If running the gauntlet of flight cancellations, missed
connections, unfamiliar locales and spotty Internet access isn't enough to
provoke stress, travelers also are expected to maintain a continuum of
productivity. As the weary well know, deadlines, meetings and emails don't stop
when they take a business trip.
Considering all that can go wrong and all that employees
must do to perform their duties when traveling, the question of who takes
responsibility for providing creature comforts and enhancing productivity can
be a confounding one. Does it fall to the traveler or to the employer?
Yes and yes, according to BTN research. Both sit with travel suppliers at a sometimes
ill-defined intersection of corporate cost, control and policy on one side and
employee productivity, comfort and connectivity on the other.
[Please click here to view the digital edition of The Frequent Traveler: Finding A Balance, featuring
all charted data, downloadable as a pdf.]
These responsibilities are "absolutely shared,"
said Advisory Board Co. vice president of information systems and travel buyer
Steven Mandelbaum. "The notion that travelers alone are responsible for
their own destiny or that travelers alone can make it what they want is an
impossibility. It has to be shared. But to do that, we give our travelers a
tremendous amount of flexibility. Travel buyers can do a number of things to
make life better for travelers. It depends on your travelers and their most
pressing needs and their biggest pain points. But as a travel manager, you do
have a shot at doing that."
According to BTN
survey results, there are a number of services that companies provide and
expenses they'll cover to ease life on the road.
Among those, 59 percent of buyers indicated they negotiate
with airlines for elite status designations for some travelers, while 55
percent do the same for rental car programs and 42 percent do so for hotel
programs. Mandelbaum suggested that buyers are in a much better position than
travelers to secure such designations, which provide not only comfort and
productivity enhancements for travelers, but also cost-saving opportunities for
"We do an annual and semi-annual review of who is on
our [supplier elite status] lists," said Martha Ferguson, Interpublic
Group of Companies senior manager of travel operations for Europe, Middle East
and Africa and the global corporate card program. "It is something we take
really seriously. We upgrade a lot of people's status, on multiple airlines."
While such designations once were considered merely "soft
dollars," a nice add-on to supplier negotiations, the growing array of
optional services—from rental car GPS devices and inflight Wi-Fi to checked
bags, which can be waived or discounted through status—has firmed their value.
For frequent traveler Sarah Howell, a busy flight schedule,
not her travel manager, earned her elite airline status. Howell, who blogs
under the moniker Road Warriorette, not only gets free checked bags and
potential upgrades, which can save on travel costs, but other perks that ease
the process of travel. "It really does increase productivity, because if
there is a flight disruption, because of my status, I get preference over most
other people when rebooking," she said.
Another perk worth exploring is airport lounge membership.
Though only 12 percent of buyer respondents said their companies foot the bill,
Carlson Wagonlit Travel suggested companies take a closer look at such
expenses. "It may be most cost-effective for an organization to pay for
airline lounge memberships for road warriors if the savings in Internet access
fees, not to mention food, beverages and other services, outweighs the membership
costs," according to a recent white paper from the travel management
The App Gap
Of buyer respondents to the BTN survey, 43 percent indicated that their organization's travel
department either provides or recommends mobile travel apps to their traveler
population, a practice that Flightcaster co-founder and independent consultant
Evan Konwiser suggested more adopt.
"We'd like to see when a travel program can enable
these tools, whether that's through back-end integration or pre-downloading applications
onto company-owned smartphones or just marketing by email to say, 'Here are 10
tools that you can download yourself and use,' " Konwiser said. "We
look for the travel manager to enable all those tools and provide a menu of
options that are plug-and-play and easy for travelers to use."
While there are a multitude of free or inexpensive mobile
apps that can ease the travel experience, issues of cost, time and resources
can constrain company efforts to customize.
That's an issue with which Microsoft senior travel manager
for strategy and technology Eric Bailey has grappled.
Conveying a relatable predicament for many travel buyers,
Bailey said he is shifting "a huge amount of focus to what the traveler
experience is and how we can improve it, but the goal is to do it with the same
bucket of money."
Bailey suggested that an ideal corporate mobile app would
incorporate other elements of employees' professional lives, going beyond
travel to include other internal corporate services. Microsoft has developed
some of those in-house, providing things like corporate campus maps and
directions and information on employee shuttle and commuter services. "We
are sort of building the spokes without a hub, and at some point we'll build
this hub," he said.
While Bailey is exploring app options, he acknowledged that
he doesn't "have the budget to build a travel app, then set up all the
feeds to the agency. The hard thing with productivity is it isn't hard savings,
so I know that with a good app, that if I had a million dollars, I could build
something fantastic, and I know I could improve productivity. I don't know if I
can quantify that or prove it, and I'm pretty sure I can't get a million
dollars in the budget for an app that we think will make people more productive
and happier when they're traveling."
Building internally can be daunting and expensive, but many
travel agencies, online booking tool providers and expense reporting technology
firms provide apps to their corporate clients. Among traveler respondents, 46
percent indicated they used mobile online booking tools while traveling and 37
percent used mobile expense reporting tools.
Buyers and consultants speaking with BTN noted that such mobile tools ideally would come from the
company, especially if they are tied to corporate-approved channels or
integrated with agency or other back-end systems.
Of course, not all tools that enhance productivity or reduce
travel stresses come at a cost or butt up against established policies. For
example, apps that provide flight status updates or organize itineraries don't
necessarily conflict with corporate spend controls. In such situations,
Konwiser and others suggested that companies get out of the way.
For some, Konwiser said, "you don't need much
integration at all. For example, you can recommend travelers download SeatGuru
so they can pick the seat they like before they get on the plane versus, say,
an itinerary manager, where you might want to integrate it to the point where
it can incorporate real-time itineraries, including changes. Or if you can
integrate on the back end for expense management, that's helpful. There's a
spectrum of different integration points, some requiring a lot of integration
and some not."
Frequent traveler Howell said she uses Concur's TripIt for
itinerary management, as well as flight notification tools to alert her to
disruptions. In both cases, she grabbed those tools for herself, rather than
waiting for her company to hand them down.
Both have paid off in terms of easing the travel experience,
and neither interfered with corporate control. "I've gotten notifications
when I've been on a plane and the flight attendants don't know what's going on,"
she said. "But I've got a notification that says, this flight has been
canceled. That's kind of a big deal."
Still, Howell also turns to her company for important travel
services. In many ways, a managed travel program is built on delivering
productivity-enhancing services as much as saving costs. "I work for a
pretty decent-sized corporation," she said, "so we have a corporate
travel agency that we go through, and any time I have a canceled flight and
need rebooking, I can call them. It can be very easy for me when I have flight
issues or disruptions to get it fixed. I know that for people who travel for
smaller companies, who have to book their own travel, it's a much bigger hassle
for them and they often have to deal with the airline directly."
According to the survey results, travel buyers take
different stances on reimbursing Internet expenses, possibly depending on where
they are being incurred. While 79 percent of buyers surveyed said their
companies would pick up the tab for hotel room Internet access, only 48 percent
said the same for inflight Wi-Fi, and 46 percent would foot the bill for
To some travelers, it's silly that companies restrict access
to tools that help them get their job done, just because they happen to be in
an airplane seat and not in a hotel room.
"My company's policies reflect that they want us to be
as productive as possible and they recognize that we sometimes have to pay for
tools to make that happen," said Howell. "But there are people who
can only pay for Wi-Fi at a hotel, for example. They can't be out and about and
pay for Wi-Fi at a coffee shop. That's just makes it more complicated for you
to do your job."
Still, Advisory Board's Mandelbaum argued that unlimited
Internet access on multiple devices could become quite a costly proposition.
"There's a ton of devices, and that's the thing you
have to careful about," he said. "They have a computer, so they want
to connect their computer. They have an iPad and they want to connect their
iPad. Then they've got their phone that they want to connect. Between all the
different devices and all the ways to connect, you can really get in trouble.
That's why it's important to put some rationalization around it."
That was a driver for The Advisory Board's decision to
create policies addressing connectivity. The company recently allocated to
travelers a monthly connectivity budget, which varies based on what Mandelbaum
called "travel intensity," with latitude to choose how and where they
connect. "We give people allowances," he said. "You want to use
it on [inflight connectivity provider] Gogo? You want to use it on an unlimited
data plan? You want to use it on data for your iPad? The traveler optimizes
Mandelbaum may be ahead of the curve. Carlson Wagonlit
Travel in an October white paper declared that managing connectivity is the "next
big thing" in travel management. The travel management company suggested
buyers take ownership of traveler connectivity.
According to a CWT survey this year of 6,000 business travelers, "poor/no Internet connection" was the second-biggest
stress inducer for travelers, after lost or delayed luggage. CWT suggested
buyers look at corporate card data to see which connectivity providers
travelers are using, be they at the airport, on the plane or in a hotel. After
that, the TMC recommends setting a policy so "travelers understand the
organization's expectations for their spending, and any repercussions for not
abiding by the rules," and also leveraging spend data to consider
preferred connectivity providers and pursue discounts.
"Staying connected while away from the office is a key
aspect of traveling for business," according to CWT. "Travel buyers
can help employees remain connected—and in some cases even improve their
connectivity experience—while significantly reducing costs, by starting to
address connectivity as another area of travel management. Buyers can apply
many of the tried-and-true principles of managed travel to the area of
connectivity to yield substantial benefits for their organizations."
originally appeared in the Oct. 22, 2012, edition of Business Travel News.