Successfully Communicating Travel Policy

Everybody talks. Making sure you’re really being heard? Another story entirely.

A new study released by the Global Business Travel Association (GTBA) shows that the numbers don’t lie: there’s a serious communication gap between business travelers and their managers when it comes to travel policy. Research from the GTBA reveals huge gaps between when managers think their travelers are booking in policy (90 percent) and when the travellers are actually flying through the proper channels (63 percent).Spend some time poking around the internet, and you’ll find study after study suggesting that employers shouldn’t assume their employees know the ins and outs of their own company’s travel policybecause, according to one study, up to 70% of non-compliant employees aren’t even aware that a mandatory policy exists! (PDF)

Effective communication is the foundation of travel policy compliance. Whether you are a travel manager or a member of high-level administration in your department, it is your responsibility to provide the right tools and assistance to your travelers to ensure that they have safe and productive trips on behalf of your company.

Travelers may have the best of intentions, but so long as they are unaware of policy, they will continue to travel in a way that puts them at risk and also costs you more money. If company-wide education hasn’t been a priority, you’re not fully securing savings or your travelers’ safety.

So, what’s a strapped travel manager to do? The answer, if not the act itself, is simple: communicate your travel policy effectively.

1. Clean Up and Standardize Your Policy

Making sure you actually have a good, easy to follow policy is the first step toward clearly communicating travel policy and ensuring compliance. Your travel policy document should not be overly long or contain multiple subsections that are hard to decipher. No one wants to struggle through Appendix D Section 3 subsection 1.35-j2x just to find out if they can get room service!

If you want a good place to start, check out our guide to writing an effective travel policy and our travel policy template. Ultimately, your policy should be clear and comprehensive, especially when it comes to mandatory booking with preferred vendors.

Your policy also needs to cover how a traveler should handle unexpected complications. One study suggests that nearly a third of companies do not provide guidelines for travelers to follow if preferred hotels are unavailable (PDF). Gray areas are not your friend here! No hotel chain can cover every possible destination. Your travelers should not be standing around wondering what to do because the policy is incomplete. If you have to resurrect flow-charts in order to make the policy guidelines clear, then resurrect flow-charts.

The information provided in your policy should be entirely practical and cover all areas of booking, expenses, preferred vendors and suppliers, traveler comfort, and traveler safety. Your policy should also include examples of standard transactions, how to solicit exceptions, and outline penalties for noncompliance. Policy language should be clear and direct, and have regional standards. If necessary, work with local travel managers to adjust policy for different countries.

In short, make following policy as easy as possible. It should not be hard to stay within policy. If you’re seeing high levels of non-compliance from otherwise stellar employees, the problem may be with the policy, not your travelers.

2. Provide Comprehensive Policy Education 

Now that you’ve cleaned up your travel policy, it’s time to share it with your travelers. The good news is most travelers want to follow their company’s guidelines. In fact, research shows one of the main reasons travelers book outside of company policy (PDF) is because they mistakenly believe they can find lower fares or cheaper accommodations. This is because travelers are often unaware of negotiations secured through their company’s TMC that provide additional benefits to the quoted price, such as free WiFi or breakfast with their hotel room. Your employees want to save you money, but travelers will act based on the information provided, and insufficient information will lead to unnecessary costs.

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So make it easy for travelers to fulfill their good intentions and provide thorough, easily accessible travel policy education. Travel policy education should be a mandatory part of employee training. A white paper by Acendas reports (PDF) that there should be “several levels of traveler communication such as placing the policy on the company’s intranet, travel portal, online booking tool, and mobile applications. Comprehensive new employee education is crucial, as well as ongoing refresher training for travelers.”

nighttime-traffic-bridgeThis is an important point: policy changes with time, so there should be ongoing education that emphasizes what’s new and important for even seasoned travelers. Consistent communication is key to maintaining awareness of current policy.

The 30SecondsToFly Team recommends regular in-person meetings to train new hires or provide updates when the policy changes. We live in a world of tremendous email communication, and numerous memos about travel policy are too easily relegated to the SPAM folder. Face to face meetings allow for managers to provide additional clarification and demonstrate the importance of policy compliance. A group setting allows travelers to benefit from their colleagues’ questions, which may bring up an important issue they hadn’t considered themselves. Furthermore, holding a meeting with the support of senior management, rather than sending an easily ignored email, emphasizes the importance of the policy and further encourages compliance.

3. Demonstrate Serious Support 

The support of senior management is crucial to policy compliance. One study concludes that using senior management to communicate policy (PDF) is “probably the single most effective way to raise awareness of travel rules, overcome resistance to any required changes and promote compliance with the policy.” In addition to meetings that brief travelers on policy, it can also be very effective to follow up with “an email signed by a senior executive to remind employees of the objectives.” Every travel policy should be driven by company-mandated goals. Communicate those goals with travelers so that everyone understands and can therefore meet expectations.

Part of communicating goals effectively is modeling the behavior you hope to see. Dan Ruch, the founder and CEO of Rocketrip, insists that executives have to “lead the charge. They too must be accountable for reducing business travel expenses…We have executives…who book an Airbnb, buy groceries and invite their teams over for a family-style dinner during business trips. As these stories spread through an organization, they earn respect from employees who in turn emulate their leaders. Culture starts at the top.”

Ruch’s anecdote provides an incentive to save that goes beyond company earnings because it shows cultural actions that are in line with core company values, such as building team camaraderie and making employees feel like a vital part of their company–because they are.

traveler-with-suitcase-walking-into-sunset

It’s important to be honest about how policy compliance affects the company. Educate your employees about average travel costs, the company’s budget, and how their spending affects the company’s bottom line (and thus the employees themselves). Show them how their efforts, however small, combine to positively or negatively impact everyone. In order to demonstrate the value of the policy, have senior management lead by example.

4. Set Clear Goals and Track Compliance

An effective travel policy is consistently updated to reap the benefits of changes in the travel markets. However, you can’t change too much too soon. Constant changes or multiple versions of the policy will lead to further confusion and non-compliance. It’s therefore important to circulate only the most up-to-date policy, and to make sure you go over changes and explain the reasoning behind them.

If you’re going to switch things up on people, they deserve to know why. Maybe the changes are to meet industry standards. Maybe they’re to increase profits that will help the company’s financial performance and ensure its longevity. Maybe the saved funds will be donated to a charity with which your company already maintains a strong relationship. Whatever the reason, make it clear and compelling.

You also need to provide a clear schedule for when the changes will take effect, and follow up by tracking compliance and providing feedback to your travelers. The CWT Travel Management Institute opines (PDF) that progress reports “provide an opportunity to highlight savings, thank travelers for their efforts and encourage further improvement.” We agree. By tracking compliance and giving updates on travelers’ performance, you open up a further line of communication that can be used for both positive and negative reinforcement.

Accenture, for example, provides a detailed travel report on their intranet home page that includes “the employee’s year-to-date airfare spending, number of tickets booked outside policy, average number of days booked in advance, missed savings, miles flown and travel-related carbon output.” Travelers see their aggregated data, which can flip on the guilt switch so that they’ll try to spend less or book within policy for future travel.

You can also create a travel standard the traveler can attempt to match by providing a monthly progress report that anonymously compares one traveler’s behavior to several others in their department. If they’re falling behind on compliance, seeing their colleagues’ savings through in-policy booking can motivate them to make more of an effort and make them aware that corrective action may be taken should they not improve. If they’re matching or exceeding the goals outlined, then a manager can thank them individually and motivate them to keep up the good work. Regular updates on compliance keep everyone on track and help reinforce policy education.

Creating an additional line of communication through regular feedback also provides an opportunity to solicit comments from your travelers. There are bound to be a few hiccups in any new policy, and gathering feedback from travelers will help identify and resolve those issues. It’s essential, however, to keep feedback such as this anonymous and private so travelers respond honestly. Otherwise, you’ll keep making the same mistakes over and over again, and that doesn’t help anyone.

Final Thoughts 

Successfully communicating travel policy to your travelers will go a long way toward cutting costs, ensuring traveler safety, and creating a sense of camaraderie among employees. Well-informed travelers will feel more confident as they engage in travel for their company, and managers will reap the benefits of assertive, positive employees. At the end of the day, make sure your travelers know the answers to the big three: What can I do? What can’t I do? What’s in it for me? And make sure you have damned good answers.

Safari Ross

Safari is a PhD candidate in English Literature. When she’s not grappling with her dissertation, she’s usually obsessing about upcoming films, singing karaoke, or attempting to perfect her short rib lasagna recipe.

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