Corporate Travel Managers are now subject-matter-experts on how to shut down business travel. Ironic for most years but the norm for 2020, travel managers have been through a lot. And now, they’re faced with the task of opening business travel back up. It really is the year of uncharted territory. And let’s not kid ourselves, there will be no ribbon-cutting or opening of the “floodgates”; it’s going to be gradual, confusing, and come with a steeper learning curve than the shut-down.  

The task is great, but fear not! We’ve put together some considerations and tips to support travel managers in this initiative.  As you set the vision and work towards relaunching your program, here are 10 Action Items to help you Restart your Business Travel Program.

1) Continued collaboration with stakeholders is critical

In March, we learned the importance of collaborating across departments – HR, Legal, Security, Sales, Leadership.  Many relationships were built, and others – strengthened. Companies got pretty good at making important decisions via committee.  Continue to utilize those frameworks throughout the return to travel initiative and consider adding increasing the involvement of partners who have served essential roles during this time (e.g., Risk Management, Travel Management provider).   Although “travel” is a key component of return to travel; remember that many decisions are heavily guided by HR and legal requirements (e.g., health screenings, restrictions).

2) Keep an active pulse on the “voice of the travelers”

Remote environments make it more challenging to understand employee sentiment.  What are the general feelings that employees have towards business travel?  Are some groups “ready to go”?  Perhaps others are more conservative?  While this will look different at each organization, it’s important to take a more active role in soliciting this feedback.  We recommend routine check-ins with key individuals – gathering input from road-warriors, and team leaders. If you have a larger program, consider putting together a simple Survey Monkey poll for feedback.

3) Publish your policy addendum

For most companies, changing the travel policy takes a long time, and involves a lot of input.  Rather than changing “the” policy, many organizations have introduced a shorter, and more specific Covid-19 addendum to outline critical pieces of information for potential travelers.  Common elements include defining what constitutes permissible travel, outlining current processes, providing support resources, guidance on selecting suppliers, and any interim changes/exceptions to actual policies.  It’s also important to address the entire trip journey: pre-trip, during the trip, and post-trip.

4) Have your critical reports ready

Many companies have come to rely on data generated from new reports during much of this year.  Take the time to organize those reports, and train others on how to generate. Reports highlighting planning future trips, recent trips grouped by employee, and travelers currently on the road have proved to be some of our most critical during this time.

5) Stay one step ahead of your employees on preferred suppliers

Travel suppliers have been profoundly impacted.  Many hotels remain closed, or have changed rates dramatically.  Airlines continue to change policy and procedure.  Veteran travel managers can anticipate questions from their travelers, and make a point to stay one step ahead.  Reestablish the lines of communication with key suppliers, in addition to making more information available to employees.  Tripkicks helps companies by automatically displaying key supplier information and updates within the booking tool.  Several companies have also used this as a time to reevaluate preferred pricing.  Our friends at TRIPBAM have been helping many companies institute smart-sourcing for hotels.

6) Actively manage cancellations and unused tickets

Companies have built up significant credit reserves from unused tickets.  It’s fiscally responsible to ensure that there is a process for attempting to utilize these credits, before committing new funds towards air travel.  If your process requires steps from the traveler, make sure they are aware.  Tripkicks allows you to display custom and dynamic messages to travelers at key points during the booking process encouraging travelers to select a particular supplier by informing them that your company has credits available.

7) Examine current processes for scalability

When travel shut down, so did most of the automation surrounding it – including the automation within organizations.  Business travel that has been occurring has been overwhelmingly “manual”, with each trip requiring questionnaires, custom research, and plenty of phone calls and emails.  In preparation to relaunch travel, companies need to evaluate how their processes can once again becomes scalable and sustainable.  We must accept that part of this shift will be moving away from making decisions “for” your employees, towards instead empowering them with the information necessary to make the best decisions.

8) Communicate and re-train

There is a lot of work involved in preparing to relaunch travel.  Perhaps the most critical component is ensuring that employees are aware of it all – the processes, the resources, the changes and restrictions.  A significant focus should be placed on new training for travelers, as well as summary updates for road warriors, along with increased communication throughout the trip journey.

9) Introduce sustainability goals

With many of the worlds’ leading companies investing in carbon-neutrality, it’s only a matter of time before this becomes a key objective for every organization.  Use this time to meet with involved stakeholders and see how sustainability goals can be incorporated into the business travel program.  Covid-19 has significantly reduced companies business travel carbon footprint, and let’s continue to manage that even as travel resumes. Tripkicks enables organizations to highlight more environmentally-friendly options within the booking tool.   

10) Become a virtual collaboration expert

It will take time for travel to reach 2019 levels, and some believe we may never quite get there.  Debate aside, virtual collaboration will continue to be mainstay of how we work and how we meet.  Current Travel and Meetings managers have an opportunity to expand their expertise and purview to become the initial experts on these technologies and how to effectively utilize it within organizations. 

As we look towards the end of this year, now is the time to ensure that your program is ready to support business travelers when they are ready to get back on the road.  And at Tripkicks, we want to help you do just that.

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