By David Grossman, special for USA TODAY
In tough economic times, businesses are always seeking new ways to reduce costs, and travel budgets are often one of the first areas to come under scrutiny. One way to save money without sacrificing necessary travel or the traveler’s quality of life on the road is through the deployment of a corporate travel management program. While most large corporations have such programs in place, many smaller businesses don’t and could benefit greatly by implementing one.
“A corporate travel program allows corporations to achieve transparency and accountability of one of their significant expenses,” says Ellina Arakelova, the travel operations manager for Align Technology, the makers of Invisalign, clear aligners for straightening teeth. “A well-managed corporate travel program ensures better corporate and financial discipline and improves the traveler experience,” adds Arakelova, who was hired to implement a corporate travel management program for Align.
Based in Santa Clara, Calif. Align Technology, Inc. has 1,400 employees worldwide and earned just over $300 million in revenues last year. When Arakelova joined the company in October 2007, there was no formal travel management program in place and no one dedicated to managing the company’s travel. Align had a relationship with a travel management company (TMC) and a corporate credit card, but use of these was not mandatory and employees routinely booked travel on public websites, making it impossible to track expenditures. “There was no pre-trip visibility and very limited opportunity to correctly reconcile travel spend,” says Arakelova.
Today Align’s corporate travel management program covers all trips originating in North America and will soon extend to its offices worldwide. Arakelova currently has 500 travelers in her database. Here are some of her steps for implementing a successful corporate travel policy.
Make a plan and keep it comprehensible. As a certified travel manager, Arakelova built and managed a corporate travel program at her previous job, so she knew just what to do when she joined Align. The existing travel policy was extremely broad and not enforced, according to Arakelova.
Arakelova worked with her finance department to construct the new travel policy. She wanted a terse, easy to understand policy, putting procedures and other frequently changing information in appendices for updating without altering the underlying travel policy.
Arakelova wanted to consolidate all travel operations though a single TMC and online booking tool. The new travel policy would mandate the use of these entities as well as the corporate credit card, and preferred travel vendors.
Get buy-in from all departments. To bring the rest of the company on board, Arakelova developed a business plan and financial proposal detailing the projected cost savings through a managed corporate travel program. “We did quite a lot of internal marketing and presentations, and got support from the upper management and the employees as well,” she says.
Find a travel management company. Next Arakelova developed a request for proposal (RFP) to evaluate or benchmark each travel management company. Arakelova sent the RFP to several contestants and selected Carlson Wagonlit Travel because they offered the best package of services, costs, travel reporting and supported technologies. “Going with Carlson I could implement any online booking tool,” says Arakelova. Carlson also provided web space for a customized Align travel portal and the use of their corporate hotel directory. That was a huge asset for Align because their customers are scattered across the country. Arakelova saw the reporting tools offered by her RFP respondents as an integral component of the corporate travel program. “Financial visibility and travel data analysis are key to program success”, says Arakelova.
Implement an online booking tool. From her previous experience Arakelova believed it was crucial for travelers to use an online booking tool to bring costs down and manage data. Arakelova chose Concur Cliqbook Travel as her online booking tool because it has a user-friendly interface. In addition, Arakelova was able to build the travel policy, approval process and preferred vendors into Cliqbook. She says Cliqbook also provides excellent policy compliance enforcement and is easy to administer.
Ensure effective communication. The travel portal is a critical component of Arakelova’s travel management program. The portal consolidates all travel-related information and is accessible to all Align employees. “Effective travel communication channels are one of the most important parts of the travel program,” says Arakelova. The portal contains the policy and procedures, access to Cliqbook or an agent-assisted booking process, training materials, insurance information, the preferred vendor list, travel alerts, and destination news. Arakelova also uses internal company publications for flash news and important announcements.
Train your travelers. Training and education are also critical components in getting employees to understand the need for travel policy compliance and learn how to book through the new system. “We can implement the best technology, but if the traveler is not educated in how to use it, the travel program is useless,” says Arakelova. To educate employees Arakelova conducts live Web-based training sessions and has made travel training part of new-hire orientation. Arakelova also plans to video record the training session, so employees can access it any time through the travel portal.
Keep improving. It took Arakelova less than six months to implement her new corporate travel management program. She subsequently added the Concur expense reporting module and a new product called Ride Charge which allows employees to book ground transportation online. “Cliqbook constantly develops new features,” says Arakelova. “It is the responsibility of the travel manager to be well educated on technology innovations and communicate new features to users,” she adds. Arakelova also plans to add group and meetings booking capabilities and will extend the program internationally to Align’s global locations.
Show results. An impressive 78% of Align travelers now initiate bookings through Cliqbook with greater than 98% corporate travel policy compliance. More importantly, Align’s overall travel operations realized a 56% reduction in management costs, a 25% reduction in average airfare, and a 35% reduction in average car rental costs.
Travelers, tell us about your experiences with your company’s managed travel program. Managers, do you have anything to add to this list? Sound off below.
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