Business Travel Show Europe Kick Off, 23 February,
Global Travel Risk Summit Europe, May 2023,
3rd Annual Sustainable Business Travel Summit
Tony Hughes, president and chief executive of RADIUS ” the global travel company, is one of the most respected men in UK travel management, a former chairman of the Guild of Business Travel Agents (GBTA). Tony had his travel agency grounding at Thomas Cook in the late 1960s, and then continued his career at Hogg Robinson (BTI) from 1971 to 1988 before joining P&O Travel in a position that he held for 14 years. P&O Travel was an active shareholder of Woodside Travel Trust, headquartered in the United States, and became a founder shareholder of RADIUS, when Woodside re-branded in 2000.
”Prince Charles pledges greener royal lifestyle and promises to use scheduled flights and rail services”, was the newspaper headline that caught my eye last week. Spotting an opportunity, I sent two of my top sales executives straight down to Clarence House to persuade HRH to book his travel through RADIUS.
Now why did I do this? Well, one reason is that I fancy having a ”By Royal Appointment” crest on the RADIUS letterhead. But the other reason is that it”s not just the heir to the throne who is taking his travel programme green. So too are many of the world”s biggest companies and if they are going to make a success of it, they will need their travel management companies working right alongside them.
Nor is that just true for introducing an environmentally aware approach to travel, important as it is. Global warming is one of several issues from the wide world outside that have forced their way into corporate travel over the past couple of years, and they all require Travel Management Company (TMC) assistance to manage them.
Some of these issues can be bracketed under the sub-heading of duty of care ” essentially the safety and security of the traveller. But in addition to duty of care and the environment, there is a crucial new business requirement which is often overlooked: establishing a clear audit trail and system of controls for travellers” expenses. It became a huge topic in the US when the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was introduced in the wake of Enron and several other major scandals, but good governance is taking on increasing importance in boardrooms worldwide.
If you put all of these big subjects together, they often go under the umbrella name of corporate social responsibility. I prefer to use a different term: accountability. It is a word which explains exactly why businesses need TMCs more than ever to help manage their travel programmes. A company would not dream of submitting financial reporting without using an external accountancy firm. In just the same way, businesses need the resources and expertise of a TMC to help them structure, report on and validate the crucial accountability issues that have become such an important part of travel programmes.
In some respects, there is nothing new about this. TMCs have for many years performed tracking, management and consultative tasks to help clients keep a lid on travel costs while booking and facilitating the trips made by employees.
What has changed is a growth in the different sets of people who pay attention to the travel programme. Until very recently, the stakeholders were mainly internal: the travel manager, the travellers themselves, bookers, budget-holders and the finance department. Now external parties are also taking an interest in those wider aspects of travel I have described. These include investors, government organisations (such as health and safety officials and financial regulators), non-governmental organisations (like environmental watchdogs) and customers.
Travel has become a key element in managing reputation risk, so it is no wonder that here at RADIUS we are noticing much more interest from clients at board level.
None of this is going to go away. Take the environment. The threat to the planet and the role which travel has in causing that threat are not going to disappear tomorrow. Since accountability issues are here to stay, companies will find themselves under more pressure to co-ordinate all of their travel through a consolidated, carefully managed programme.
Weighed against this, the irony is that the Internet has made it all too easy for individuals to book their own travel. That may be fine for leisure travellers or very small businesses, but for most corporations the visibility of a professionally managed travel programme has become essential. Dealing with the multinational needs of hundreds or thousands of travellers is not a proposition to be undertaken lightly.
So even if RADIUS doesn”t pick up the Prince of Wales account, I know we are going to be winning many others, because only TMCs can handle the increasingly complex demands of today”s accountable travel programmes.