Travel policies are an integral part of corporate culture. Your company’s values and principles define each travel policy decision–from selecting vendors and booking methods to controlling company card spending.
When drafting an effective company travel policy, a travel manager is faced with many impactful decisions. Can top tier VPs fly first class, or must all employees fly coach? Are employees expected to comply strictly with the rules, or are they given leeway to regard the policy as more of a guideline? Do employees need to ask for approval before all major purchases? Decisions like these reflect your corporate culture. A thoughtful travel policy determines whether your employees view business travel as a perk or a punishment.
In terms of dollars and cents, corporate travel and entertainment, or T&E, is the second largest expense (after payroll). According to a report by Certify, in 2016, US businesses spent 10-12% of their annual budget on T&E. And according to a 2014 Forrester Report, T&E ranks as the second highest business operations expense to control.
When it comes to running a small business, especially, a well-executed travel policy allows the company to regulate travel spend and define acceptable travel-related expenses on:
- Ground Transportation
- Meal Per Diems
The challenge of creating an effective corporate travel policy is to balance the employee experience—from travel planning and being on the road to collecting expense reimbursements—with the company’s goals to scale costs and promote operational economy. The business traveler’s experience and the company culture both suffer from arbitrary downgrading to budget flights and accommodations, lack of autonomy and delays in booking execution.
While many travel managers focus on how to write an effective travel policy that will save the company money, it’s also important to consider employees’ satisfaction and how the policy enhances the company’s culture. By integrating up-to-date travel tools and maintaining a fluid policy, travel managers have the ability to provide business travel experiences that workers enjoy rather than endure. Here, we provide six strategies for prioritizing company culture as you consider your company’s travel policy.
1. Is Your Expense Management Automated?
One major downside to business travel is the uncertainty attached to reimbursement. When a business traveler floats their personal money to pay for expenses on their trip, they should be able to expect return on their payment with a quick turnaround and minimal processing effort (filling out forms and creating spend spreadsheets). However, according to a 2016 study in Expense Management Travel trends, 50% of all companies, and 70% of small businesses are resorting to manual expense management processing, which is more time-consuming, more expensive and less responsive than new automatic systems.
According to a Certify study that surveyed 500 companies, 35% said they required 8 to 30 days for employee reimbursement. Luckily, technology companies like Concur, Certify and Expensify have created automated expense management applications to expedite the reimbursement process. Most notably, Concur’s and Expensify’s receipt capture service allows travelers to submit receipts for approval by uploading photos from their mobile devices. Currently, according to a 2016 expense trends report, employees losing receipts is the number 1 pain point in expense management. But with a receipt capture service, although thousands of miles away, the travel manager back at HQ can keep up with the road warrior’s expenses in real-time.
According to the Concur website, the average cost per report is $8, a sheer drop from the average manual system processing cost of $26.63 per expense report. By decreasing busywork with less time spent creating and processing expense reports, and also expediting reimbursement turnaround, automating expense management boosts corporate culture and employee satisfaction.
Some travel management solutions even free the traveler entirely from administrative friction by completely automating the travel expense reporting process. Our SMB travel management solution Claire, for example, integrates with Expensify seamslessly, automatically forwarding travelers’ itineraries to their Expensify accounts.
2. Does Your Technology Support Your Travel Policy?
Most business travelers prefer to use online booking tools compared to travel agencies. According to a recent Certify SpendSmart™ Report, almost 80% of company travel is booked via an online booking tool or online travel sites.
But is there a technology that can provide a personalized experience and a great service similar to a travel agency without incurring its high fees? Artificial intelligence may be the answer. Machine intelligence is able to learn about each traveler’s preferences and habits while looking out for the company’s benefit as a whole.
Claire by 30SecondsToFly is an artificially intelligent travel assistant that makes business travel easier by embedding the company’s travel policy into her decision making and communicating it transparently to staff during their booking process. Travelers communicate with Claire via text using all major platforms—Facebook Messenger, Slack, Skype, SMS and web. Claire makes tailored recommendations that reflect the traveler’s preferences (like frequent flyer programs, layover, meal and seating preferences, etc) and purchase history. Claire also supervises efficiency patterns by reporting robust travel analytics.
With Claire, travel managers can ensure a consistent quality to each traveler’s experience by determining universal booking parameters, while making sure that policy requirements are being met without wasting a traveler’s time. Claire brings peace of mind to travelers and travel managers alike because if needed to resolve an issue, Claire is always just a text message away—like a travel agent that fits into one’s pocket.
Another travelbot service designed with embedded travel policy preferences as well as a text messaging component is Sabre’s GetThere. GetThere is an online booking tool with a simple, streamlined interface for booking corporate travel. It’s especially designed to be mobile-friendly so users can book whilst on the road. This enhances the traveler experience because travelers don’t have to wait through an approval period, but instead, can book autonomously in pre-approved channels that are controlled by travel managers.
One gargantuan advantage to utilizing travelbot technology is that all purchases are booked within your trusted vendor channel. By booking in-channel, the company benefits from negotiated rates with commonly used vendors. If you allow employees to book independently using their preferred online site, then the company loses out on the chance to negotiate rates with vendors to get reduced fares on flights and hotels, etc. Spending pattern visibility drops way down, making it harder for travel managers to improve the booking process.
Another benefit to booking within channel is that the traveler knows the cost is covered and reimbursable. Furthermore, there’s no need to ask for approval. Thus, artificial intelligence benefits both the traveler as well as the company’s bottom line by creating a personalized and predictive corporate travel experience. To learn more about how artificially intelligent bots are creating a user-friendly, conversational booking experience, check out our Ultimate Travel Bot List. With technologies that embed policy, you get to enhance company culture, keeping employees happy, while still ensuring travel policy adherence.
3. Do Your Employees Get Rewarded For Saving?
At 30SecondsToFly, we’ve taken an in depth look at the psychology of incentivised savings to boost travel policy compliance. But beyond a pure compliance focus, rewards and incentives can be used to improve employee satisfaction and overall corporate culture.
One principle decision in designing your small business’s travel policy is flexibility. To borrow from the legal world, strict constructionist policies that blindly follow universal rules can alienate employees if they appear arbitrary and capricious. However, overly flexible policies can be confusing to employees making independent decisions away from the office and can also result in higher overall expenses.
Enter Rocketrip. Rocketrip is a platform that uses an algorithm to provide employees with custom budgets for each business trip. The genius lies with Rocketrip’s unique saving incentives program that rewards employees for selecting low-cost travel options. For example, if an employee selects an Airbnb host that is less expensive than a hotel, they earn half the price difference.
When employees keep half of what they save, their economic interests are exactly aligned with the financial interests of the company because they’re incentivized to save the company money.
Similarly, Upside rewards business travelers with gift cards for booking selections that save their company money. Upside provides 6 flight choices and 6 hotel choices for the traveler to choose from, and the resulting combination can yield hundreds of dollars in gift cards at Amazon.com and other retailers.
For companies that focus on a philanthropic element to their corporate culture, a more altruistic scenario would be to donate a portion of the savings to a company cause, so that the employee is saving for a reason: to help others.
4. Gamify Your Travel Program!
Even the most well-designed travel policy is moot if the information is not disseminated to the employees. Employees must be taught about the policy, they must understand its nuances, and they must know how to access it. But everyone who has worked in an office knows that boring training seminars can be a drag on company culture. However, travel managers can make use of competition as a method of employee education.
One way to assimilate an element of competition into your corporate business travel program is to create a company leaderboard that keeps track of savings to regularly influence and convey the policy to business travelers. Leaderboards, points and badges are familiar rewards systems for the rising generation of millennial business travelers. For example, Accenture’s travel monitoring system brings accountability to the corporate travel experience. Employees at Accenture benefit from a My Travel Summary page that monitors their travel analytics as well as their incidents of non-compliance.
Rather than hold company-wide trainings, this leaderboard naturally increases T&E policy visibility as part of the corporate culture. Ultimately, regular updates can help reinforce policy education.
5. Go Mobile
What is the most organic, intuitive and successful way to communicate the company’s travel policy?
In terms of best practices, a travel policy should be user-friendly and accessible. But research suggests that visibility is a key issue with regard to communicating corporate travel policies. A study by YourGov showed that 55% of expense claimants are unaware whether an expenses policy even exists.
The best way to help a company’s business travelers follow its travel booking and reimbursement procedures is to put the policy at the employee’s fingertips. Business travelers are ditching their laptops and instead relying on their phones to make and amend bookings. According to Business Insider, “mobile will make up over half of all digital bookings in 2016. This share is estimated to jump to almost 70% by 2019.“
Not only are mobile apps more convenient, but they also optimize business operations spend. According to a recent Certify SpendSmart™ Report, mobile applications reduce expense management costs by 65%.
The ultimate in user-friendliness is in hand-held devices. Let’s be honest: heavy, clunky travel policy manuals get tossed into the bottom of desk drawers. The new age travel policy should be searchable on an iPhone. When your travelers are deciding between taking a taxi or public transportation to their next meeting, they don’t want to open a laptop and connect to the company intranet. Furthermore, in the case of an emergency and they need to make split-decisions regarding their own safety, accessibility is everything.
A searchable PDF file is one thing, but ideally, corporate travel policies would benefit most from a virtual chatbot program like On the Beach’s Alison so employees can interface with the policy and have their questions answered, rather than scrolling through a lifeless file. For business travelers who risk getting caught in urgent situations, clearly the best practice would be an interactive T&E. Moving the travel policy from the dusty desk drawer to the palm of each traveler’s hand will both increase policy awareness as well as traveler safety and satisfaction.
6. What If We Change My Travel Policy?
Printing out a copy of your company’s T&E policy would be, and should be, a complete waste. Best practices for travel managers entail that they consistently ask for feedback from corporate travelers and regularly amend the policy according to traveler experience and the evolving ecosystem of travel technology.
Ideally, travel managers should generate an internal Tripadvisor forum based on employee feedback that monitors when relationships with service providers run stale or when service quality declines.
Rather than a fixed document, today’s corporate travel policy should be a living document that is constantly updated to optimize the business travel experience while simultaneously producing efficient, predictive results for the travel manager. A policy that continually adjusts based on the newest slate of technology as well as traveler feedback strengthens company culture.
Claire Would Love To Hear From You
Travel technology has long been stagnant. Now, however, it can it align the interests of the employee traveling on business (such as comfort, time efficiency and autonomy) with corporate interests in terms of cost reduction and management efficiency.
Claire spearheads a new generation of corporate travel technology that learns and caters to the habits and likings of travelers while allowing travel managers to remain in control of travel spend. She does the heavy lifting for travelers by curating a shortlist of their favourite itineraries from hundreds of trip options which comply with their policy. At the same time travel policies are easily accessible in the palm of each employee’s hand. Management can lean back because travel policies are clearly communicated, travelers’ preferences are taken into account and ultimately, thanks to Claire no out of policy booking goes unnoticed.
By deploying cutting edge technology, travel managers can empower employees to act in the best interest of the company financially while simultaneously enhancing the overall company culture.
David is a digital media attorney and the Editor in Chief at 30SecondsToFly. As an American expat living in Luxembourg, David feels closest to his higher self whilst traveling and expressing his gratitude for new eye-opening experiences through storytelling and filmmaking on his blog www.FarOutExpat.com