businesswoman on phone walking with suitcase
If your business requires employee travel, the cost and confusion can quickly add up without a proper program in place. — Getty Images/Nomad

If your employee travel has become a lot to manage and you sense that you’re missing out on opportunities to cut costs, it may be time to implement an official program. Companies big and small can benefit from a well-organized and documented employee travel program. Add technology and expertise and you can leverage savings while keeping employees safe and satisfied. We asked some experts for their advice to help you get started.

Benefits of setting up an employee travel program

There are many travel-related concerns an employer may have that an employee travel management program can address. Steve Hicks, VP of business operations at UNIGLOBE Travel Partners Atlanta, finds that his clients want to address a number of issues, including:

  • Cost savings.
  • Time savings.
  • The travel experience.
  • Risk management.
  • Expense management.

The key components of your program

There are many parts to a travel program. To get you started, Dan Keating, VP of procurement at Kforce, whose role includes leading the firm’s travel program, outlined the following:

  • Travel booking, whether with an agent or online.
  • Travel reporting, to help identify future spending, trends, etc.
  • Lodging and transportation, including management of air travel, car rental and hotel arrangements.
  • Up-to-date travel reports, to notify travelers for things like weather and other alerts.
  • Cost controls, including travel limits and authorizations
  • Travel vendor support, which is a good source for connecting and creating strong relationships with airlines, rental car companies and hotel chains.
  • Top city pairings, including the best routes to the destinations to which your employees most frequently travel.
  • Duty of care, which is your legal obligation to ensure the safety of your employees. Someone must always know where everyone is in case of an emergency and then know how to report back to you, if needed.
  • 24-hour support, particularly if travelers become stranded and they need someone to reach out to for help.

Avoid making your travel policies too restrictive. This could hold back business progress and upset employee personnel.

Dan Keating, VP of procurement at Kforce

Do you need a travel management company?

Barry Rising, corporate travel manager for OnsiteRIS, suggested that businesses of any size can benefit from using a travel management company (TMC), which is a vendor that can help manage your travel program. There are a variety of companies and many service levels.

Hicks outlined some of the benefits of using a TMC:

  • Cost savings. The TMC leverages technology and experience to increase cost savings, and can also facilitate corporate discounts and loyalty programs.
  • Traveler experience. The TMC can manage the booking experience with tools as well as live agents.
  • Reporting. By reviewing data about your employee travel, you can see where you’re saving money, where you’re losing money, identify travel patterns and behaviors, etc.
  • Preferred vendor utilization. Your TMC may limit vendor options to three within each category, i.e., air, car, hotel, to get you the most discounts.
  • Surveys. The TMC can help you gather employee feedback to assess their travel experiences and create learning opportunities for the traveler and the agent.
  • Experience. Hicks said that many companies are concerned about the cost of using a TMC, but he has seen how the knowledge and experience of his staff saves clients both time and money.

[Read: Airbnb for Work Expands to Include Non-Business Travelers]

Establish a travel policy

Whether using a TMC or managing your own program, it’s important to detail your travel guidelines and requirements in an official policy. To help determine your policies, Hicks recommended setting up a traveler stakeholder team. This brings employees into the mission and vision of your travel program and helps you find out what’s important to them. He suggested including a mix of management, team members and administrative assistants.

Your policy should:

  • Specify travel approval requirements.
  • Detail itinerary options.
  • Define allowable expenses.
  • Outline safety protocol.
  • Set up reimbursement procedures.

If you use a TMC, they can likely provide you with a template or an example policy to customize for your needs.

Tips for setting up your program

From their experience managing employee travel, our experts shared these tips to help you kick off your program:

  • Contact airlines, rental car companies, and hotel chains to join their business travel programs. These days small businesses are reaping many of the benefits of corporate travel programs that were previously reserved for large companies. “Try to arrange meetings or skype calls with all the airlines,” Rising advised. “Talk about what you're doing; where your company is going. There is someone there that deals with your size accounts … small accounts, medium accounts, large accounts. They will work with you. The same with hotels."
  • Consider having employees rent a car rather than use their own for business travel. Rising explained, “Mileage [reimbursement] with employees driving their own vehicles can be quite expensive. I put in place a policy that was fair to employee but a cost savings to the company by requiring renting a vehicle. [It] saves wear and tear on employee vehicle … and [the] rental company can pick them up at home and [the] car is new.” Rising also negotiated pricing with the rental company.
  • Be flexible. “Avoid making your travel policies too restrictive,” Keating said. “This could hold back business progress and upset employee personnel. Constantly monitor and revise your policies based on changes that occur in the travel industry. By being aware of those changes, you’ll be able to provide better recommendations to your employees for a good experience.”
  • Don’t forget your employees. Rising advised that employers respect the burden that business travel puts on employees. “You know, it's all about looking after the employee, and also the cost saving and looking what's best for the company as well,” he said.

And, once you’ve got your program and policies in place, clearly communicate them to your employees. Rising suggested that leadership can serve as the role models for following the policies.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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