Leveraging Corporate and Meeting Travel

With even smaller budgets (due to recent downturns), organizations continue to be challenged to keep prices low while finding the right space at the right locales and with the right suppliers. With these realities facing meeting and travel managers, their best hope to combat such challenges is to develop clear cut policies and procedures for both corporate (transient) and meeting travel that leverage volume, tools, procedures, and technologies to ensure the best possible value. Organizations need not travel less; rather, meeting and travel planners need to make smart, careful, and creative decisions using their buying power and wisdom to make educated choices.

In part one of this series last month we took a look at the role pricing strategies play in getting the most out of a travel budget. This month we'll look at how shrewd management of procedures and payments can result in worthwhile efficiencies.

Procedures

Determine what procedures should be followed to enhance productivity and to protect the company and customers. Clarify technology to be used to manage travel and meetings.

Taking advantage of technology systems to lower and improve meeting and travel planning costs is another policy item to consider. Most travel management companies (TMC) have online travel reservation tools and many of them now have small meeting management tools attached to them.

One such example is Get There which has attached to it an effective meeting management tool called Direct Meetings. Approved Get There users can create request for proposal (RFP) templates for events, customize their own registration page, load in room blocks for housing management, and direct travelers right into the customized travel page of their organization which is pre-loaded with preferred supplier rates and their travel policy. The best part is that it is one-stop shopping, eliminating travel anarchy at every stage of the process while providing reporting.

Consider the options and include direction on usage in your policy. Research by the Professional Convention Management Association recently revealed that the share of total electronic (Internet or travel agent) reservations made was 77 percent compared to voice at 23 percent. Clearly the growth of the web-based technology is the future of reducing your costs while enhancing service and improving efficiencies.

Secondly, there is no better way to secure value in meeting travel than to develop a complete and comprehensive RFP. Believe it or not, many still do not use such a process or may use a less than effective one. Determine your best practices and include them in your policy. The RFP should describe the purpose, history, rooms to space ratio, food and beverage, flexibility on dates, outlet usage, and all requirements of the meeting. This document should define every component of the meeting from which the hotel can expect revenue. Specify to whom a planner should send the RFP (preferred brands and contacts, third party negotiators, etc.) and how far in advance. Use your RFP as a selling tool to encourage suppliers to compete for your business and offer you and your travelers the best value.

Lastly, procedures on how to request that your organization host an event, your authorization process, who should plan or supervise it, and post event requirements, should all be identified.

Consider the following questions: Have we accurately defined how we want meetings managed from request to authorization to planning to payment? Are we aware of and have we considered travel and meeting management technologies? Have we considered the requirements of all departments (planners, legal, HR, finance, etc.) in developing our operating procedures for meetings and travel?

Payment

Develop a plan to manage how you budget for events, review and authorize contracts, develop payment systems, and track expenses.

Control is one of the key benefits to travel and meeting management and in this area controls must be established. We have found it important to establish budgets for pre-approved annual meetings and authorization processes for ad hoc meetings. Defining what data is required to seek approval and a form for such a process is a useful best practice shared by many of our customers.

Supplier contracts are very comprehensive and require professional supervision (your lawyer, a professional planner with contract management experience). Cancellation clauses, attrition clauses, and responsibility clauses are negotiable and if not looked after can create liabilities no organization would want.

Systems for paying for and tracking total travel event costs (usually broken out by elements such as number of hotel room nights booked, total hotel dollars spent, average room rate, food and beverage totals, costs per individual, and other meeting components) are an opportunity to consider and establish your policy. This data can be useful to negotiate strong meeting and transient travel agreements in the future.

A way to secure this data is to establish a master account broken down by these key indicators. Consider using credit card payment cards, which will do the same and deliver cash flow, or establishing project codes attached to all expenses (project codes for a specific meeting for example distributed to all suppliers: air, hotel, transportation, audio visual, etc.). Establishing your financial system in advance allows you to increase efficiencies, secure data with which to ascertain historical financial value of a meeting for future negotiations, and allows for benchmarking to determine success and future policy adjustments. Most benchmarks compare your supplier averages for air, hotel, and others against national averages.

Consider the following questions: What is our financial management system for meetings and are all of our planners following it? Do we have a defined system to review suppliers' contracts? Do we have all the financial data we need—broken down in key expense areas—to negotiate better individual or overall agreements? How do our annual meeting expenses compare to national averages?

Michael MacNair owns MacNair Travel Management, a travel and leadership consulting firm in Alexandria, VA. A regular industry spokesperson and author of the book Smooth Landings, MacNair conducts travel management seminars, sharing best practices. To contact him, visit www.macnairtravel.com.

Originally published Sept. 1, 2008

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