Moving along

With the economy seemingly getting worse by
the day, your initial inclination might be to eliminate all air travel by employees.


Because airfare usually
makes up the majority of
travel expenses.

But rest assured, if you
aren’t sending your people out
to meet face to face with key
customers, one of your competitors is. Business is all
about relationships. We live in
a high-tech, low-touch society
where too much is done by e-mail and fax instead of handshakes and lunch.

Air travel is an important
part of building relationships
with key customers and vendors. People do business with
people they like, and the best
way to make sure they like
you and your company is to
keep building those relationships in person.

The challenge is dealing with
the costs associated with that
strategy. The only sure thing is
that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all
approach. A lot depends on
how much travel you and your
employees are doing and what
your comfort level is with the
various ways of booking travel.

According to a national
Smart Business survey of top
executives, 77 percent say that
employees handle their own
travel arrangements. The rest
use either an internal resource
or a third-party company to
deal with all travel bookings.

Each method has its own
strengths and weaknesses. For
example, having employees
handle their own travel arrangements is probably the most convenient for everyone, but it
requires a well-defined travel
policy and is the most difficult
to oversee. Using a third-party
company to handle all your
travel can provide consistency
and a high level of service, but it
comes with a price.

Figuring out the best way to
manage your company’s
expenses depends on the
usual suspects: price versus
service. If your main focus is
price, there are plenty of ways
to look for a good deal — and
there’s always a better deal
out there if you look hard
enough. Online services allow
you to compare fares from different airlines and some offer
Internet specials, but don’t be
afraid to have someone pick
up the phone and call the airlines directly. Often, you can
negotiate a better deal that
way. There are also the special
rewards and points you can
accumulate using the same
airline or your credit card. If
you are doing it from a corporate level, you can use the
rewards to earn free trips for
your people that need to travel
to meet with customers. If
employees are booking travel
themselves and being reimbursed, these points become a
subtle perk that can contribute to job satisfaction.

But if you prefer not to bother with the details or if the
sheer volume of travel your
company does makes it difficult to oversee, then a travel
management company might
be the way to go. Travel management companies already
have relationships with the
providers and can often use
their volume to get better
deals than you could get yourself. These companies also
provide a point of contact that
can help you if you get stranded somewhere or have a problem with one of the airlines.
The question is whether the
higher level of service is worth
the extra cost to you.

The other consideration is
how much oversight you
want of your travel expenses.
Surveys show that employees
just aren’t as careful with company travel funds as we would
like. A travel management
company can help everyone
stick to the same rules when it
comes to upgrades or taking a
later flight to save money. By
consolidating decision-making
to one person, it helps keep
everyone flying under the
same rules and helps keep
your company on budget.

With airlines cutting the
number of overall flights and
with declining economic
conditions, the cost of airfare is most likely going to
continue to be a major
expense for every business
traveler. The key is to work
on managing the cost in a
way that makes the most
sense for your situation
instead of eliminating business travel altogether.

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your
comments at (800) 988-4726 or [email protected].

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