What to look for in a
Travel Management Company (TMC)
- Qualities to look for in a travel management company
- Make sure the TMC’s culture matches your priorities and objectives
- Assessment: Get ready to pick a TMC
- Starting the process of choosing a TMC
- Finding the right TMC
- Set up discovery workshops with potential TMC partners
- Issue your RFP with confidence
- A glossary for travel buyers
Finding the right Travel Management Company (TMC) to partner with your organization requires strategic planning, a methodical process and involvement from the right travel stakeholders. The TMC should demonstrate broad experience in managing travel for organizations like yours. Identify the specific services you need from them, such as ability to connect travel program strategy to company mission and purpose, sector experience, hotel program expertise, sustainability, travel policy compliance, risk management, or a defined approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I).
Qualities to look for in a travel management company
A good TMC should provide robust travel management technology and digital experiences that facilitate easy booking, itinerary management, and real-time traveler tracking. Check if they offer a mobile app for travelers, simple digital travel and expense management solutions, and guest travel solutions, should you require them.
If your company has international travel needs, ensure that the TMC has global reach and partnerships with travel suppliers worldwide. They should be able to handle complex itineraries and visa requirements and offer support across different time zones.
If you want to measure the performance of a travel management company, look at whether it’s doing better than last year, last quarter and last month. Continuous improvement indicates a TMC’s ability to evolve in an ever-changing business travel market.
So, how can business travel consultants and the companies they serve dig deeper into a TMC’s capabilities?
Look at the long game.
Has the TMC been able to keep clients satisfied over the long term? Look for indicators like client-retention statistics above 90% and industry and customer awards and recognition.
Understand the finances.
Ingenuity emerges from investment, and investment emerges from financial stability. Weigh how the TMC’s financial stability might affect the quality of service over the life cycle of a corporate travel program contract. Is the TMC in this for the long haul? Or is it a candidate for a merger or acquisition?
Look for sustainable business practices.
Find out how the TMC is regarded by third-party organizations that analyze environmental impact and workforce development. Think about whether doing business with the TMC will help – or hurt – your company’s ability to reach environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.
Consider what’s next.
Is the TMC risk-averse or innovation-ready? Is it bringing new ideas that are improving the traveler experience and aiding the industry’s ability to evolve, like TripSource®, the BCD marketplace and BCD Invite? If the thinking is old school and old tech, think twice before signing on.
Ask for proof points.
What do existing clients say about the TMC? Are they willing to put their names behind success stories and case studies?
Seek a true partner.
Once you’ve seen the stories, ask for testimonials. Is an existing client willing to talk to you about the TMC’s commitment as a partner? This kind of one-on-one conversation really slices through the marketing and helps you gain a true understanding of whether the agency can deliver the goods day after day.
The business travel industry is filled with complexities that can disguise less-than-optimal performance. But if you ask the right questions and look at success over time, you’ll find a TMC partner that can drive value for your travel program today, tomorrow, and beyond.
Are best and finals really best?
A 90-minute best-and-final presentation is a valuable overview, without a doubt.
But it only scratches the surface of whether a TMC can help a corporate travel program engage travelers in a way that bolsters their wellbeing and drives key performance indicators like savings, duty of care compliance, and traveler productivity.
Executive Vice President, Global Sales and Marketing, BCD Travel
Make sure the TMC’s culture matches your priorities and objectives
Cultural synergy is a vital aspect of the TMC-client relationship. It fosters mutual understanding, effective communication, progressive collaboration, and the ability to design and provide tailored and future-fit solutions for managed travel programs.
For example, if digital innovation tops the list of company objectives, seek a partner with a demonstrated record of investing earnings back into digital services, technology, and innovation. If sustainability is a priority, your TMC partner should exhibit long-term commitment to all aspects of corporate social responsibility, including but not limited to conservation, reduced carbon burdens, accessibility for all travelers, and safety considerations for different traveler communities.
Assessment: Get ready to pick a TMC
Are you serious about change?
Program friction, rising costs and mandated processes are common reasons for initiating a TMC search. The process may prove complex and time-consuming. Weigh the value you’ll recoup against the effort. For example: If pricing is the impetus for a search but you’re otherwise satisfied with your TMC, would a Client Business Review help resolve matters?
Are the correct stakeholders involved in the process?
Travel buyers routinely collaborate with colleagues from finance/accounting, human resources, security/risk management, procurement, corporate communications, marketing, C-level executives, legal/compliance, IT, and sustainability. Discuss program needs, wants and objectives with stakeholders to solicit their guidance on what’s possible for your organization based on corporate policies. By engaging with the right stakeholders from the outset, travel buyers can collect the proper buy-in and deliver value for everyone across the enterprise.
Do you understand your travelers’ needs, wants and expectations?
Your business travelers’ physical and mental wellbeing are critical to your organization’s success – and the travel program is an extension of that support. Survey travelers regularly about their trip experiences and use the feedback to inform the selection process.
Have you outlined your travel program framework? Are you prepared to share your RFP (Request For Proposal) scorecard with participating bidders?
Transparency and discovery are arguably the most critical aspects of your search. Without in-depth understanding of your program’s scope, opportunities, spend and projected growth, no TMC will be able to accurately align their capabilities against your program’s needs.
Do you understand your data story?
Avoid viewing data reports in isolation because it’s easy to miss larger trends. Go beyond reports: gather intelligence from various sources including booking channels, supplier ratings and even social media. When you know the reasons behind the data, your expectations for the TMC become sharper.
Success story: Managing change in China
After a multi-agency bid process, a global pharmaceutical client selected BCD Travel as their new travel management company in China. This required effective change management and strategic stakeholder engagement to drive efficiency and savings. With seven legal entities and over 10,500 travelers in China, the travel program implementation involved additional layers of complexity.
The company asked BCD to integrate existing travel and expense tools and internal systems. These tools affected productivity since travelers had to manually input data for each system. BCD focused on customizing TripSource® China, creating a single sign-on gateway, engaging key stakeholders, and offering a more comprehensive offline delivery solution.
Travelers saw a positive improvement to their travel program. BCD created a single sign-on gateway for travelers to access their online booking tool via WeChat for Work. Online adoption grew to 80%, with 45% of travelers booking via mobile within four weeks of implementation.
Starting the process of choosing a TMC
The process of choosing a TMC involves multiple phases which should ultimately lead to a successful, long-running partnership aligned to your organization’s values, culture, and objectives. Aspects of your TMC selection process may include:
- Gathering the team: Assign stakeholders, roles, and responsibilities, including an executive sponsor, well ahead of the TMC search and RFP process (typically 12 to 18 months before the planned RFP).
- Transparency and discovery: Set meaningful goals and be open with your suppliers (12 months prior to RFP issuance).
- Workshops and discussions: Get the most out of your conversations (typically conducted 6-9 months prior to RFP issuance. See more information below on how to maximize these workshops).
- Time to tender: Issue your RFP with confidence. Allow enough time for the TMC’s response (this should be a minimum of 3 business weeks for a single market bid and 4-6 business weeks for a global bid, not including holidays). Leave ample time for the TMC to finalize RFP responses after clarification questions and responses have been shared with all bidders.
The responsibilities vested in travel programs encompass executives, technology, legal, finance, data analysis, risk management and security, human resources and more. Meetings and sustainability groups may also be involved.
Stakeholders who can help manage change are critical to this process. If they aren’t involved in the entire process, it could derail your plans in the event you want to change TMC.
Asking travelers what they think is an effective way to get the insights you need to build a strong travel program with the right TMC or improve policies already in place. One of the simplest ways to capture traveler voices? A survey.
Build surveys your travelers will actually take
Building traveler surveys that you can use to solve specific problems requires planning:
- Determine the survey goals and keep them in mind when writing questions.
- Involve the right stakeholders in the survey process as needed – from building the questions to reviewing the data insights pulled from it.
- Keep the survey length and questions as short as possible.
Once the survey has been conducted, use the results to inform the TMC selection process. You might also consider creating targeted surveys for different stakeholder groups such as road warriors, your HR (Human Resources) and security teams, and finance, etc.
Finding the right TMC: Set meaningful goals and share them with potential suppliers
Now that you’ve gathered your team, it’s time to consider your goals. Begin to develop your decision-making process, scorecard and weighting. The key is to think through where you want to take your program next.
It’s no good approaching potential suppliers if you haven’t determined what you want your program to achieve. Knowing your goals and the achievements you want to make with your program makes it easier to assess various suppliers’ ability to help you reach them. Plus, you want to consider a supplier’s ability to meet your short-term and long-term needs. Can they grow with you, whether that’s a case of expanding your program network over time or aligning with your evolving priorities such as sustainability, duty of care, payment, and savings?
Did that seem obvious? Well here comes the secret ingredient to making the process a success.
Once you’ve compiled your goals and defined your objectives, share them.
Share them across your internal stakeholder teams and with your prospective suppliers.
From our initial meeting at GBTA to awarding the business to BCD five months later, our experience has exceeded our high expectations […] The discovery process was integral to Deere, as we have a global program that we found had many local nuances. This process is helping us learn these nuances in more detail and allows us to streamline and make better financial decisions. Deere is excited about our new partnership with BCD Travel…”
Deere & Company Supply Base Manager, Global Travel / Fleet / Relocation / Aviation / Intern Housing
Ordinary proposals don’t yield extraordinary results
To avoid receiving a standardized (and unimaginative) proposal from your bidders, be open and communicate not only what you want but also how you’re assessing suppliers. There’s no need to gatekeep; giving all prospective suppliers the same information means you’ll be able to compare apples-to-apples. The discovery process might be the most valuable step.
Set up discovery workshops with potential TMC partners
The TMC selection process can be a long one if not done right. To find the right supplier, it’s important to set up workshops with each of them. That way, you can start to build a deeper understanding of who you’re buying from.
Workshops can take multiple forms, but we see real benefit in making space for open conversation, more discovery and getting to know one another. After all, you’re not just buying a company’s service, you’re buying from people. Workshops are a great way to measure cultural fit.
Questions to consider: Are our values aligned? Does the TMC understand our needs? Does the supplier display creativity? Like every stage in this process, you need to lay out your aims and objectives before starting your workshops, but also allow yourselves to be surprised. Take the work you’ve done in your discovery process and use it as the framework for your conversations. You may find that together you’re discovering solutions to challenges in new and exciting ways.
Transparency is key
We can’t solve for everything in a workshop, but these conversations are about building trust and finding the best match. I always recommend the client presents to the TMC first.
That way, they can establish an honest and open conversation about priorities, the challenges they’re facing and how they see their travel program connecting to their overall company mission and purpose. This helps provoke dialogue and serves as the foundation for a collaborative travel program strategy.
Senior Vice President, Global Sales – EMEA, BCD Travel
Workshops offer an introduction for your travel stakeholders and the bidders to familiarize themselves with your company, needs and current program, and allow you to learn about more about the bidders company and their teams. They are typically two to four hours long and can be done in one or multiple sessions. Some added benefits might include:
- Ruling out unqualified bidders ahead of the RFP
- Helping shape and streamline the travel RFP process
- Leveling the playing field to ensure all bidders (and not just the incumbent) work with same information, which will ensure an “apples to apples” comparison
Typical workshops address the following:
- Company business drivers and culture (overview of your company)
- Stakeholder “meet and greet” and travel program governance structure (it’s important to include all stakeholders in each of these workshops)
- Company global program goals/your vision of a best-in-class program
- Service excellence
- Traveler Engagement
- Sustainability goals
- DE&I objectives
- Current program overview:
- Air, car, hotel, ground transportation spend and number of transactions and/or bookings
- Current service configuration, including VIP and group set-up, dedicated versus designated staff, etc. and desired service configuration moving forward
- Languages required
- Payment and reimbursement set-up
- Program management set-up, governance structure and alignment to your stakeholders
- Detail of ad-hoc service requirements such as guest bookings, candidates, expatriates, etc.
- Technology and tools used (online booking tools (OBTs) and adoption, expense tools, etc.)
- Overview of meetings program
- Preferred supplier overview (air, car, hotel)
- What’s currently working well in the program
- Pain points
- Program “wish list”
Before the workshops, send a brief overview of your company, travel program and travel stakeholders/titles/roles for those planning to attend. This will ensure prospective bidders plan accordingly and bring the right stakeholders to the workshops to support a successful outcome.
During the workshops, TMCs should provide:
A brief overview of their company, culture, global footprint, technology, etc.
Differentiators, i.e., what sets them apart from competitors
Successes with similar clients
Change/transition management overview and best practices
The value of engagement
Many companies issue a TMC RFP without any engagement or dialogue with prospective bidders prior to issuance. This hinders the success of your RFP. How can a TMC successfully create the right value proposition without truly understanding your company or travel program? Without a thorough understanding of your company and/or your travel program, some bidders may use a standard approach which could result in scope creep, financial and other risks to your business, and/or traveler dissatisfaction. Bidders may decline to respond to your bid without this pre-engagement. Lastly, your incumbent(s) will have an unfair advantage (as they know everything about your program). So, if you are unhappy with your current TMC(s), you are inadvertently stacking the deck against the success of the RFP process.
Workshops and discovery prior to RFP issuance may take time, but we can assure you, this will streamline your RFP process, reduce the overall RFP timeline, and lead to a successful outcome for your company, travel stakeholders, and your travelers.
Senior Vice President, Global Sales – North America, BCD Travel
Issue your RFP with confidence
If the workshops have gone well, they will have given you a lot to think about. What you thought might be the most important questions to ask your prospective suppliers may end up being irrelevant to the program you want to build. Having taken the time to align your goals with key stakeholders across the business, and meet with TMCs to workshop your program, you’re ready to issue an RFP with confidence. Knowing what’s most important means you can now get an all-encompassing proposal from each TMC.
Remember, this is the beginning of a long-term business partnership. You need to be sure that the TMC you select meets your needs now and can grow with you in the future. Maybe this time you’re looking to consolidate four countries in Europe, but you know that further down the line you want a truly global program. Can the TMC support you?
When issuing your RFP, make sure to:
The clearer you are with all suppliers, the stronger the responses (and therefore commitments) you’ll get from your bidders.
Share scoring criteria.
We’ve said it already, but transparency is key. If you’re planning on using a scorecard to mark each supplier, don’t keep the criteria a secret. Share the scorecard and associated category weighting with all bidders so they understand what’s truly important to you and the overall goals of your travel program. By being transparent you’ll get the best offer that meets your needs.
Share data and other pertinent information with all bidders.
You may not have much if you’re currently managing travel internally, but the more data you can share on your travel spend and behavior, the more meaningful the proposal. Ensure that all your bidders have the same baseline data to ensure the incumbent doesn’t have an unfair advantage.
Be picky with your questions.
It is better to choose a smaller number of questions that will help you assess TMCs against one another, than many questions that don’t apply to your program. There are so many standard templates out there to work with, and while these can help spark ideas, we always advise that you make sure the questions you share with suppliers are current and relevant. Many of the questions in these standard templates are “table stakes” that 99% of TMCs should be able to deliver already. Eliminating these will save time and get to the heart of what’s important to you and your travel program.
Level the playing field and share your Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) analysis with bidders.
Ensure you use a common pricing template and provide detailed instructions on pricing requirements (i.e., for air: per transaction vs. segment, or for rail: per transaction vs. per rail coupon).
Provide feedback on each bidder’s TCO and ask them to validate your analysis. This will eliminate surprises that could arise after implementation.
Combine the tactical with the strategic
When creating your RFP questionnaire, make sure your RFP has the right mix of questions. Strategic questions give insight into where the bidders plan to take your program and how they will collaborate with you to manage your program. Tactical questions give you a clearer view of their capabilities.
When it comes to tactics, ask relevant questions. For example, does the online adoption rate in countries where you aren’t present mean anything to you?”
Senior Vice President, Global Sales – APAC, BCD Travel
With the right RFP, you can feel confident that you’re able to shortlist a smaller number of suppliers to join you at best and final presentations. This is an exciting opportunity to meet with suppliers again and dive deeper into their proposals.
A glossary for travel buyers
What is the discovery phase of the TMC selection process?
an early stage of the TMC selection process (and arguably the most valuable). Travel buyers and internal stakeholder teams should outline the full scope of their program needs, ensuring the organization’s needs and goals are defined and clearly articulated. The objective is to create and provide a comprehensive information brief so potential vendors can submit relevant and competitive proposals.
What financials are involved in the TMC selection process?
also referred to as commercials; all documents associated with TMC pricing, program investments, financial terms, and contractual agreements.
What is an RFI or RFQ?
abbreviation for Request for Information or Request for Quotation. This is a short questionnaire issued by a travel buyer or procurement team, and often acts as the first step for assessing suppliers. This questionnaire can be issued prior to an RFP (see below).
What is an RFP?
abbreviation for Request for Proposal. In business travel, it’s the document used to gather information and evaluate potential travel management companies for procurement. While legacy or standard RFP templates are convenient, they aren’t always the best for garnering information relevant for today’s business travel climate. Revise and refine RFPs to ask questions about what’s possible now.
What is RFP scoring?
RFP scoring, also known as proposal scoring or simply a scorecard, assigns number value to the RFP answers provided by a vendor. Sharing scorecards in advance seems counterproductive but the opposite is the case. The scorecard reveals to bidders what the organization’s needs are. They can refine their offerings, eliminating noise from less useful information. All parties save on time and resources when bidders who find they’re not best suited to deliver services excuse themselves from the process.
Who are the stakeholders in the RFP experience?
the individuals, teams and departments who should be involved in the TMC selection process. This may range from procurement and HR teams to marketing, communications, technology, and accounting.
What is a tender in an RFP?
another term for RFP or proposal. This is an invitation or offer to bid on a contract.