< PrevNext > 2020 Business Travel Buyer's Handbook Structuring a Managed Travel Program Covid-19 Update: Program Structures Will Change—Some Permanent, Some Not By Dawit Habtemariam / July 27, 2020 / Contact Reporter Share Get StartedIdentify your company's stakeholders and their needs in order to gain support for your program, and develop a communication strategy for critical information. A corporate-level decision with support from regional and local offices can initiate a managed travel program. Solicit input from road warriors and infrequent travelers, global and domestic travelers, travelers from different countries and travelers across generations. Plan to deploy consistently across operating companies and affiliates. Fundamentals include a well-communicated formal policy, travel management company support, dedicated internal staff, negotiated supplier agreements, a business intelligence system that provides pre- and post-trip data, an online booking tool, a marketing and traveler education strategy and a preferred or required payment and expense process, the only true measure of travelers'’ spending. Download ChapterEven as borders begin to reopen in Asia and Europe, the threat of Covid-19 remains, and the U.S. and Latin America continue to struggle with spiking infection rates. In this environment, companies are considering whether and how to manage their return to travel. With CEOs awaiting recommendations, travel managers need to work with HR, legal and risk management departments to determine the liabilities of resuming travel, whether and how long trip approval requirements should be in place, how to access government regulations around travel, how to improve communication with travelers and what processes a program needs to take to reduce corporate liability while ensuring traveler safety. Even as companies grapple with the financial impact of Covid-19, duty of care has ousted cost control as the primary program driver. As companies source suppliers and drive bookings to preferred partners, they are looking for control—in supplier hygiene standards, social distancing policies and personal protection protocols such as mask requirements—to meet their new duty of care standards. Ensuring travelers access the proper resources may change program structure.Move to MandateMore companies may opt for a strict mandate model to push travelers through approved channels. Some have temporarily suspended bookings through corporate online booking tools and pushed all travelers to make bookings via a live agent at their partner TMC. While this isn't a solution that will scale as companies return to larger booking volumes and want to keep booking costs down, it's a sign that information in online booking tools has not yet met the threshold of acceptability for informing travelers of their travel options or risks. TMCs and technology providers are working on those solutions.Travelers, too, are concerned about personal safety and many will be looking to their companies for support when they are asked to get back to business travel. In this environment, mandated programs may not be a difficult pill to swallow—as long as the company and traveler motivations are aligned on personal safety. If not, companies may still struggle with bookings outside the channel—likely, when travelers want to save on costs, as there will be plenty of deals offered on the open market as the travel industry recovers. This issue could make a strong case to implement off-channel data aggregation technologies often used in so-called “open-booking” environments, even within a mandated program. Technologies like SAP Concur Triplink, Traxo and Shep provide a net to capture the data associated with those bookings. Messaging to travelers once data is captured could encourage them to initiate future bookings in channel and underscore the company's duty of care commitment. Whatever model a company chooses in their return-to-travel program, it doesn't have to be permanent. If a mandate continues to work for the company culture, there's no need to change. But when the business needs change as Covid-19 subsides, so too can the policy strength and culture of the travel program. Addressing Structural WeaknessesTravel programs struggled when brought under the extreme stress of Covid-19, particularly with accurate, reliable data. During the initial phase of the pandemic, when borders closed, many travel managers found their data to be inconsistent and inaccurate because travelers canceled and rebooked flights home directly with airlines. Some found there were issues from their online booking tool implementation that became exposed from the unprecedented volume of itinerary changes during the crisis. Some travel managers have taken the opportunity to argue for consolidating TMC partners. This strategy would aggregate data at a single TMC and reduce the touchpoints needed to gather travel intelligence. For others, the appeal will be for an investment in data aggregation services or technologies that accept data from multiple TMCs and deliver consolidated information. There are reasons to do both—consolidate TMC partners and invest in better data tools. Still others are looking at the reality of reduced travel coupled with an increased desire for data and partnership control; such companies may lean into establishing an ARC-accredited corporate travel department. Many travel managers have researched new technolody elements like booking tool messaging, traveler trackers or mobile communications to help travelers feel close to the company during trip planning and wherever they are on the road. Managing Non-TravelAfter Covid-19, the concept of travel alternatives may be permanently imbedded in the structure of the travel program. Understanding what is an “essential” trip is now top of mind and developing criteria for that is critical. For non-essential trips, buttressing the travel program with technology solutions will become a pillar of travel stewardship. Zoom meetings may not be the right solution for all remote meetings, and travel managers may need to look at more sophisticated platforms for bringing people in distant locations together virtually.