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Why Travel? Managers Want To Know: Travelers Asked To Justify Or Avoid Business Trips

By David Jonas, Procurement.Travel
3/15/09

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Business travelers take to the skies and bed up in hotels for many reasons. In today's climate of cost-consciousness, though, those reasons may not be good enough for senior managers—or at least that's what they want travelers to believe.

Asking a traveler to identify a trip's purpose as it is being booked through an agent-assisted phone call and/or within the self-booking tool can help companies craft policy adjustments, promote remote conferencing alternatives and enact specific bans on discretionary (nonrevenue) travel. Adopted by a growing number of organizations, the practice can augment pretrip approval, a familiar process that has gained new attention as more organizations add automation and/or elevate the level at which approval is required.

Speaking during a January Procurement.travel webinar sponsored by Concur, Autodesk's Bruce Finch said his company's global travel program "is pretty mature now. The one last area we don't have a handle on is 'why' we travel."

Serving as the software maker's director of global travel and workplace sustainability, Finch added: "We assume certain things, and clearly we can track based on division, but the motivating factor to actually get on an airplane to travel somewhere is what we are looking to uncover. This information, especially over a long-term review, will help us identify areas for improvement."

Many other companies recently have taken similar steps, according to their travel managers. During a separate January webinar sponsored by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives and Sabre's Travel Network, GetThere and Travelocity Business divisions, McKesson travel category manager Yoichi Miyazaki explained that "we got feedback from all the business unit leaders on what they want to know: Is it internal or external? Seeing a customer or not seeing a customer? Some business units wanted to know what customer they were going to."

As part of an effort to "really target communications" between managers and travelers, Capital One similarly collects trip purpose information. The company also "added information to our online booking tool, so if you choose certain categories, a message pops up that asks, 'Have you considered webconferencing/videoconferencing tools?' " said corporate travel manager Heather Young, speaking on the ACTE/Sabre webinar. Capital One is promoting those remote conferencing tools especially as substitutes to same-day trips.

Apple Inc. also seeks to crack down on one-day trips, according to global travel manager Kathleen Ramsay. "We are trying to put some reporting together that goes to the controllers and business units showing how many one-day trips they are doing," she said during the ACTE/Sabre webinar. "Our feeling generally is that if they are going for one meeting, is there another option for conducting that meeting, and could it be done through a webcast or even a conference call?"

At PricewaterhouseCoopers, "We have noticed that our clients all want to reduce travel, so, often, virtual meetings are a great solution," said director of travel strategy and continuous improvement Kim McGlinn during The Masters Program in February. She said PwC recently configured its booking tool to offer remote conferencing options as travel alternatives, and "year over year, we're at a 79 percent increase in virtual tool [usage]. There were even more significant increases in the previous year."

Cisco Systems has exemplified aggressive demand management. The company since November virtually has eliminated travel for internal meetings and shifted such demand to its own collaborative technologies. The efforts have slashed the company's travel expenses from a "run rate of $750 million to the current run rate of approximately $350 million," CEO John Chambers said during a February call with analysts.

"Now when you click on internal meetings" as a reason for a trip in the self-booking tool, "you stop. It won't let you go further," said Cisco global travel manager Jane Gardner during the Institute of Supply Management and National Business Travel Association travel summit in February.

Concur and GetThere are among the online booking tool providers that offer configurable systems enabling clients to ask why travelers are taking trips and offer remote conferencing options. At GetThere, the number of customers requesting such functionality in recent months has gone from "a handful to many," said Suzanne Neufang, vice president of corporate market strategy and solutions for STN and GetThere. The GetThere system can include separate, automated approval queues based on identified trip purpose and require travelers to identify the customer they are visiting or the training class they are attending.

While demand management proponents suggest that return on investment analysis and collection of trip purpose information can help some companies optimize their travel activity, "the challenge is the metrics," said American Express Business Travel Global Advisory Services director of research and media Christa Degnan Manning, also speaking at the Masters. "What can you do with the data? We're trying to work with clients to link back that purpose, but you have to be a really disciplined organization to understand that."

Some organizations merely remind travelers that their decisions are monitored. Having to await approval or explain themselves can reinforce responsible buying decisions among employees.End of article.

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