No Policy, No Service

Travel News 18 Nov 2017

A little bossiness may be a good thing. Consider that no group of business travellers is less happy than those who have no travel policy or a policy in which every decision is optional. That's across both genders and various age groups, levels of international travel, trip frequencies and travel policies. All 18 groups studied in BTN's Traveller Happiness survey registered scores between 50 and 60—except those with no policies or optional policies. And after those who travel abroad the most, the next most disillusioned group is those with preferred travel policies.

A strong travel policy, in contrast, presents travellers with filtered but reasonable options and in exchange makes them feel supported and safe. These travellers are among the Traveller Happiness Index's happiest.

Travellers with Lenient Policies Crave Guidance
Based on BTN's survey, the less managed the traveller, the more he or she desires clarity on the travel policy. BTN spoke to two travellers whose companies had eliminated most of the rules around travel. One directed travellers simply to use good judgment, and now, "I find picking hotels and picking flights kind of stressful," he said. The other's company emailed travellers just to "be humble and confident" in their travel decisions. Instead, she feels uncertain. "I kind of wish there was more guidance in terms of what to spend," she said. "I feel like I'm always trying to spend as little as possible because I just don't know what's OK. ... I would stay at a little nicer hotel if I just knew what I could spend."
Those with no policy or optional policies might be even more dissatisfied if they weren't so indifferent. They considered three-quarters of the trip factors BTN studied, such as choice and quality of suppliers and ease of expense reporting, to be less important than their more tightly managed peers did. That suggests managed travellers have been exposed to and understand the benefits travel management can deliver.

Travelers with strong policies not only find most trip factors more important, but they also think their companies are delivering. Stronger requirements on travellers enable their companies to offer more in return. An investment banker, for example, told BTN her company has negotiated airport lounge access for all travellers, enables travellers to use company rates for personal travel, and subsidized Global Entry and TSA Precheck registrations. An HR exec who previously worked under a highly managed program and now works for herself told BTN she misses the VIP treatment of corporate travel discounts for personal travel. "I'm just back to being a regular old mass-produced human," she said.

Mandating May Overcorrect
A travel program can go too far, though. Travelers operating under mandated programs, even if they're relatively satisfied, are less so than their strongly advised counterparts. One traveller who works for the federal government, for example, said, "I'm forced—and the word I chose probably gives you my idea of how I feel about it—I am forced to use" a proprietary online booking tool.

She also expressed frustration with the lack of flight choices available when flying between two non-hub cities. "We can't go out in the commercial market and choose the best flight for us," she said. "We have to choose … contract airfare or go through certain processes that are cumbersome to justify" it. Another traveller's company just instituted a voucher system with a major airline that is now mandated. When she could choose carriers, she'd used business travel to build up status and points with another airline. She has joined the mandated carrier's program, but it'll take a while to accumulate enough "to make any difference," she said. Additionally, the new carrier does not serve her personal-travel destinations well.

BTN also spoke with an HR executive who feels the friction of his company's strong-arm tactics. Should he not book through the company's booking tool, not eat breakfast at his hotel even for months straight or not log expenses in a timely fashion, his chain of command is notified, and it factors into his performance review.

The restrictions of a mandated program affect the company, too, according to the federal employee. "If I was able to choose fares based upon what works best for the organization and myself, as opposed to being locked into a government contract, I would have greater flexibility and maybe even cut back on the time spent traveling."

Opportunities to Improve Strongly Advised Programs
Policies that strongly advise travellers produce the happiest travellers. These policies provide options, allow exceptions, support travellers and provide benefits. Strongly advised travellers were the only ones in BTN's survey that did not indicate substantial room for improvement for their travel programs to support well-being and productivity. They did indicate room for improvement in booking tools, as well as convenient flight times and hotel locations. A producer with a strongly advised policy noted, for example, "You try to do the most economical thing, but a lot of times, time is the most important part because there are deadlines."

The problem arises when two things happen at once: booking tools push preferred options that don't make sense and the process for gaining an exception is cumbersome. "I always felt like it was shackling me by attempting to find the best option," one traveller said of his booking tool. Another traveller grew frustrated when she was heading to Princeton, N.J., but her booking tool presented a preferred hotel in Philadelphia's Center City, an hour away. She ultimately booked a closer hotel but first had to explain the problem and get approval.

Once a booking is out of policy, expensing can get complicated, too. The same traveller who had trouble with her Princeton trip also couldn't find any hotels in the booking tool near her destination in France. "Even though all our bosses approved it, getting through the [expense] system to be reimbursed later was a little bit of a pain." She explained that the audit system, like the booking tool, did not employ critical thinking. "It seemed like either the algorithms or the people assessing it didn't necessarily know what was going on. I remember I got something kicked back with a note, 'You can't charge gas unless you had a rental car,' and on the same receipt was a rental car."

Safety & Security: It's for Their Own Good
According to BTN's survey, the stronger the travel policy, the better it supports travellers' safety. An environmental lawyer noted that when he travels to developing countries, his hotel options often are limited, but he appreciates that it's in the interest of safety, as the security department vets properties. Similarly, the traveller who experienced so many nuisances with her booking and expense tools appreciated that her company provides International SOS risk notifications and medical care for those traveling overseas. "I never had to use it, but it sounds like it was a pretty effective service for people who had," she said.

Ultimately, the ability to take care of travellers may be the biggest benefit of strong travel policies and programs—and one that's worth the limitations on a traveller's freedom, even if the traveller never needs to take advantage. Of the travel risk services available to her, the frustrated booker said, "Knowing that I had that was comforting."


Source: Business Travel News (