September 2022, Virtual
September 29 2022, Virtual
Now in its 27th year, the Business Travel Awards
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF to be the Mary Poppins of the travel buying world, having the temperament to soothe your financial director and manage the occasional mishap affecting your travellers, but retaining the strictness to deal with an unruly supplier? Are you, like Ms Poppins, practically perfect in every single way?
Well now is the time to find out. Buying Business Travel has asked a number of people in varying roles in the travel industry for their views on what makes the perfect travel buyer. How do you match up?
A broad understanding of the sector but with a willingness to get their hands dirty seems to be an essential requirement for the modern travel buyer. Simone Buckley, of travel procurement consultancy Bouda, says: “Buyers must be strategic thinkers, but also have the ability and the desire to understand the detail.”
The perfect travel buyer also needs to be able to sell just as competently as he is able to buy. They also need to be “firm but fair negotiators, analytical and commercially astute, as well as technically savvy”, adds Buckley.
GetThere’s managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, Jason Geall, believes commercial skills are vital. “The best buyers are commercially minded with experience of sitting in all seats around the table,” he says. “Buyers who have worked within the supplier world are often able to show a decent level of pragmatism in their approach.”
Others see the need for negotiation skills and technical knowledge as important, too. Carlson Wagonlit’s senior director for business development, EMEA, Alison Smith, says: “Buyers should be skilled rather than tough negotiators. It’s not about beating somebody up over the price, but rather the ability to appreciate the value rather than just the price of what is on the table.”
She adds: “Good buyers need to have a degree of understanding of the online world – for example, data security and how online bookings work with their own infrastructure.”
Jo Stevenson, sales director at Accor UK, says that transparency is a real virtue for a good travel buyer. “The buyers we work best with are more transparent; they are more likely to be the ones that give us market share data,” she says.
Transparency and, above all, honesty about the level of business a company is able to provide seems to be paramount. The best-in-class travel buyer is also a company champion.
“The perfect buyer represents their travellers’ interests within the company and to external suppliers,” says Anne Godfrey, chief executive of the Guild of Travel Management Companies (GTMC). Yet, they must not be inflexible in their approach. “They must be willing to adapt their corporate travel policy to reflect the views of their travellers as consumers and reviewers,” Godfrey adds.
Professional qualifications, such as those offered by associations like the Institute of Travel & Meetings (ITM) and ACTE, are seen as a positive benefit. Hotel booking agency BSI’s head of account management, Sam Welch, says: “Qualifications help in terms of the procurement toolbox, but I know some superb travel buyers that don’t necessarily have them but do have a great understanding of their business.”
Accor’s Jo Stevenson adds: “The more knowledgeable buyers are on the different sectors, and the more challenges those sectors face the better. Better understanding of our costs – for example, rising fuel costs – will make them better at negotiating deals and leveraging their spend. For me, a good understanding of distribution and how rooms can be purchased today is also essential.”
Evolvi’s trade relations director Jon Reeve also thinks qualifications are valuable. “Academic institutions have a role to play with specialist courses. I cite the Institute of Travel & Meetings as an example of the development of courses, which have relevant material whether or not a potential student is on the supply or the purchasing side.”
He adds: “I think there are very specific travel skills and market awareness, such as CAT35 air fares and route deals, [these bodies] can teach. But even if someone has an understanding of those mechanisms, they would still require negotiation skills to put them into effect.”
Reeve, who was previously Education Working party chair for the ITM, says: “I think you learn an awful lot from experience.”
A good grounding in procurement is all very well, but it is not enough, says BSI’s Sam Welch. “A good buyer has to have standard procurement knowledge but also be able to build relationships with their suppliers. And they should be meeting their suppliers at least quarterly.”
She adds:” We love it when a buyer designs the framework for a strategic business plan but then treats the account or operational manager as an extension of their own team.”
The GTMC’s Anne Godfrey agrees, saying that partnership, rather than combat, is vital. “The perfect travel buyer knows how to get the best out of their travel management company and looks upon them as a valued partner,” she says.
Accor’s Jo Stevenson maintains the important thing for a buyer is not just about having a good relationship with each supplier but about having trust in them. “It’s great to have a good working partnership but you wouldn’t ever want to be too matey,” she says. “If you are entering into a contract and have really pushed an argument through to get a deal at a certain price then, if it is not working on both sides, you can have that honest discussion when it comes to re-contracting for the following year.”
GetThere’s Jason Geall adds the best buyers are “those that engage in relationships with the supplier community way in advance of a set-out request for proposal”. Good buyers help their supply chain work more on a proactive basis rather than a reactive basis, he says. “Long periods of non-communication and then random requests at the last minute doesn’t help anybody and does nothing to nurture a productive relationship.”
Those we asked agreed that a good buyer needs to have a sound understanding of the market they are buying in. Of the hotels market, Accor’s Jo Stevenson says: “Buyers need to ensure they are comparing apples with apples when looking at brands and star ratings. If they are benchmarking in a market like London and looking at the four-star sector, for example, it is important to know how much inventory at those lead rates they are going to get.”
CWT’s Alison Smith says: “Buyers need to understand travel trends in terms of availability – a key example is the Olympics. A good buyer will be able to warn the financial director of the possible hit that the budget might take.”
Perhaps the most important trait of all for the perfect travel buyer is the ability to communicate well, both internally with their company and externally with suppliers. “Buyers must be able to communicate at all levels,” says Bouda’s Simone Buckley. “This means understanding what the board wants, or needs to know about, and getting that information in front of them in such a way that they will retain it. It also means being able to communicate at all levels of the business through a variety of media.”
Communication with suppliers is also important. CWT’s Smith says: “If you take the time to communicate with your potential suppliers what your vision as a buyer is, they are going to do a much better job and you will get the service you really want.”
BSI’s Sam Welch says: “Buyers need to have their tendrils out in the business at large – they need to know their stakeholders and where their own business is going. If you have a commodity focused buyer with commodities that span many sectors, it does not work unless they have a good feel for where the business is going in the future.”
GTMC chief executive Anne Godfrey agrees, adding: “The perfect buyer must understand the needs of the next-generation traveller.”
1. WHAT DOES RFP STAND FOR?
2. HOW SHOULD YOU COMMUNICATE A NEW TRAVEL POLICY TO YOUR COMPANY TRAVELLERS?
3. WHICH ARE THE BEST SUPPLIERS?
4. HOW MUCH DO YOU SPEND ON TRAVEL?
5. WHAT’S YOUR POLICY ON FLYING BUSINESS CLASS?
6. WHAT ABOUT ROUTE DEALS?
7. HAVE YOU MOVED ONLINE?
8. WHAT ELSE DO YOU MANAGE OTHER THAN TRAVEL?
9. WHAT KPIs HAVE YOU IN PLACE FOR YOUR TRAVEL PROGRAMME?
10. WHICH ORGANISATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF?
HOW DO YOU RATE?
Mostly As: You are practically perfect in almost every respect.Mostly Bs: Have you ever considered a career in senior management?Mostly Cs: You’re fired!