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As travel managers expand their corporate roles, some find they must develop new methods of communication to convey the importance of an internally managed travel program. Ensuring the appropriate messages are delivered to individual departments can be tricky, but incorporating a tailored, approach may prove beneficial, according to ABN Amro Group travel manager Cynthia Laferte, interviewed here at the Business Travel Market conference.
"There's no 'one size fits all' in communication; different messages need to be brought across to different groups of people," said Laferte. "The impact of communication or not communicating is often underestimated."
During this past year, Laferte found that she had more open communication than in the past with senior management, a group of executives focused mainly on facts and figures, she said. In dealing with the heads of the company, Laferte said she only delivers one message: how much the company has saved and how much it can save.
By only focusing on the overall impact of the managed travel program in discussions with senior management, Laferte is able to prove the travel department's worth to the company and ensure that the entire program is not outsourced, she said.
According to Laferte, other stakeholders beyond senior management have become involved in travel management since the Dutch banking firm was acquired in 2007 by a consortia including the Royal Bank of Scotland. For example, the human resources department has a bigger role in monitoring the impact of cost-savings initiatives on travelers.
"When we deal with the human resources person, we are not talking about how much savings we can offer," Laferte explained. "We have more personal conversations. We are letting them know that we are thinking about the secondary things, like what kind of impact would it have on the travelers if we were to select nondirect flights."
Examining such ramifications comes as ABN Amro's travel department is forced to find creative ways to cut the travel budget amid the global economic slowdown, Laferte said. Instead of looking to suppliers and renegotiating contracts, the company found that looking for savings internally was the best solution.
"Demand management would save a lot more money than influencing negotiations," she said. "If you have more of a mature travel management program and have more of a role within your company, then you don't have to do global RFPs over again. As a procurement department you always need to consider two things: what's good for you, but [also] what's good for your supplier."
By cooperating with suppliers as they, too, suffer economic hardships, Laferte is hopeful they will return the favor in 2010, especially given the dramatic changes to her overall travel program resulting from scaling back travel. For instance, travel to Brazil was eliminated and travel to the United States was reduced.
"I didn't renegotiate my [hotel] rates because I know [the suppliers] will be there next year when the market changes," said Laferte. "Next year when [the economy] turns around I can come to my suppliers and say, 'I want a good price.' Our relationship would be better than the ones that squeezed this year."
Oftentimes those in the travel department are mainly considered "organizers," Laferte continued, but because they are responsible for contract details, relationships and planning, she considers her department's staff the corporate "visionaries." She reminds them to use forward-thinking approaches when communicating with suppliers--for example, explaining the potential future risks of renegotiating 2009 contracts.
ABN Amro's travel management professionals also must emphasize corporate social responsibility. By emphasizing preferred suppliers that pay consideration to the environment, Laferte and her team can deliver positive reports to the company's CSR department.
Meanwhile, communication with the company's travelers includes advising them to only book preferred hotels and airlines. Although ABN Amro does not apply policy mandates, it issues internal newsletters detailing how much could be saved if employees book two weeks in advance, use preferred suppliers and travel on connecting flights. As a result, Laferte said compliance figures are close to 90 percent.
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