By Natasha Samuel, senior product marketing manager and Kriti Agarwal, senior product manager
In the past, business travel policies were strict, built around rules, and allowed little flexibility. Thankfully, these days travel policies are built around traveler happiness with a better understanding of the relationship between traveler satisfaction, productivity, and loyalty. It begs the question: Does the approval for business travel process also need an update? Our data shows that an average of 19 percent of bookings go for approval. And of those bookings, only one percent are rejected by the approver. The reality is that in most circumstances, the approver is already aware of planned travel and is very unlikely to reject a request. For many companies, a formal approval process is still necessary. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be an enlightened and traveler-centric modern travel policy. We’ve put together some real-life client examples — along with some of our data — to help you refine your approach to business travel approvals.
- Understand the needs of your company and your people
There are many reasons for companies to have approval processes. Reasons range from budgetary approval and project management to audits and client-related trips (that you'll charge back later).
In our experience implementing travel programs and talking to new customers, the most common reason cited for an approval process is visibility. On closer examination, they simply mean giving the line manager visibility into their employee’s trip — but what else needs consideration?
We’ve narrowed down the most important needs of an approval process for travelers, approvers, and those who oversee travel programs.
- Travelers want a clear, automated approval process regardless of how they book (online, via an app or with a travel consultant). It shouldn’t be one way for booking on an app and another if they contact a travel consultant.
- Approvers want to make informed decisions to approve or reject trips. Give them the information they need up front to make an informed choice.
- Those managing day-to-day travel want efficient, flexible, and self-service tools so they can adjust approval processes immediately when they need to.
- Assess the impact
Understand who and where your approvers are and how they approve travel. This will give you a clear indication of change management needs before you roll out a new process or travel management company (TMC).
- Get a second, neutral opinion
We can’t overstate the importance of working with your TMC to understand the available options before you launch an approval process. Their experience and knowledge can help ensure that your process is supported in a way that doesn’t negatively impact your employees.
Here are a couple of real-life examples we were involved with and where our input led to two very different outcomes.
- Company A wanted to have all approval requests, for all travelers, sent to one central mailbox. The mailbox was then going to be overseen by an executive assistant who wouldn’t take any action on the requests.
Verdict: If there’s no one looking at the approval request, what’s the point? A scare tactic for travelers isn’t going to make them more compliant to your company’s policy. The client didn’t proceed with having an approval process and instead relies on a strong policy, with built-in reporting to manage any non-compliance.
- Company B wanted to have three levels of approvals for more than 3,000 travelers around the world. An additional complication was that in many instances, the approvers (three of them, per traveler) were based in different countries, on different continents.
Verdict: The advice I gave to this client? Don’t do it. Educating 3,000 travelers and their approvers on the process and balancing that with changing availability and fluctuating prices 24/7/365 was simply impossible.
In this instance, the client did proceed with three levels of approval, and within a week of launching the new approval process, their leadership team turned it off completely. Since then, they have single line-manager approval for trips that don’t comply with the policy, rather than all trips. And they scrapped the three approvals process for each booking.
- Understand culture and increase compliance
Often, changes to policy, approval, and the selection of your TMC are decided from one country and mandated to many more. Getting buy-in from all countries will help compliance and reduce the noise that you, the person looking after the travel program, must manage.
- First-time approval process and worried about approver responsiveness?
When a company decides to have an approval process for travel, a common concern is that their approvers won’t approve or reject the trip in time.
When travelers book on a travel platform with live availability, there’s always a risk of price changes and a shortage of rooms, so a speedy approval process is imperative. When you add a global context to this, panic really starts to kick in. You may have a traveler based in London with an approver based in Sydney. How do you tackle the time zone challenge, particularly for last-minute bookings?
Don’t panic. Our data shows that approvers respond to their requests quickly: 70 percent of approval requests are actioned within one hour and 90 percent within 24 hours.*
- Communicate, educate, and inform
Moving to a new process from a low online booking environment or a business with no automated approval is a challenge. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of changing your culture and behavior. It’s essential to keep everyone informed of the process, and their responsibilities, before you launch a new automated approval process.
- Be transparent
Travelers think of approval as something the TMC enforces. Tell your travelers why there’s an approval process in place and explain what the expected outcomes should be.
- Understand what can be done and the limitations of your travel platform
Whether you’re launching approval for travel for the first time, changing TMC, or simply reviewing your business processes, work with your TMC to understand what can be supported.
In an increasingly automated world, you may want to automate how your travelers’ profiles are managed within your travel management platform. This can be done via a feed to your human resources system. If you intend to automate employee profiles with a HR feed, check that that your employee database can identify which approvers are linked to which travelers.
- Keep it simple
Is it necessary to involve more than one approver for each trip? Less than 10 percent of our clients have more than one level of approver in their process.
It’s doubtful that the business travel industry will see trip approvals disappear completely from travel programs. But as policies become increasingly more relaxed and traveler-centric, we can see that strict, complex approval processes are on the decline.
Business travel powers business growth. And experience has shown us that it’s extremely rare for any company to want to block travel from taking place.
Our advice on launching a business travel approval process? Work closely with your account manager and implementation team at your TMC to really assess how the approval process will work once you launch it. Make sure you can clearly define the benefits of an approval process and how it improves your business output and traveler satisfaction.
*Based on Egencia customer data — trip approvals for air, hotel, car, and rail transactions in 2018.