What Is a Corporate Travel Agent?
tl;dr: When businesses need help managing their travel programs they often turn to corporate travel agents — here’s what you need to know about them
Any growing company whose employees travel for business should seriously consider using a corporate travel agent.
You might prefer an in-house guru who's knowledgeable about the travel industry, booking, etc., as well as your company's culture.
Or you could consider an outside travel agency that specializes in business travel management.
What Does a Corporate Travel Agent Do?
Business travel can quickly grow out of hand if it is not deliberately managed.
As more employees travel, taking more business trips with more complex itineraries, costs and confusion mount along with the workload. Travel can become a burden instead of a business asset, especially if coordination is up to an already-busy administrative assistant.
A corporate travel agent pulls it all together, to create and manage a streamlined, consistent experience within budget.
They serve as your company's travel industry expert and your employees' travel consultants, via tasks such as:
- Developing corporate travel policy and monitoring compliance.
- Negotiating favorable rates with preferred airlines, hotels, etc. and managing contracts.
- Booking on behalf of travelers (or equipping travelers with a comprehensive business travel management tool that facilitates the online booking process without sacrificing compliance).
- Working with the finance department to define guidelines for travel expenses as well as an expense submission and reimbursement process.
- Ensuring the company is meeting its duty of care responsibilities.
- Forecasting travel and expense needs and budget.
- Assuring 24/7 assistance is available for travelers while they're away (rebooking cancelled flights, making last-minute changes, etc.).
Any size company that wants to make travel and expense spend more efficient and effective - a better experience for everyone involved - can benefit from hiring a business travel agency (or internal corporate travel specialists).
Costs of Hiring a Corporate Travel Agent.
Certainly, there are direct costs of hiring a corporate travel agent, whether your travel manager is a salaried employee or a commissioned outside travel agency.
Either way, it's a cost of doing business.
However, there are related costs that also affect your business, positively or negatively.
And there is the very real cost of doing nothing — continuing to manage business travel haphazardly, or not at all.
Those "hidden" costs of not hiring a corporate travel industry expert can be wide-ranging and debilitating if you don't address them.
There is obvious value in protecting your company from hidden travel-related costs. But the benefits generated by hiring a corporate travel agent can significantly outweigh the direct out-of-pocket expense as well.
For many small businesses, the primary reason to bring on a travel expert is reduced travel costs:
- Someone who is knowledgeable and experienced in the specifics of business travel can help your company develop a travel policy that is both efficient and effective.
- Travel professionals have the contacts and negotiating skills to drive the best possible bargains when it comes to airfares, hotel room rates (with most-wanted business traveler amenities), group discounts, and so on.
- Travel experts know that cheaper bookings are not necessarily better, and how to effectively compare flight and hotel options.
- They know what business travel expenses the IRA actually allows as tax-deductions for your company, ensuring you save every dollar you can without making a potentially costly mistake by claiming deductions that won't play.
If you do decide to go with an outside corporate travel agency, be sure to review their fee structure carefully before signing any contracts, to ensure you aren't acquiring any new hidden costs.
Many corporate travel companies will sneak service fees into their contracts, which means you’re paying extra for practically every service they offer.
If you don't (yet) have a corporate travel agent/agency, somebody else in your organization is handling those tasks.
Or maybe your employees are all DIY'ing their own itinerary and online booking.
No wonder your budget is out of whack.
No matter who is handling the details, it takes a lot of time to make travel arrangements. Your company pays directly for that time in the form of peoples' salaries.
But you pay indirectly, too, in lost productivity, because travelers and your coordinator could be using the time to fulfill their real job.
We won't say you're wasting that money, but you'd have to agree it is not money well spent. That's costly.
And speaking of time and cost savings, comprehensive travel management technology is essential these days.
Everyone needs tools that streamline processes, intuit needs, and help generate the best results possible. A tech-savvy corporate travel agent will institute a tool such as Lola.com that provides a single-source platform everyone can use.
Benefits of Using a Corporate Travel Agent.
Hiring a corporate travel agent can benefit business travelers and the business itself.
They can make life easier for employees on the go, with:
- Ability to understand and address company- and traveler-specific needs and challenges.
- Flexible booking options within company guidelines.
- Time savings.
- Greater convenience.
- Amenities that provide greater comfort and productivity.
- Simple travel expense capture, submission, and reimbursement process.
And then there's duty of care. Monitoring and supporting traveling employees gives them peace of mind knowing you have your back, and it also fulfills your corporate duty of care. A pro knows how to fix last-minute problems from cancelled reservations to emergencies on the fly.
A corporate travel agent can make your business more efficient behind the scenes, with:
- A corporate travel policy that people will actually use. Policies that inspire compliance automatically reduce costs associated with rogue bookings, one of the biggest T&E overruns for most companies.
- Deeper, real-time expense reporting and management.
- Keeping an eye on the bottom line. Savvy businesses take advantage of every deductible expense available, but in order to do that you have to keep good records.
A corporate travel professional knows how to capture and analyze data most relevant to your travel and expense spend and also overall business goals. That gives you comprehensive, real-time visibility into travel operations as well as recommendations for continuous improvement.
So, what can you expect when you hire a corporate travel agent?
Professional travel management that emphasizes streamlined processes, cost-efficiencies, and best-possible experiences for business travelers.
But choosing an agency takes diligence.
Drawbacks of Using a Corporate Travel Agent
Corporate travel agents can help with business travel in a variety of ways, but they do have their limitations. The top three drawbacks of hiring a third party corporate travel agent are:
- They are expensive and often charge additional fees
- They are not part of your organization
- They only work during standard business hours
The monetary costs of corporate travel agents typically include an annual charge, along with transactional fees each time your travelers use their services.
These fees can get as high as $100-$200 per trip, which in some cases could match the price of your ticket. So by using a travel agent you risk doubling your spend with each trip.
As a third party service, corporate travel agents are not familiar with your company’s internal travel needs, behavior, and budget.
Handing the travel management process entirely over to an external corporate travel agent may require additional back and forth communication about traveler preferences, like favored airlines, hotels, times to fly, etc. Plus, they don’t necessarily have your company’s best interest at heart.
Perhaps the biggest drawback of corporate travel agents is that they’re only available during standard business hours.
However, the majority of travel happens early in the morning, late at night, or on the weekends. Limited, or zero, access to customer support during off-hours could leave your travelers stranded, forced to jump through hoops and put down their personal credit card in order to get home.
A travel management software solution, like Lola.com, prevents this unfortunate situation by offering free 24/7/365 support by our expert travel consultants.
See why Allego, a sales learning and readiness platform, decided to switch from a corporate travel agency to Lola.com in order to streamline their business travel management here.
Reconsidering a corporate travel agent? Demo Lola.com to see how our corporate travel software platform can help you save on travel spend, maintain control over travel behavior, and simplify the entire business travel process.
How to Choose a Corporate Travel Agent.
Is your company is still relying on an Executive Assistant or someone else within the organization whose primary job is not corporate travel coordination?
That's just not fair - to them or to anyone else involved in your travel program.
That person may be well-intentioned, and they may be doing a decent job, all things considered. But travel spend is one of the biggest line items for many companies.
"Decent" is not future-forward business planning.
It's time for a pro.
Look for a corporate travel agent that matches your needs because every company is different.
Do they know their stuff within the travel business?
Can they help you develop a travel policy that assures both compliance and flexibility?
Travel industry expertise is essential, as is travel management experience. Look for someone who is committed to staying abreast of trends in managing corporate travel , so your company can continue to enjoy the latest advice and the best experience.
Choose a corporate travel agent that's right for your business.
The right scenario for your company might be a major corporate travel agency that functions regionally, nationally, or internationally.
It might be an independent corporate travel expert who works under the auspices of a host agency.
Or it might be an in-house employee who serves as a dedicated travel manager.
A successful relationship depends on finding the right fit as well as the right qualifications. You want someone who understands and meshes well with your company's culture -- someone who can work well with your business travelers as well as company leadership.
That's the person who will ensure the best possible personal experience for your people as well as the best financial experience for your bottom line.
Corporate Travel Agents: In Conclusion.
Now that you know what a corporate travel agent is and what they can do for your company, you've taken the first step toward deciding if your business is ready for a more professionally managed travel program.