Nearly a decade after it began globally consolidating travel and events, Accenture is "in the midst of a transformation" to one global travel management company, online booking tool and global distribution system, according to Accenture global travel and events senior director Mary Bastrentaz.
The consolidated supplier strategy originated last year, Bastrentaz said, with a brief conversation with her boss, who immediately needed "two ideas to cut travel spending," she relayed at an Association of Corporate Travel Executives meeting in May. " 'We can outsource meeting and event planners,' " who numbered 35 in the United States, and " 'globalize our program to a 1-1-1 strategy,' " she told her boss. What had been discussed during a five-minute conversation "became a reality because of all the work we had done before that proved that we could deliver" travel savings and cost-effective programs.
Bastrentaz started working on Accenture's travel program 15 years ago. The program evolved to focus at various times on online booking, traveler safety and security, the traveler experience, environmental concerns, demand management, integration of meetings and events, and now a dedicated focus on a comprehensive lodging program.
Accenture for several years relied on a dual-agency approach with Carlson Wagonlit Travel servicing 34 markets--about 80 percent of Accenture's business--and American Express Business Travel handling the rest in 14 markets. Online adoption for 21 markets was at 80 percent in 2009. [PROFILE_1]Accenture is consolidating with Carlson Wagonlit. "By the time we're done, [online booking] will be in 40 markets, and our goal is to get to 90 percent adoption," Bastrentaz said. "You don't need two agencies when you're down to a minimal number of transactions. That's part of the journey; it's time to consolidate."
Accenture was an early proponent of online adoption in the late 1990s, using a tool called Via Online developed by a subsidiary. After it began to globalize its program in 2001, Accenture switched to a CWT booking tool. "Self-enabling our travelers to book online has been a critical key to our travel program," Bastrentaz said.
Of the latest supplier consolidation, she said: "We could push it even further. With airlines, we can only go so far with global deals today. Then we need to backfill with local and regional deals. The same with hotels." Outside of the United States, there are few large hotel chains with which to negotiate, forcing the firm to craft local and regional preferred hotel contracts, Bastrentaz said of the current realities she would like to change. As the economy worsened, Bastrentaz said Accenture management asked, " 'How can we reduce costs?' My rally cry with executives is that there really are only three ways to do it: Negotiate better deals, drive better compliance or stop traveling.
"We had optimized as best we could with our negotiations," she continued, "but we had to pull our supplier deals together better. So hotel suppliers were pulled into global pricing. Airlines moved into more global deals, backfilled with regional or local deals. The next part was compliance. For the most part, our people are good corporate soldiers, they want to do the right thing, but we have to make it easier for them to do so."
Stopping corporate travel outright is "where we really aligned with our corporate objectives," Bastrentaz said. "Instead of just being a department helping out, this is where we had a seat at the table with our executives. We installed 50 [Cisco] TelePresence sites around the world, and that has helped a lot to reduce corporate travel." In a case study published last year by the Institute of Travel Management, Accenture reported more than a 300 percent return on monthly operating costs of 30 such suites.
Accenture senior management just a few years earlier learned how a strategic meetings management initiative, including a policy, a point person and executive-level support, could help it reduce sales, general and administrative expenses. Responding then to an email thread about "corporate strategic objectives looking out five years," Bastrentaz gained responsibility for meetings in addition to travel.
Know Your Mission
Highlighting Accenture's approach to travel management during the past decade, Bastrentaz said the "overall mission within Accenture is all about delivering results. We have to have tangible business results for management and consistent, quality service for our customers. Through innovation and collaboration, global travel and events applies best practices, and leverages Accenture Corp.'s buyer power."
As the travel program expanded--to meetings, online booking and the more strategic view of corporate housing--Bastrentaz said the department's mission has remained fairly constant. The only change, she acknowledged, was that several years ago she removed the modifier "high" that once appeared in front of service. "The industry has changed, and expectations have lowered along the way," she said.
With more than 200 offices and operations in 52 countries, Accenture takes a collaborative approach to its global travel strategy that tries to strike the right balance between global and local strategy and execution. Bastrentaz sets the "global strategy, direction and vision," while designated managers in each of the company's 13 geographic regions "are responsible and accountable for travel day to day. The ideas come from the local markets. We're able to take the best and share," she noted.
[PULL_1]The travel team includes four geographic leads, each of whom works with an operational liaison to Carlson Wagonlit. "We report into geographic services and we're actually a client of procurement, so we work very closely with them across all of these commodities," she said. "This bottom-up approach and centralized direction and vision have worked very well, and have been one of the secrets to our success."
The program's evolution has kept pace with key corporate initiatives. "As we moved forward, globalization and the realization that we needed to better leverage our suppliers was really important," Bastrentaz said. "Internally, we also were driving some big financial changes with the SAP system. We needed to work with some of our key suppliers--travel management companies and corporate card companies--to have consistency across 50 markets and ensure that basic data put in every reservation was very consistent."
Accommodations are now an area of focus within Accenture "because we do a lot of client work and spend about $150 million globally just on housing," she said. "We're trying to take an end-to-end accommodations strategy."
Once the consolidation is completed, Bastrentaz said the next major travel program initiative in coming years will be all about "simplification. Sometimes we get so wound up in trying to over-analyze and over-complicate things that you have to really step back and figure out how you can make things simple for people."