Travel Management in a recovery year - more challenging than during a downturn?

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Recession travel.jpgThe second quarter of 2011 shows that business travel volumes are in a recovery and growth phase. After the tight discipline evident during the last two years’ downturn, this recovery can present procurement managers with a challenge equal to or greater than that presented during the bottom of the economic downturn, Jim Weighell, Corporate Manager at Sure Travel tells SmartProcurement.

Travel management is something of a misnomer: the business in which travel management companies (TMCs) and corporate travel managers are really engaged is ‘managing travel behaviour’. During a downturn it is fair to say that travellers and travel managers are highly focused on reducing travel costs to the point where frugality becomes the habitual behavioural characteristic. The risk during the recovery phase is that the cost reduction habit is put aside, and a gradual loosening of tough-times discipline takes place, explains Weighell.

This brings travel policy makers to a crossroads – relax the tight policy of the downturn or maintain it in its austere format? That decision is for policy makers to decide in line with their company’s unique culture and philosophy.

As always industry variables will come into play, says Weighell, foremost of which is the volatile fuel price environment we see continuing in 2011, which TMCs will be accommodating as we progress through 2011. However, what the TMC will continue to do is provide the constant in the mix: cost containment, service delivery, and relationships with their corporate clients. The upturn demands more than ever that a TMC maintains constant, close communication with travel managers in order that they are “in-sync” with any changes in policy.

In defining service and relationship elements, it is clear that while automation by way of on-line travel management systems is of key importance, it is the quality of the relationship that will define the success and efficacy of the systems deployed, and the end-user client experience. By staying in constant contact with the TMC, the travel manager will ensure that even the smallest policy adjustments are made to the automated systems, that TMC staff is briefed, and that all elements of the travel programme are synchronized.

TMCs themselves were not spared the cost cutting of the downtown: the larger groups in South Africa let go significant numbers of staff and trimmed their operations considerably. The medium sized independents fared somewhat better, but many rationalized their operations. As volumes recover, TMCs will also be cautiously rebuilding their operations in line with client demand.

All of these factors underpin a key message: Close and detailed communication with your TMC and your travellers is the key ingredient for effective management of travel behaviour during the upturn of 2011. As long as TMCs are clear on client expectations and objectives, they will be able to deploy their skill, acumen and technology in managing travel behaviour, thus assisting the travel manager to achieve those objectives.

For more information on managing your travel portfolio contact Jim Weighell, Corporate Manager of Sure Travel on jimw@surecorporate.co.za.

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