs and making their work day smoother. That’s pretty much the definition of a corporate travel manager. So by helping your company streamline and improve the corporate travel program, you’re making yourself look good, too.