12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
In 1887, at the ripe old age of 40, Thomas Edison - inventor of the phonograph, electric lighting systems, and much else besides - opened a vast factory-cum-laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey, and started recruiting some 5,000 employees.
Legend has it that one new boy, being shown around the sprawling premises, asked about the laboratory rules. "Hell," supposedly replied, "there ain't rules 'roun' here - we're tryin' to accomplish somep'n."
It's a sentiment that would surely strike a chord with every rogue traveller who has ever tried to circumvent the company travel policy. rules are there to be broken because corporate travel constraints just get in the way of real work, which prompts the question as to whether, in corporate travel management terms, it's the mavericks or the policies that are at fault.
Tom Stone, managing director of travel sourcing consultancy Sirius, has no doubts. "If you don't have a sensible policy, people will just ignore it - not because they are being bloody-minded, but because they have a job to do," he says. "There are some policies that are so rigid they force people to work around them, but I don't believe that the majority of travellers see a policy as some sort of challenge. are certainly some people who like to see if they can push the envelope - although there are fewer of them in the current economic environment - but the best policies are those that have a certain amount of built-in flexibility."
Hannah Bodilly, former head of procurement with Equiniti and now corporate sourcing manager for telecom New Zealand, takes an equally charitable line. "I think travellers generally go off-policy because they want to get the flight and hotel to suit themselves," she says. "they do tend to feel that they are putting themselves out by having to travel on behalf of the company, normally out of working hours, and so it's only fair that they get the flights and hotels that they prefer."
A lot of rule-bending, Bodilly suggests, occurs for convenience's sake - for example where an off-policy hotel is nearer to the destination office or conference centre.
Stone agrees. "You have to remember that a lot of people who are making the bookings are not travellers themselves, so their decisions are based primarily on cost - they don't see that a more expensive hotel close to the office is a better deal than a cheap hotel that involves a 45-minute taxi ride to get there. There is a big difference between holistically managed programmes, where those sort of things are taken into account, and compartmentalised ones where they're not. The latter just invite trouble." So far, so good. There are some real ne'er-do-wells out there, but they are few and far between, and many so-called 'rogues' are only breaching the regulations in order to more effectively do their jobs...
Then, just when you think you've got the whole lot sorted into two neat categories, along comes BT global travel category manager Jan Tucker- Jones with a hitherto-unremarked sub-species - the wayward but well-meaning types for whom policies just don't go far enough.
"Some travellers are very cost conscious, and they feel they can get even better rates," says Tucker-Jones. Naturally, these travellers don't see the bigger picture - that full management information (MI) can drive better deals or bigger soft-dollar benefits - but they do think they're doing their employers a favour.
Hannah Bodilly knows the type.
"There is probably still a large population of people who simply do not understand the benefit of following the policy. They know what the policy is, or they know there is a policy, but they don't see why they have to follow it and think it's just a case of 'corporate rules', not realising the rebates, better deals and other benefits that sit behind the scenes."
So now it seems we have three types of rebel: those ne'er-do-wells for whom there is absolutely no redemption; the good-but misguided guys who go off-policy to work more effectively (believing they are saving the company money); and those who wish to achieve point-of-sale savings (also believing they are saving the company's cash).
For Tucker-Jones, though, the situation is more complex than this.
"You also have those who realise that they can have better holidays if they build up their loyalty points," she says.
All right, four types of rebel - until, that is, Bodilly sticks her New Zealand-based oar in. "In today's environment, where everything is online and travellers are used to using the web for personal trips, it is often easier for them just to check BA.com, Expedia or whatever, find what they want, and book it, rather than having to log on to the company system, or get the secretary to book it and the boss to approve it," she says. "Some online business travel booking systems are great, but they are not as simple and straightforward as those available to the general public."
So, that's settled then. Five types of rebel...until Tom Stone comes on the phone and alludes to a sixth - those so-called rogues who wander off-policy for none of the above reasons, but because they simply haven't got a clue what the policy is.
"Generally, companies don't put enough effort into communicating policies," says Stone. "It is not enough to communicate policy changes - you have to explain why the changes have been made, and the resulting benefits.
"Communication is about more than sending out a blanket email - there's that old adage that if you have something to say, say it six times, through six different channels." From the employer's perspective, he continues, the recession has had at least one upside.
"I do believe, particularly in this environment, there is no secret that many organisations have used the economic climate to push through policy changes that at other times they wouldn't have had a cat in hell's chance of getting through," he says. "The policy decision will be made, but nobody wants to own the communication, particularly if it's bad news - they just dump it on the TMC [travel management company] and let them take the flak."
Speaking as a TMC boss, Jackie Lacey is the very model of equanimity. Far from being inconvenienced by recessionary counter-measures, the Chelsea Travel Management managing director actually believes that the 'rogues' have been hit harder than the intermediaries. "Our experience in the main has been that travellers tend to go off-policy because they have the urge to shop around," she says. "However, that trend is changing - the 'ash crisis' disruption this year did a great deal for the TMC - and the corporate - in terms of bringing people back into line." At the same time, Lacey says, the Icelandic volcano did wonders for TMC reputations, as stranded travellers were squirreled home by devious means.
It also did wonders client companies' awareness of their duty-of-care responsibilities.
"The duty of care aspect, and the administrative difficulties experienced by corporates with any degree of non-compliance has encouraged far more policy mandation," says Lacey.
Compliance, the Chelsea boss concedes, "will always be a challenge", but this year's disruptions have meant that travellers are migrating back - suddenly, the TMCs, and the policies they are paid to implement, seem not such a bad idea after all.
'Rules' and 'achievement' are not mutually exclusive. Thomas Edison? What did he know?