Magazine for Senior Financial Executives: Managing corporate travel expenses online: A message from Worldspan

Managing corporate travel expenses online: A message from Worldspan – Advertisement

IT’S NO SECRET THAT CORPORATE TRAVEL EXPENSES ARE UNDER INTENSE SCRUTINY.

But unlike past economic downturns, senior managers realize that grounding employees isn’t the answer. They are looking for ways to travel smarter and save money.

These needs have created a surge toward implementing advanced online booking systems that let travelers arrange their own business travel from computers, wireless devices, and other personal device administrators. These corporate tools can slash total travel outlays by up to 20 percent through negotiated discounts and administrative efficiencies.

In addition to direct cost savings, online booking creates:

1) A central database to help keep track of traveling employees

2) Better reporting and compliance management for T&E expenses

3) More complete and timely information about the company’s travel patterns

These benefits will help CFOs control travel expenses, comply with new financial regulations, and deliver an easy-to-use platform that will save time for users and travel managers.

Although the underlying technology has been around for several years, today’s online booking systems are more user-friendly and efficient. They offer access to a wider range of fares, are able to handle complex itineraries, and provide a wealth of useful data. A typical online travel system can cost from $15,000 to $50,000, depending on the level of customization. In contrast, complex configurations that integrate with E-procurement systems can cost up to $250,000. Most companies realize a positive ROI in less than a year due to the reasonable cost of implementing online travel solutions.

The challenge for travel managers is learning how to optimally deploy these solutions. In pursuit of finding an answer, Worldspan, a pioneer in the development of corporate travel tools, recently commissioned CFO Research Services to identify the most effective strategies and practices. The study queried CFOs, academics, and travel services vendors looking for trends and success factors.

5 MANAGEMENT LESSONS FROM THE STUDY:

1) Set sensible policies that are supported and used by top executives. Consistent company-wide travel rules are critical. The trick, however, is to balance corporate cost objectives with employees’ need for flexibility. “You need a travel program that is realistic, effective, and supports the business reason someone is traveling in the first place,” says Jack Barry, managing director of Pegasus Global, a consultancy that specializes in procurement, transportation, and travel management. Top management must stand firmly behind its guidelines, using memos, emails, and other forms of communication to spread the word.

2) Make travel part of a strategic purchasing effort to maximize the impact of negotiations. Discounting can save 10 percent on travel expenses, says Joseph Carter, chairman of supply chain management at Arizona State University. Negotiating leverage requires good information on spending patterns, market costs, and supplier requirements. Online travel tools provide data that can be used to negotiate better supplier deals.

3) Centralize travel management so that organizational structures don’t hamper acceptance. A consolidated travel operation provides a clearer picture of travel spending and facilitates negotiations with airlines, car rental companies, and hotels. One Fortune 500 company saved five percent of a $500 million travel budget simply by centralizing operations.

4) Encourage adoption of the travel program. Some employees think they can (and sometimes actually do) get better fares by going directly to the Internet to book through an independent travel Web site. Others may have a bad first experience with the corporate online tool and revert to old habits. Some top executives believe the rules do not apply to them. This lack of discipline eventually leads to higher costs. Company-wide compliance requires leadership from the highest levels. As one CFO said, “Your senior guys have got to embrace it and use it. If they don’t, you can’t make the rank and file do it.” A comprehensive adoption strategy and program will improve usage rates that can often sabotage the benefits gained with volume-discounted services.

5) Measure and monitor the program to determine the savings and make adjustments. Accurately tracking compliance, purchasing activity, and supplier performance is essential. The more detail the better. One big company gathers enough data about airline ticket purchases to fill a 30-page report. It knows, for example, how many first and business class tickets are used by each department, the number of days tickets are purchased in advance, the amount of travel by city pair and segment, and the number of transactions booked by its corporate travel department. Corporations will increasingly develop streamlined and cost-effective travel management strategies to complement new technologies. As the savings mount, these practices and procedures will become standard, and the impact on the bottom line will continue to grow. There is no turning back.

RELATED ARTICLE: What should a company’s priorities be when developing and implementing a travel management strategy?

Worldspan, a company in the forefront of developing online travel solutions, believes the following criteria should ha at the top of every list:

1) Cost control: Corporations require a system that provides access to maximum travel management data and enhanced reports, which enables them to better understand and manage travel management costs.

2) Convenience for travelers: Corporate travelers need a Web-based product that is accessible 24/7 from anywhere in the world, via any Internet enabled device.

3) Compliance: Travelers will adjust more easily and willingly to a self-booking system that provides them with a wide variety of travel choices–all of which are in line with a company’s corporate travel policy.

4) Convergence: To streamline the travel management process, travel technology must be able to achieve ready integration into a corporation’s existing enterprise systems.

5) Customer care: Even though it is called “self-booking technology,” corporate travelers should never feel they must sacrifice service to use this technology. Travelers and the self-booking technology should be fully supported by technical specialists and help desk professionals around the clock. Finally, it is critical for companies to fully research their particular needs as well as the available corporate travel management tools.

The Worldspan reservation system provides nearly 20,000 travel agencies and other users worldwide with travel data and booking capabilities for hundreds of the world’s leading travel supplier services. Worldspan Trip Manager [R], a proven corporate online travel management solution, is used by more than 1,100 corporations worldwide to streamline and control the entire travel management process. For more information, visit www.worldspan.com or www.tripmanager.com

Technology is streamlining the way employees book air travel, hotel rooms, and rental cars.

The challenge in implementing online travel systems is creating a program that will take advantage of cost efficiencies.

COPYRIGHT 2003 CFO Publishing Corp.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group