BBT's annual Diamond Awards were not only an opportunity for the big names in travel to take a winning bow, but also for behind the scenes staff to receive recognition. Colin Ellson reports
IN THE ELEGANT SURROUNDINGS of London's Hurlingham Club at the beginning of December, acknowledged before over 500 of their peers at the annual Buying Business Travel Awards and Christmas Ball, the worthy winners in the Diamond Awards' unique buyer categories are the people ultimately responsible for keeping companies' employees on the road.
Their task is one that requires special skills. Caught behind the hard face of corporate travel policy and the rock of staff with individual and often exacting requirements, they must tread a fine line with a mix of diplomacy, patience and expertise, and at the same time keep an eagle eye on the budget - particularly important when this is under keen scrutiny as corporates look for ways to rein in expenditure in a tough financial climate.
So BBT was delighted to raise a toast and give due thanks to these dedicated, often unsung heroes, toiling away to meet demands which would deter many from taking on the responsibility. Here, two of these unique buyers talk about the ways they tackle a difficult job and reveal the secrets oftheir success.
Business Travel Arranger of the Year Nasreen Bhana, PriceWaterhouseCoopers
South African-born Nasreen Bhana relocated to London five years ago. She worked as a PA with Tate Recruitment before leaving in 2007 to take a position as PA/travel arranger at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the world's largest professional services company. For the past 18 months, Nasreen has held the title of Travel Champion at PwC. This scheme, she explains, involves secretaries from different sections within the company nominating fellow members of staff as the people to receive and review every type of information from the travel section, before disseminating it to specific departments to help in making their travel arrangements. It's a role which requires flexibility, versatility and the ability to identify a traveller's individual needs. In addition, a Travel Champion must conduct exhaustive research to identify the various options available, liaise with PwC's travel management company, Hogg Robinson Group (HRG), and advise on the most suitable and cost-effective way staff can reach their markets. "The most satisfying aspect of my job is getting the traveller to his or her destination safely and without problems," says Nasreen." And the frustrations of the job? "There are none," she says. "I love what I do."
Business Travel Buyer of the Year Trish Kirke, BG Group
Trish Kirke is now entering her eighth year with the BG Group, a leading player in the global energy market, particularly natural gas. She joined the company after more than 20 years with the Kingfisher Group. "I came to BG to manage travel for the UK," she says, "but this rapidly expanded to our worldwide operations and subsequently led to my position as head of business services. My role covers global travel, aviation, fleet, property and facilities, so there is never a dull moment." So what is the secret of juggling all these tasks? "Most important of all is communication and the education of both travellers and bookers," she says. "Consistency in everything you do is essential, ensuring you have a fair and equitable policy and the right process and procedures in place. Another critical success factor for any travel manager is to ensure your business is 100 per cent behind you." This BG gives in full measure, allowing its award-winning travel buyer to fulfi l her role and enjoy total job satisfaction. Well, almost - Trish has one small gripe. "As with anyone who has the pleasure of managing corporate travel," she says, "I have to contend with people who think they can do it better and get a better deal on the net." Which takes a lot of nerve, judging from the professionalism of this highly capable woman.
"We were very keen to be sponsors of the Business Travel Diamond Buyer Awards as they recognise directly the achievements of the buying community. The role of the travel buyer has evolved to become an extremely specialised profession. We are delighted to be able to give the event and the winners our support."
Andrew Waller, executive vice president UK & Ireland, Carlson Wagonlit Travel