September 29 2022, Kimpton Fitzroy London
Friday 30 September 2022, JW Marriott Grosvenor
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
The role of the travel manager
It was a rousing speech, almost a call to arms, that Kevin Maguire, president and ceo of the National Business Travel Association (NBTA), delivered last week at the Business Travel Show in London.
Speaking on ‘The Future of Business Travel', Mr Maguire, himself a travel manager at Texas University, said that without a travel policy that is strict and clear, travel managers will accomplish nothing. "That is the change in culture," he said.
Warming to his theme, he proclaimed: "Now is the time for a managed travel programme, now is our time as travel managers. Now is the time for people to look at this industry honestly. We have problems but we have far more solutions out there that we have not yet touched. The responsibility for this falls on you."
He is not the first to put travel managers centre stage during the current crisis in travel. Others have made similar points. For example Jason Geall, GetThere's EMEA director, told ABTN at the show that travel managers were now picking up on procurement values and had far more technological tools to help them than in the past.
"This is now all working in their favour. Travel managers are in a good position because of all the work they have put in in recent years with procurement. This is enabling them to cut costs as they are required," he said.
Few surveys currently suggest that the need to cut costs, including those for travel, is not the number one priority of the vast majority of companies. That being the case, travel managers, whether they welcome it or not, are in their company's spotlight. To exacerbate this perhaps unwanted spell in the limelight, they are faced with an almost irreconcilable choice: how do you cut costs as the board requires and at the same time keep your travellers happy. More bluntly how do you tell people to travel coach on transatlantic flights and ensure they are fresh for business on arrival?
The new AirPlus International Travel Management Study says that this is an increasing worry for travel managers. This unease is also not helped by the also growing feeling that the hard men of finance and procurement are glaring over their shoulder as travel management becomes more important.
But, more disturbingly, the Study suggests the difficulties facing travel managers may go deeper than this. While the vast majority (80%) believe their company values their services, a large minority (42%) believes they are not given enough time to do their job properly while a smaller number (36%) feel they have obligations but not many rights.
The survey, which quizzed travel managers in 15 countries across all six continents, found this level of dissatisfaction "almost identical" among low, medium and high spending companies.
AirPlus acknowledges that the 36% who feel they are undervalued can be dismissed as "irrelevant" or prone to "petty resentment." But what ever the reason for their view, there could be a serious consequence.
"It may also reveal a problem in corporate power structures that is undermining efforts to manage travel programmes. The reason is that programmes can only be successful with a strong, effective policy.
"If travel managers are pushed too far down the hierarchy and cannot at least exercise power by proxy through strong endorsement from senior management, then it is unlikely that policy will be respected."
The Survey concluded there were four types of travel manager:
It is revealing that the two biggest groups are the two least effective as travel mangers while only just over a fifth are allowed to do their jobs properly.
Equally perturbing is the amount of time travel managers spend on travel - even in companies with a big spend. In all 125 countries, 58% of travel managers said they spent less then one quarter of their time managing travel while 23% said they spent between a quarter and a half of their time. Only 9% spent between and half and three quarters of the time with the same number spending more than three quarters of their time.
These figures compare badly with previous AirPlus surveys. The 2007 poll found that 18% spent between a quarter and half their time on travel management (now 23%) while the number spending more than three quarters of their time dropped from 14% to 9%. "On average, therefore, the implication is that companies are devoting less rather than more time to travel," AirPlus said.
Even when looking at how much time travel managers from companies with a big spend devote to travel management, only 25% say they spend more than three quarters of their time on it.
These are figures which seem to contradict the current trend, or rather, the perceived current trend in which companies, seeking anxiously to cut costs, are putting more emphasis on the value of travel management.
They are figures which suggest almost the exact - and cynical - opposite: that travel managers, under pressure to cut costs but maintain both traveller welfare and company success, are being given insufficient time and, in some cases, insufficient backing, to achieve this.