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How do you get there from here? Featured

9:39am EDT July 22, 2002
It’s been a long day. You were up at 4 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Chicago, and after a harrowing cab ride into the city, you spent the morning and afternoon around a cramped conference table discussing business with a prospective client, drinking stale coffee and downing questionable pastries.

You leave the meeting at 4:30 p.m. for another cab ride. You’re convinced the driver has a personal vendetta against you. Why else would you arrive at the airport just moments before the flight home leaves?

What a day.

Business travel is a fact of corporate life. For two-thirds of Cleveland area businesses, travel is a regular line item in the budget, according to a survey conducted by the Employers Resource Council, commissioned by SBN.

How large a line item, however, varies greatly from company to company. Many have no budget at all, or don’t keep regular numbers on it. For others, it is a little as one-tenth of 1 percent of the total budget or as much as 3.3 percent.

For the Lake County Economic Development Center, travel expenses amount to about $10,000, or 1 percent of the organization’s $1 million budget.

“We pretty much have mandated travel that we need to do,” says Catherine Haworth, LCEDC executive director. “It’s usually written into the grants that we receive. We have some grant funding from the Small Business Administration and the Ohio Department of Development for a couple of our programs, and there are annual travel requirements to that.”

Travel expenses usually include travel, hotel, car rental and food.

According to Kathy Lamb, controller at Rampe Manufacturing, which does business as Torque Transmission, her company spends about $20,000 a year on travel, mostly for the president of the company to visit manufacturing representatives around the country and in Mexico.

For LCEDC, the less expensive the travel expenses, the better.

“We pick the least expensive mode of travel that we can find,” Haworth says. “We’re a not-for profit organization, and that’s the only way we can do it.”

Sometimes that means by car. If the trip is within driving distance, but more than 200 miles, LCEDC asks that the traveler rent a car rather than drive his or her own vehicle.

When driving is not a possibility, many businesses turn to travel agents. Although airlines cater to business travelers, they have drastically slashed fees to agencies, and many have turned to arranging leisure packages, though they still gladly handle business clients.

Ann Huber, president of Landfall Travel in Lakewood, has arranged many trips for business travelers who often cannot plan far enough in advance to take advantage of the special deals airlines offer. Some business owners prefer to make the trip, conduct business and return home the same day, which limits the ability to find less expensive fares. Airlines know this and use it against business travelers, Huber says.

They take advantage of the corporate traveler because they overcharge him. He’s the bread and butter of the airline,” she says. “They don’t give him breaks when he should have them. They’ll give somebody a fare of $200 to go to New York, and the business traveler will call and he has a business meeting in New York.

“Because he doesn’t want to stay over and make a vacation out of it, he pays $954, for instance, for a ticket. It’s not right. That’s how the airlines exist, because of the corporate traveler, but they don’t treat him fairly. They just get punished right and left.”

Neither Rampe Manufacturing nor LCEDC bother with business class, planning their trips well in advance and flying coach. They may not have as much legroom that way, but it does provide a little more room where it counts — on the bottom line.

How to reach: Lake County Economic Development Center, (440) 357-2290; Rampe Manufacturing, (440) 352-8995; Landfall Travel, (216) 521-7733

Daniel G. Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor of SBN.