Consumer demographics are changing and the consequences of this socio-cultural shift are no doubt making their way into your corporate travel programme. Bookers are operating with more autonomy than ever, with a heavy reliance on technology to simultaneously maximise comfort and minimise cost – sometimes with disregard for policy. Concur estimate that up to 50% of corporate bookings are made outside of the preferred channels, creating an anonymous gap on your bottom line and cracks in the foundations of your duty of care programme. So it’s never been more important to understand how your employees book their travel and really get to the core of their buying habits to streamline your communications and ensure you have their complete buy-in. Without it, you might struggle to have a successful travel programme that is both controlled and transparent.
It’s perhaps no longer sustainable or pro-active to simply push policy rules on your travellers via an annual email and expect them not to pursue their own preferred avenues. The trick is to find a balance between what your travellers want and what you, the travel manager, need. Your policy communications need to impact your travellers in a way that will drive long-term behavioral change.
Demographically speaking, consumers today are driven by benefit; what do they gain from doing things your way? The so-called ‘millennial generation’ have arguably outgrown and become desensitised to the traditional means of policy enforcement and essentially, have become so adapted to having choice that it’s almost expected that they, as the consumer, will have the right to purchase their experience – whatever that may be – however they see fit. After all, in their mind, it will affect them the most.
Needless to say such a laissez faire attitude doesn’t work in the corporate travel environment for a host of reasons, namely traveller safety and of course, cost to the company. So maybe it’s time to change tactic and use an influencing approach in your communications to educate your travellers on the benefit of using your travel partner and try to positively influence their purchasing behavior.
1. The devil’s in the detail
One of the main reasons your travellers may be booking outside of policy is because they believe they can find a better deal on their own. If you were to search for a flight deal online, let’s say London to Tokyo you would have approximately half a million search results come up with options of layovers, direct flights, class-types, onboard meals, baggage allowance and seat preferences to filter through. Most of these options will be costly, either from a financial or time perspective and won’t even guarantee you the lowest available fare that maximises preference, policy and savings opportunities. Air fares can actually fluctuate up to 90 times during the time of publication, dependent on popularity, availability and peak periods. The same can be said for hotel room rates; hotel suppliers are notorious for monopolising rates by changing them daily, almost hourly; giving your travellers the impression that they can find a better deal than your negotiated rate and save the company an extra £20.
Your Travel Management Company should have the technology to track these fluctuations and automatically rebook for you if the fare drops at any point post-booking. At Business Travel Direct, we have a SMARTquality suite of technology that monitors your booked air fares and hotel rooms and rebooks when the price drops, maximising savings and leveraging your preferred partnerships; guaranteeing that your travellers are always booking the lowest available room or seat. There is no better definitive proof that demonstrates you’re getting the best deal available that having technology automatically check for you, every day, until the moment your traveller checks-in or takes-off. Our technology will also mechanically cross-reference the booking against your travel policy to ensure that your travellers are always compliant, their trips are financially reconciled and tracked for duty of care in our system. Making those missed opportunities available for your travellers to see and be accountable for is an important part of the collaborative process.
What your traveller may also not be aware of is that we record all of this data for analysis and pro-actively work towards to streamlining your policy to secure you better deals. If we find that your preferred hotelier is publishing rates that are in fact lower than your negotiated rates, we’ll leverage that data to secure you a better saving and provide transparency and accountability than a direct booking simply cannot do. Whilst your lone traveller who books their travel directly may seem like they’ve found a short-term win, the data lost in the long-term will be much more financially detrimental to your travel programme and will ultimately end up costing the company a lot more than a few pounds.
That doesn’t even begin to cover the issue of duty of care and in today’s age of heightened security and increasing risk, there’s never been a more important time to ensure your travellers know the importance of booking through your preferred channels. Since 2008, duty of care is a legal obligation and should an organisation not have the appropriate protocols in place during an emergency situation that could affect the health and safety of travellers, the organisation could be fined up to 10% of their annual turnover. Whilst that all might sound like a lot of legal jargon; the crux of it is that if you don’t have access to a single report that can be pulled at any time of day, highlighting exactly where your travellers are right down to the square mile, you are in danger of not fulfilling your legal obligations. Booking outside the safety net of your online booking tool or travel partner leaves your travellers vulnerable and your HR department accountable for their safety. If you would like to read up on duty of care and how Business Travel Direct manages our clients’ risk programmes, you can read our handy little guide here.
Booking directly might make your travellers feel like they’ve beat your system but little do they know that the devil is in the detail. It’s true; making your voice heard in a crowded room isn’t an easy task but we believe that it’s becoming less about control and more about influence. Recognise that you and your travellers are on the same team, both wanting to explore innovations that could push your organisation forward and redefine the travel experience. Providing your travellers with engaging communication that show the rationale behind your policy will lead to a more successful travel programme for everyone. Education/training sessions with your travel partner, online webinars and helpful induction packs for new starters will reinforce the need for compliance and accountability, providing your travellers with access to the finer details they may have been initially unaware of.
Make your communications easy to understand. Your staff have enough to do in their day jobs without having to work out unnecessary policy jargon. Try infographics or table toppers on the tables in the staff rest areas, leaflets or engaging presentations with video tutorials to drum up some enthusiasm and make what is essentially a complex topic easier to digest.
There are several ways to disguise the need for ‘control’ and instead, drive engagement and positively influence traveller behaviour. You just need to make sure everyone’s aware of the fundamental rationality behind it all as the ‘you must book this way’ philosophy just doesn’t work like it used to.
Your travel policy is only as effective as the travellers who follow it. Subsequently, managing traveller behaviour is arguably as important as the initial procurement process and it’s in your best interests to form a proactive relationship with your travellers early-on. Of course, getting people to listen who aren’t in the room isn’t an easy task; but thankfully, that’s what you have your Travel Management Company for. Working in collaboration with your travel partner will enable you to implement a strong communications programme that reinforces the need for compliance and transparency through engagement. Pointing a traveller towards page 22 of your travel policy when they do something un-compliant will not deter them from following their own booking path; instead, continuously provide them with the tools to understand why page 22 is there in the first place.
Whilst your communications may vary according to your company culture, there are some simple things you can do to encourage engagement and accountability.
Provide a platform whereby travellers can provide feedback on your travel programme. Your travellers can be one of your best assets to provide you with integral research and intelligence, so let them know you want to hear from them. Whether it’s a simple form on the company intranet or a feedback box in the corner of the staff room, demonstrating that your travellers’ voice is important to you is both beneficial for your procurement process and will raise their engagement levels if they feel like you’re really listening. You might find that your travellers are being targeted to book directly with a supplier with alluring loyalty points or one of your preferred partners is in an area that makes your lone travellers feel unsafe or vulnerable at night; these are nuggets of information that you simply won’t know unless you ask.
Creating a real human dialogue with your travellers will eventually enable you to understand the pitfalls of your travel programme and shape your policy into something that works for the benefit of everyone.
3. Reward and Incentivise
Once you’ve implemented a strategic communication process and you’re collaborating with all stakeholders, including your travellers, you’ll see the percentage of missed savings begin to fall and compliance to policy increasing. It won’t happen overnight but if it’s done correctly, it can be easily sustained. By rewarding and incentivising your travellers when they do the right thing, you’re subtly reinforcing a desired behaviour with recognition and reward. Again, this might depend on your company culture but a healthy, competitive employee recognition programme can go a long way with your staff, particularly those who fall within the ‘millennial generation’.
Gamification in itself is not a new marketing technique but it can be quite effective. Every time we purchase a coffee, we hand over our club card and wait for the day we can claim our free drink, or we use our frequent flyer points as a reward for our loyalty to a particular supplier. Gamification simply uses subtle game-play mechanics to encourage a desired consumer behaviour; a philosophy that can be applied to your travelling workforce as well. Whether it’s a leader board based on a scoring system or something less obvious like a mention in the monthly newsletter, word will soon spread amongst your travellers that there is something to gain by following policy. This can be done in a formal or informal way; both can be equally effective and reward compliance without controlling it.
The trick is to find the balance between controlling your travellers to remain compliant and encouraging them to do it themselves. Keep the lines of communication open and facilitate opportunities to engage with them, as without their buy-in, your policy is only as effective as the paper it’s written on.
For more information on how we collaborate with our clients to influence traveller behaviour, drive cost savings and innovate the traveller experience, give our Client Partnership team a call on 01895 450701 or email us at email@example.com.