Budapest - Despite Google's reputation as a maverick among
corporate travel programs, global travel and expense manager Michael Tangney
said he didn't bury the travel policy but merely redefined it as a concept.
Last month at the Global Business Travel Association's
Europe Conference here, Tangney's response when presented with the question
"Is travel policy dead?" was an emphatic no. While Google's travel
program might look very different than most other large corporate travel
programs, it exists within a framework with a timeless need, even for the most
do-it-yourself-natured travelers, he said.
"On a very fundamental level, people like being told
what they can and can't do," Tangney said. "They want flexibility,
choice and to be able to do what they want to do, but they also want to know
what's reasonable and what's acceptable in this company."
The strategy behind Google's best-practice-bucking travel
program, which earned Tangney honors as BTN's European Travel Manager of the
Year in 2010, maintains the same core as when Tangney introduced it in 2008,
and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Travelers can book
however they want and with whatever supplier they want, as long as those
bookings fall within the price parameters that Google sets through its own tool
Google still uses many of the core tools of a legacy travel
program. It negotiates with suppliers. It uses a travel management company,
Carlson Wagonlit Travel. It has a corporate card, though its use is not
On that level, Mark Cuschieri, UBS executive director of
travel management for the EMEA region, noted that Google's program was not
radically different from his own.
"We're closer than what you would imagine,"
Cuschieri said. "We have a global policy, a framework of guidelines and
controls, and my role really is to influence people. Whilst I am termed as a
traditionalist, we do allow people a choice within a framework of contracted
For Google, that influence comes from making sure its
supplier partners are at the top of its travelers' lists of choices, Tangney
said. For example, the company once put together a structured hotel program
from a general idea of where people stayed. Now, however, it keeps tabs on
where travelers stay and uses that list to determine each year with which
hotels to contract.
Contracts with those suppliers more resemble rate agreements
than binding contracts, and Google never commits to spending levels. Even
without a mandate, Google per week gets between 8,000 and 9,000 hits on its
internal site for hotels, Tangney said.
"The contract is not dead. We push it back to the
supplier," Tangney said. "They provide a service, we'll push it and
promote it, and they'll probably get more than they planned for," he said.
About 30 percent of Google's travel goes through its TMC,
mostly complex itineraries or cases in which travelers were busy and needed
someone to manage their bookings, he said.
Google does not mandate corporate card use because doing so
"may be a little counter-culture," Tangney said. About 70 percent of
its travel spending goes through the corporate card. U.S. travelers are less
likely to use corporate cards than their European counterparts, as they are
more tempted to bulk up their personal card reward points tally, he said.
For duty-of-care purposes, Google collects data on the back
end. Travelers enter about nine fields of data—where they are going and at
which hotel and for how long they are staying, for instance—into an in-house
system. This area remains one of the program's biggest challenges, Tangney
"It still requires manual entry, and if there's
anything Googlers hate, it's having to go and enter different information on
multiple pages and in different ways," he said. "It's not as deep as
During the next year, Tangney said he expects to find
partners with technical solutions to take the user out of the data-gathering
equation and "consolidate information not from every source but the broad
source to get high-quality data, which still requires your view and
It's not an issue unique to Google's program, said Guy
Weismantel, senior vice president of strategic marketing for Egencia. Buyers
who overlook complete, back-end data increasingly risk being run over in
supplier negotiations, he said.
"We've seen an uptick of suppliers, especially in the
hotel space and in some of the bigger markets where demand is very tight,
getting very good at using their own data to come back to the table,"
Weismantel said. "Everyone should arm themselves with facts and