For the majority of SMEs, buying business travel often finds itself at the bottom of the to-do list. Due to time constraints on smaller companies, regularly there is no structure or policy in place and is frequently an impulsive purchase. David Chapple, event director of The Business Travel Show *, advises on how to use your travel budget more effectively.
If an employee needs to take a trip, the common practice is to simply head online and search for the best flight and a suitable hotel. The general consensus being, it’s cheaper than having a dedicated travel manager, and most manage to book personal holidays just fine. However, by allowing employees to book independently, SMEs are almost certainly wasting time and in turn, money.
Let’s assume, for example, you have a member of staff travelling to New York who earns £60,000 a year and they spend a morning searching the internet to book that trip. That’s just cost your organisation £128 in lost time and billing. Now let’s say there are 20 travellers in your office making 20 trips a year, all booking independently. That’s the equivalent of over £51,000 of billable hours wasted.
Scary isn’t it?
So what is the alternative for SMEs operating in a price-driven environment? Although you may not have the buying power to negotiate discounts, you can certainly buy smarter, save the company time and effort, and enjoy increased benefits and rewards from suppliers by following these seven tips.
Get your house in order. Appoint a member of your management support team to take responsibility for buying business travel and work with them to introduce a company-wide travel policy to control spending and reporting.
- Avoid online leisure travel agents. They eat up time and charge hidden fees. If you know what you want to book, go direct – you’ll get better service and equally good prices. Otherwise...
- ... ask the experts. If the majority of your business travel is domestic, use rail and hotel booking agents. They will save you time, and HBAs don’t even charge. They also have access to a much wider choice of accommodation to suit all budgets. If you buy flights, use a local business travel agent like Advantage Business Travel or Uniglobe to deal with the more complex itineraries. For a small fee, they will save you hours.
- Be brand loyal. Price is always king, but if you can be loyal it pays. By signing up for programmes that reward companies and travellers, you can use kickbacks – such as free upgrades – to get more for your money. Most major airlines and hotel groups operate reward schemes and the good news is that, thanks to the recession, they are on the rise.
- Look at the complete picture. Booking the cheapest but not the nearest hotel room, for example, may end up costing you more when you factor in extras such as cab fares, parking fees, airport transfers, internet charges and the time and hassle it takes to get to your meeting.
- Book ahead. Planning ahead can help you buy quality services for less. Fly mid- week or out of season, purchase a multi-city ticket rather than a round trip fare, bundle your flights and accommodation, buy a restricted ticket and stick to your plan rather than fork out for a fully flexible fare! And for rail travel – never buy tickets at the station, it will cost you 30-40 per cent more.
- Seeing is believing. If you’d like to see how much money you could be saving by using specialist business travel suppliers and implementing a travel policy check out the travel savings calculator in the Visitor Zone of www.businesstravelshow.com and see if that can persuade you to stop doing it yourself.
* The Business Travel Show is Europe’s leading corporate travel event and organiser of the world’s largest hosted buyer programme for travel buyers. The event runs 7-8 February 2012 at Earls Court in London. More than 5,000 visitors are expected to attend, and 200 world-class business travel suppliers and travel management companies will be exhibiting. The event also runs a high-class and detailed conference programme and unrivalled networking opportunities. To register for a free badge, please visit www.businesstravelshow.com.