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What Makes an Effective Corporate Travel Manager?

Managing business travel isn’t easy — but if you find someone with the right skill set it gets a lot easier

If you think managing your company’s corporate travel program is easy, you’ve obviously never done it. The truth is, managing travel requires a specific and impressive skill set. Corporate travel management involves more than keeping an eye on traveling employees and keeping them on budget. A great corporate travel manager has to know where to get the best travel rates, how to navigate the backend of the industry, what to do when travel plans go pear-shaped, and more.

If this sounds like a broad set of skills, that’s just the beginning. Whether you’re trying to develop the qualities necessary to manage corporate travel yourself or trying to hire the best on the market — here are the traits and skills that separate the best corporate travel managers from the rest.

1. Travel Industry Expertise

First and foremost, a great corporate travel manager knows the industry like the back of their hand. This not only helps them ensure that employees get wherever they’re going (on time), but also to save money on bookings and avoid common errors.

Specifically, these travel experts should:

  • Understand how the industry works —how to get the best for travelers at the best cost — but also understand the company, its culture and traveler needs to identify what “best” means for them

  • Have the ability to negotiate rates/perks with preferred vendors, whether they be airlines, hotels or other accommodations

  • Understand tools such as dynamic pricing and how they ensure consistent lodging quality from city to city without sacrificing budgetary parameters, and why basic economy flights are not economical

  • Be a dedicated “student of the travel industry,” following trends and best practices in business travel and travel policy development as well as changes within the industry that could affect travel policies or planning

2. Organization

The more travelers you have and the more complex their itineraries and the more crucial organization becomes. At some point, it’s impossible to personally remember where every employee is or what their travel schedule is. But you must have real-time visibility, for effective financial management as well as to meet your duty of care.

An effective travel manager will have top-notch organizational skills, like:

  • Proactive planning. Business travel gets more expensive and more volatile the later you book. Effective corporate travel managers know this and avoid last-minute bookings by working with frequent travelers as early as possible, updating trips as soon as changes are noted, and planning ahead for large off-site events like conferences and kickoffs.

  • A scalable system. Travel needs get exponentially harders as businesses grow. With dozens of travelers on the road at any given time, corporate travel managers must have a travel management process — for itinerary management, re-booking, Duty of Care, and more – that grows with the company.

  • Budgeting and expense skills. Business travel can be a big cost center, so the best corporate travel managers account for this by maintaining (and communicating) a clear expense management system. If receipts come in late or incorrectly, travel spend analysis is impossible, which puts your company’s financial plan in danger.

3. Clear, persuasive communicator

Managing a corporate travel program isn’t all about re-booking flights and managing itineraries. It also involves frequent communication — with airlines and hotels, partners, candidates and, most importantly, employees.

Here are the communication skills you should look for in a great corporate travel manager:

  • Educates employees about the company’s travel policies and how to use them (ensures guidelines are relevant, understandable, and easy to implement)

  • Posts the entire policy where it’s immediately easy accessible

  • Facilitates everyday functionality by creating a simple one-sheet that summarizes the most common guidelines

  • Provides periodic reminders

  • Listens actively, checking in with travelers to be sure policies remain relevant and useful and to uncover needed improvements

  • Uses positive techniques to motivate rather than enforce compliance

  • Sells the need for best-possible corporate travel policies to company leadership

4. Collaboration

With communication comes collaboration. Travel managers are not an island, so they must work regularly with traveling employees, finance, management and more:

  • Serves as liaison to traveling employees and also finance manager/department (educates employees about financial implications of their travel decisions, educates finance on “how travel works”)

  • Coordinates and translates needs of both sets of constituents to create a cohesive, balanced approach to corporate travel improvement

  • Advises/assists travelers as needed, especially with changing itineraries, travel updates, and updated travel policies

  • Tracks and helps analyze data, especially budgets, expenses and traveler feedback

5. Tech Savvy

The days of paper receipts and physical plane tickets are long gone. Today’s corporate travel managers are tech-savvy and well-versed in emerging tools and platforms.

  • Understands how travel-related technology can help the company and travelers get more of what they need and want, at the best price, efficiently

  • Uses data to recommend/implement improvements to processes and procedures to increase compliance and reduce overall spend

  • Uses accumulated data to help persuade others within company of need for creating travel policy (or regularly refining/updating existing policies)

So, what do you think? Are you an effective corporate travel manager? You can be, if you work to fill in any gaps you might have noticed as you read through our list. Start by learning more about Lola.com, because this simple, comprehensive digital tool is the technology that does it all. Lola keeps everyone organized, helps you communicate and collaborate seamlessly, and allows you to delve deeply into your travel data so you can be even more effective in the future.  

How does your corporate travel policy stack up?

Posted by

Mike Baker

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