Integrating transient travel and meetings programs can boost savings and improve duty of care, yet travel managers have been wary of taking on ITM. Now, they have the guidance they need to start smartly, and 2014 is set to be the year integration takes off.
The new year is a time for considering new strategies. But for travel managers looking for additional efficiencies and savings to top the successes they’ve already achieved, the question for 2014 is: What’s next?
Former travel manager George Odom believes he knows the answer—and it’s contained within his new job title: principal and vice president of integrated travel and meetings for Advito, the consulting wing of BCD Travel. Advito sees such integration as the next step toward significant savings and efficiencies. That’s why the consultancy moved into integrated travel and meetings—becoming the first travel advisory firm to create an ITM methodology and practice area to help clients get going.
ITM is a multifaceted approach, involving everything from consolidating supplier choices to streamlining booking and reporting. While that may seem daunting, the good news is that integration isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Companies can figure out what level of integration is right for them—and proceed accordingly.
6 key benefits
No matter what level of ITM companies pursue, Odom says bringing travel and meetings spend together can generate at least six key benefits:
- Direct cost savings — combining two areas of spend yields increased volume that can drive better deals with hotels and other suppliers.
- Alignment with company strategy — a combined approach ensures consistency (for example, in branding) across all travel and meetings services.
- Process savings — using the same agency to book both travel and meetings offers economies of scale.
- Risk mitigation/duty of care — integration ensures uniform duty of care, no matter why an employee boards a flight or checks into a hotel. Duty of care is “a huge issue” right now in many boardrooms, Odom says.
- Employee satisfaction — employees benefit from familiar, reliable booking process and the confidence that they’re always getting the best service and price from preferred suppliers.
- Corporate governance — ITM leads to uniform compliance with policy and other company rules, regardless of the reason for travel.
There’s a lot of upside for mature travel programs, Odom explains, but ITM isn’t for everyone. If a company’s meetings spend is completely ad hoc and decentralized, integrating it with travel won’t help. “You have to have a reasonably good strategic meetings management program to achieve a good integrated travel and meetings program, although it doesn’t have to be as advanced as the one you have for travel,” he says.
“That said, there is some low-hanging fruit you can pick—like approaching hotels near your company headquarters for a good meetings rate, or telling employees they must start using your regular travel management company to book flights for meetings,” he adds.
“But the greatest ITM benefits happen when you bring together two aggressively managed programs,” Odom explains. “In that scenario, the case for integration is compelling, yet many travel managers simply don’t know where to start. Their biggest hurdle is deciding, ‘What do I do first?’”
It is precisely because these travel managers understand why they should integrate, but not how, that Advito has created the ITM consulting practice. Advito’s services include:
- Benchmarking against other companies—enables firms to learn from others’ successes and create roadmaps for improvement
- Detailed internal review of how travelers, bookers and others perceive the travel and meetings programs internally—leads to better compliance and increased volume, which yields better services and rates and increases employee satisfaction
- Policy review and rewrite—ensures a companies’ policies and practices are up-to-date and align with corporate strategy around content, control and communication
- Integrated sourcing on the client’s behalf with air and hotel suppliers—generates hard-dollar savings can be obtained. With increased volume and data it is possible to achieve savings and service enhancements.
Advito is also fostering better understanding of ITM by documenting a four-step process that can help companies take their first successful steps on what Odom describes as “the integrated travel and meetings journey.” Advito will offer an in-depth look at the process in a report due out in 2014. Meanwhile, here’s a preview:
ITM jumpstart: Smart steps for successfully integrating travel and meetings
- Understand what you want, and whether integration will get you there
- Figure out which tasks to outsource
- Win senior management buy-in
2. Internal integration
- Create a merged team
- Integrate travel and meeting policies
- Integrate technology — e.g., create a single portal, maximize your online booking tool, combine reporting tools
3. Supplier management integration
- Create consistent terms and conditions
- Wait for the right moment; make sure you have aggregated travel and meetings data before starting to negotiate
- Show suppliers what they can gain by giving you a combined deal
- Manage hotel volume prudently to deliver more business to preferred suppliers
- Show suppliers what they can lose; explain they will no longer win any out-of-policy meeting bookings
- To manage the change, explain the “why” as well as the “what” to company leaders, travelers and meeting bookers
- Assure meeting bookers that you want to improve sourcing and mitigate risk, not micromanage their events
- Regularly report program successes and added benefits to everyone
Odom says Advito’s new integrated travel and meetings practice guides companies through the changes that will create major long-term benefits. “There are genuine savings and control improvements waiting to be seized by bringing together transient and meeting spend,” he says. “It’s now within a travel and meeting manager’s power to go out and grab them.”