Words of Wisdom for a Business Travel Manager
tl;dr: “Knowing your business and understanding your travelers’ aims is the name of the game. When we’re successful, business is successful.”
This is an excellent maxim for business travel managers to live by, isn’t it? And, yet, the statement came not from a corporate travel pro but from Wendy Palmer, who is Event Experience Team manager for the Electric Power Research Institute. Wendy deals with travelers and suppliers in her job, too. She often contributes to Business Travel Executive, and recently delivered some observations and advice to her peers that are perfectly on-point for business travel managers as well. See what you think.
Be Strategic With Your Responsibilities
Palmer notes that “buyers, suppliers, and a slew of other front line and behind the scenes folks all play a part to ensure our key business people get where they need to go in a way that supports their missions,” Indeed. Whether your title is Corporate Travel Manager, or you’re an EA who wears the travel manager hat among numerous others, your day is complex. (Here’s what a day in the life of our EA here at Lola.com is like.)
Approaching your travel-related responsibilities strategically will keep you focused on what matters most. Talk with those in your company who manage core deliverables, to learn about their key goals and budget considerations. Knowing what your travelers from various departments are trying to accomplish as they go about their business remotely will give you clearer insight into how to boost their travel experience.
Stay Up to Date with Your Industry
Take every opportunity for continuing education. Both the formal kind where you attend conferences and network with industry peers and the self-help kind where you read relevant publications, attend webinars, and so on. Work on your leadership skills and other personal development, too.
The travel marketplace is rapidly changing (and your company and its travel needs are changing, too). Staying abreast of trends and becoming a stronger travel professional makes you a true leader in your company when it comes to forecasting and budgeting as well as improving travel policies and procedures.
Develop Real and Lasting Relationships with Your Suppliers
Everyone’s busy, to be sure. But take the time to get to know your suppliers. Understanding their key challenges and needs (and helping them understand your company’s unique issues) will make you a sharper negotiator. Besides, good working relationships are invaluable when you need some extra or last-minute. And, frankly, that can be even more important for small and midsize companies that lack the pure power of big dollars.
Understand the Importance (and Relevance) of Your Data
We talk a lot about data these days, but the key is to know what data is more relevant to you as business travel manager and to others impacted by T&E spending. This is critical when you remember that travel is often the #2 or #3 top expense companies face. You need establish baseline metrics, based on your company’s business, budget, and travel mission goals. Then you need data that describes how you’re doing in each area, so you can track progress and make improvements.
Ask, Instead of Assuming
This is great advice no matter who you are or what you do. When it comes to your corporate travel program, however, this is the bottom line. As manager, you are the choreographer. The only way to know if booking guidelines, the booking process, expense submission and reimbursement rules and process are traveler-friendly is to ask. What do they need most? What do they want most? What is not working well?
Ask your travelers and all others directly involved such as finance and, possibly HR. They are all working toward the same goals, but their perspectives are different. Ask-don’t-assume also applies to the suppliers you work with, if you hope to develop the kind of close working relationship we noted earlier.
And one more thing, advises Wendy Palmer: be available for feedback. Listening to impromptu input is just as important as soliciting comments.