5 steps for managing change in your travel programme

Change Management in Business Travel

From a new travel policy to a new booking tool, any successful implementation requires careful planning.

Travel bookers and buyers often have to manage change. It could be a new travel policy or a new booking process or it might be the implementation of a new travel management company or a change of supplier.

All have their own special considerations, but some general principles will always apply when making sure that any changes to a travel programme is made as smoothly and effectively as possible.

1. Understand the reasons

Do your research. People accept change more readily if they understand the reasons for the change. This is especially necessary to convince management and gain senior level support for an initiative. Whether it’s a new travel management company or a new travel policy, any change to the structure, tools or suppliers will have a cost and a benefit.

  • Collect the data which will provide the information necessary for making a case. If you are contemplating changing the travel policy from business class to premier economy because you think it will save money, make sure you have benchmarked the fares against the probable number of trips and worked out expected savings.
  • Whilst some of these costs and benefits will be quantifiable, others, such as the effect on your travellers, might not be. If you think traveller comfort is a major outcome of the change, be sure to point out the benefits for the wider company.

You need to know what those costs and benefits are likely to be before making any decision or communicating the change to others.

2. Involve other internal stakeholders

Identify who else in the company will be affected by the change.

  • Corporate travel policies usually have more than one owner. Other departments such as finance and HR will have a view about any anticipated changes. Implementing a change to an IT platform could take time, so you need to get the team’s input as early as possible. Involving others through a project working party or committee can both add knowledge and increase employee engagement.
  • Departments might be affected differently. For example, long-haul, economy class flights with changes might appeal to the CFO; direct flights in business class might be better for employee health and welfare. The business travellers will also be directly affected. Their input is vital not just to collect information but to drive engagement which will help ease any future implementation. Traveller surveys and communications are a good technique not only to gain feedback but also to encourage employee engagement.

3. Communications

Employee engagement is always important but especially so when it comes to any changes in business travel policy, process or suppliers. This is because travel is not just a commodity but has an emotional, human element.

  • Communication plans can include information on websites and by email or notifications directly in your booking tool but integrated plans that also include focus groups and face-to-face meetings with regular travellers and bookers to explain the change can make the difference between a plan being effective and ineffective.
  • Make sure that you have a plan for keeping those affected by any change aware of implications and where training or support would be available if needed. It is also important to recognise that you may not need to train everyone and that training a smaller number of ‘super’ bookers, who then pass their knowledge on to other bookers, can be more effective.

4. Create a plan

If you’re driving the change rather than merely implementing it, you must work out a plan which includes a schedule which outlines strategy from introduction to final implementation as part of your proposal.

  • Senior level support is essential for any new initiative to be accepted. Create a business plan to gain this support.
  • Remember that you will need to include any cost of change in the business plan whether you’re considering a new supplier or a new online booking tool.
  • If the change involves terminating the relationship with one strategic supplier and introducing a new one, you will have to think not just of introducing the new but of how to disband the old with minimal disruption and maintaining continuity of service.
  • Any major change should include a plan for measuring the cost and the success of the change at regular intervals before, during and after implementation.
  • Depending on the nature of the change you might have to address the issue of staff training and ongoing support. If you’re installing a new online booking tool, what arrangements have been made for training users and ongoing support?
  • Of course any change in a travel programme will also have a non-measurable, human element to consider. Travel, unlike other commodities, affects people so you have to take account of human feelings in some discussions.

5. Implement the new strategy

All of the above is foundation work to ease the effects of any change on all involved but the work does not end with implementation. Acceptance and smoothing off any rough edges – such as relationships with new suppliers – take ongoing involvement, engagement and patience.

This means continuing the plan to involve internal stakeholders with ongoing ways to enable feedback and two-way communication such as traveller surveys.

It’s time-consuming and hard work but will help you run a smooth and consistent change project with maximum buy-in across your company.