There’s a popular notion that the universe tends towards disorder. Everything and everyone, left on their own, eventually ends up in chaos.

Some say that’s a dark view of the world, but fast-growing businesses will often find that that’s the case, especially after the initial rush of starting up. In new companies, speed is the priority, and so many things happen ad hoc.

You suddenly need to travel to meet a potentially huge client in another country. You hear about a trade convention that’s supposed to bring valuable leads. You’re invited to speak at a high-profile industry event. You join an intensive mentorship program.

Before you know it, a year has passed, and your small but growing team has made multiple trips. The questions start popping up.

“When will I be reimbursed for taking that client to a fancy restaurant?”
“Why did you have to take a business class seat?”
“How much did the company spend in all for travels this year?”
And most of all: “Have these trips truly delivered value to both the business and our staff?”

If you can’t answer those straightaway, that may be because you don’t have a corporate travel program in place.

A corporate travel program allows you to organise all of the company’s business trips. It makes business travel more efficient. It sets KPIs and metrics, helping you measure the success and value of trips. It sets expectations and policies for both the traveller and the company.

If you’re not convinced that your growing company needs a travel program, consider the disadvantages of not having one.

Without a business travel program...

You suffer the hassle of booking flights and hotels

Without a travel program, you’ll have to spend hours searching for the cheapest flights that don’t have insanely long layovers. Not to mention all the research you’ll have to do on cheap accommodation that’s near public transport or just a short walk away from a convention venue.

To reduce all this hassle and time, SMEs work with a boutique travel management company (TMC), preferred partners, or a specialised app that makes booking pain-free - or even a combination of these.

A TMC will make the booking for you while having preferred partners at least narrows down your choices to the airlines and properties you’ll most likely book anyway. A partner will also help you out in choosing and booking flights and accommodation.

Of course, this convenience will cost you a pretty penny, and might not be ideal if you want to keep your expenses low.

Automated tools can reduce the search and booking process to a few clicks by aggregating results from around the web. You can simply set a budget limit and enter your destination and dates, then let the app do the heavy lifting.

How can travellers comply when there are no policies to begin with? A corporate travel program sets the record straight on things like cabin class, restaurant spending limits, and the types of purchases that can be reimbursed. It explains who should process travel documents and bookings, how and when to report expenses, when to expect reimbursement, and what’s required of travellers during the trip.

Most of all, a travel program also enhances the security and peace of mind for both business travellers and the company. A good program provides guidance on what to do in case of an emergency or major delay.

What if, for instance, a typhoon occurs, causing the traveller to be stranded in another country or in an airport during a layover? What if, on arriving at the Airbnb flat, it ends up being totally different from what was advertised? What should you do if a hotel or flight has been overbooked?

With guidelines on both routine and unexpected travel scenarios, you can avoid disputes related to a whole lot of issues. Businesses will also avoid frustrating staff and giving them the impression that the company doesn’t care about their well-being.

You have no straightforward way to track expenses

One thing a travel program does is set procedures for reporting all expenses related to business travel. Without those procedures, you’ll be spending much time trying (and possibly failing) to track every expense related to the trip. That’s an effort that involves admin and accounting staff, as well as the travellers themselves.

Rules for reporting expenses may include turning in receipts for all spending above a certain amount. Travellers will then have to note everything down on a spreadsheet once they return. If you’re using the same app used to book flights and rooms, tracking expenses becomes even easier as you’ll be able to collate all the data in one place.

You won’t need to wait till the end of a quarter or year to create a report on just how much you’ve spent on travel that year, how much each trip costs, which team spend what, how much time the travel takes up, and more. You can also automate your expense management when you use a travel management tool as part of your program.

You’ll end up spending more

Without a business travel program, you’re likely to incur more costs, such as:

  • Man hours spent researching, booking, and reporting expenses
  • Lack of support if you need to re-schedule your bookings, or make any changes to your itinerary whatsoever (not to mention additional costs)
  • Lack of access to discounts and preferred rates
  • Lack of ability to pinpoint savings opportunities as expenses are not clearly tracked
  • Unnecessary expenses due to the absence of clear-cut policies

You’ll lack insights that help you predict and reduce costs

When you have full visibility into your travel spend, you can identify bloated or unnecessary expenses. You can spot trends, such as days of the week that tend to have more expensive flights. You can judge whether it’s cheaper to stay in a hotel in the CBD or to stay at the outskirts and commute to events and meetings.

You’ll also be able to include a good financial forecast for your travels next year, broken down by month or quarter. Predicting trends will no longer be a guessing game.

You won’t be able to measure travel success and value

In an increasingly data-driven economy, there’s no excuse for a business not to use data to inform its decisions. But that’s often the case.

With a business travel program, you can set KPIs like traveller satisfaction, safety, booking compliance, and return on investment. To know whether or not you’ve achieved these, you’ll need data.

When you have rich data on your business travels, you can begin to analyse the value they bring to both the company and employees. Corporate travel metrics include traveller attrition, reimbursement time, investment per trip, and a lot more.

You can see which trips bring in the best results, and what factors may have contributed to their success. You can assess whether employees are more productive when staying in a certain location or at an Airbnb, where they can hold meetings in the evenings instead of retiring directly to separate hotel rooms.

These sorts of insights will help SME leaders make better decisions and adjust their travel program accordingly.

Begin crafting your program

To avoid the pitfalls of not having a corporate travel program, start building one right away. This will require looping in admin, HR and accounting staff, and also listening to feedback from your business travellers.

One of the trickiest aspects of a travel program is writing a corporate travel policy (here’s a quick guide on how to create such policies, but for the modern employee). Granted, crafting your program will take much time and energy. But think of it as an investment to ward off disorder and get the most value out of your business trips.


Originally published at hrmasia.com on March 12, 2019.