Dealing with travellers who go off-policy

They’ve been around as long as there have been travel policies:  employees who chose to make their own bookings that don’t comply with corporate guidelines.  And with the explosion of the internet and the ability to book travel arrangements via hand-held devices, the problem is snowballing. Vision Travel was front and centre at the recent Global Business Travel Association conference panel on non-compliance, and we’d like to share some of the knowledge gleaned there with you. How big is the problem? It is estimated that as many at 52% of all business travellers in Canada make travel choices outside of policy. Call them open bookers, mavericks or rogue bookers, they may be costing your company some serious dollars: it’s been estimated that each non-compliant booker costs the corporation $7,114 per annum.  And the really interesting thing is that they believe they are doing it for all the right reasons. “The majority of rogue bookers honestly believe they are saving the company both time and money when they deviate from policy,” says Ian Race, Vision Travel’s Vice-President of Sales and Account Management.  In fact, the traveller may not be aware of the results of his or her actions:  sales targets with airlines, hotels and other suppliers may not be achieved as a result of their actions, because a provider who looks more expensive online may actually be cheaper once a production target from a corporate agreement or contract  is met. Plus rogue travellers are eroding the bargaining position their employers have when they next sit down to negotiate with suppliers. Other reasons for deviation are the “fun” of making one’s own travel arrangements; choosing a favourite hotel or airline – sometimes but not necessarily more expensively; or to get back home more quickly (those often recognised as “road warriors”). And worth noting is the demographic of the rogue traveller:  not the millennials as you might think, but older employees. Apart from just the cost and shrinking of negotiating power is the fact that the traveller is moving outside the realm of the travel management company’s Duty of Care.  How can a company like Vision Travel take action and assist if there, for example, is an earthquake in the destination and no one knows where the traveller is?  And on a less serious but still important note, service levels from the travel management company inevitably deteriorate:  who is going to make sure that traveller knows about that flight cancellation or gate change? Also at issue is the fact the open-bookers report spending an average of 74 minutes to make reservations for one business trip (more than double the time that the travel managers estimate they spend). What’s important is the fact that road warriors are often key employees in sales and IT who are asked to sacrifice a lot of personal time by being on the road.  (Can you blame someone for ordering room service when they’ve been on a 12 day trip? Top hotel non-compliance purchases include room service and in-room entertainment.)  So the challenge is not just to identify them but to solicit their cooperation in changing their booking habits, without alienating them. Some corporations threaten that expenses will not be reimbursed if they do not comply with corporate policy, but most in the industry agree that is an extreme – to the point of unwise – reaction. The best place to start reining in maverick travellers is in the CFO’s office. Expense reports are your best clue as to who is and who is not being compliant (and how compliant).  Some travellers take a “don’t ask/don’t tell” approach, with a recent Canadian survey finding out that employees are willing, for example,  to pay for their own in-room entertainment – if their bosses ask for it. Next is education, sharing with the employees the importance of meeting sales targets with key suppliers – which are not evident on the booking engines. Acknowledge that rogue bookings are bound to happen, but if travellers could at least make their arrangements through the approved booking process it will help management. (Out-of-policy travellers are more likely to use mobile apps particularly pertaining to dining and car/taxi services; and only one third of travellers in the survey used the company’s online travel system to book rental cars.) This will help the corporation monitor trends and in-demand services it may not be aware of, and consider them when establishing preferred suppliers in future. Apps to police policy are in development in the US and we at Vision are keeping an eye out for ones which will be pertinent in the Canadian market. And a last stat which may be of interest to travel managers and rogue travellers alike: 68 per cent of Canadian business travellers reported they were highly satisfied with their most recent business trip, whether they booked per policy or on their own.