When it comes to booking travel for small business, does your travel management company have your back?
Small business travel programs are suddenly big business for mega travel management companies who are looking to expand their offerings. But are they the right fit?
Does experience servicing Fortune 1000 companies translate to small and mid-market companies? Or are mid-market clients being serviced in a one-size-fits-all approach?
We asked Michael Robertson to share his perspective given his years of working directly with small business to medium business travel programs.
Q: Some companies and business travelers new to a managed travel program struggle with change. How can a travel management company make change easier?
A: People don’t fear change. They fear unnecessary change that they don’t understand. That’s why a strong communication plan is so important for companies new to managed travel or switching providers. If you tell travelers why you are making a change, why it’s happening now, and what the goals of the program are, they will more easily embrace your travel program. We understand that travel managers of small business travel programs often perform multiple roles so we help them develop continual communication plans that align around their goals. From newsletters, to blog content, to business reviews, we ensure travel buyers have the tools they need to win travelers over on their first booking and each subsequent trip.
Q: Small business travel programs in small to mid-market companies don’t typically have the same negotiating power as a large company. How can a travel management company help?
A: A travel management company should provide small and medium sized businesses access to suppliers, rates and amenities they couldn’t get on their own. At Egencia, we employ over 1,700 hotel market managers dedicated to doing just that. We are our clients’ advocate and their negotiator. As a result, travelers can easily find and book in-policy rates with business traveler friendly amenities and cancellation policies. This is the case whether one has a small business to medium business travel program or are a part of a larger enterprise.
On the flip side, suppliers work with Egencia because we can extend their reach and can get their inventory in front of buyers from small business travel programs who do not have the volume necessary for a significantly discounted individual negotiated rate program.
Q: Some travel providers say they offer a true multi-channel, end-to-end approach. Why is this important? And, is that possible given most travel management companies do not build or use their own technology?
A: Traditional travel management companies do offer a multi-channel solution; they support a whole army of technology providers from online booking tool providers to expense providers to data providers. They support almost anything you want and try to integrate all of them into their solution. The problem is that they own none of it. If something goes wrong with your booking tool, you can’t call the travel management company. It doesn’t matter if you are in a Fortune 1000 company or are a developing company with a small business travel program. No one is there to help you.
The other big problem: all of the data is not on a single platform. The more times you pass data between partners, the more likely it won’t match. There are also latency issues—you have to wait for a third system to pass along data or policy updates.
Combined, these issues can cause friction for the traveler. Imagine you go to the ATM and your receipt shows one balance. You then talk to a teller and the teller tells you that your balance doesn’t match your ATM receipt. What would you want to do? Switch banks so you know how much money is actually in your account. It’s the same with travel management companies. If your data doesn’t match or your travel management company can’t answer your questions, make sure your small business travel program is partnered with a travel management company that can help you.
Q: Why should travel buyers care if their travel provider owns and builds its own technology? Does this solve the issues you mentioned above?
A: Absolutely. It doesn’t matter if you are booking travel for your large, multinational organization or booking travel for small business – it’s all the same information. Our travel consultants use the same booking tool as our travelers and arrangers so they have the same information in front of them as the traveler. If a traveler has a question, we can answer them directly without passing them along to a third-party.
We don’t have to reach out to transfer data to a partner. Data is real-time so travel managers can access insights at any time in order to manage their small business travel program.
Using this data, travel arrangers and managers will soon be able to share custom, contextually relevant messages with their travelers on the road, like “Welcome to Dallas. Remember you don’t need to purchase auto insurance. You are already covered.”
Travelers also have real-time data at their fingertips. From our platform, we can push information that’s relevant and helpful to a traveler via our mobile app. We can tell travelers if a gate changes, where to find the nearest gas station to fill up a rental car, and many other in-trip insights.
Q: Are there any other ways owning your own technology sets you apart from other travel management companies?
A: Every travel management company claims to “put their customers” first. At Egencia, we build our products around them. We are continually running usability experiments so we can innovate quickly and offer an even better service to your small business travel program. By providing easy-to-use tools reflective of travelers’ own behavior, our clients can increase compliance through positive interactions rather than mandates.
Q: How important is it to offer a single, global solution to small and mid-market clients?
A: The world has changed. Size doesn’t indicate the complexity of a business’s global engagement, employee travel or travel management needs. To assume a mid-market business doesn’t have global complexity is a disservice to them.
Small business to medium business travel programs need in-market solutions. For those companies who are more mature and are looking to tackle globalization, a single platform across all regions is even more important. We offer a globally consistent experience that also takes into account the nuances and needs of the country travelers are in.
Q: What do small and mid-market companies need to know when evaluating travel management companies?
A: How important is your small business travel program to that travel management company? Whether you’re looking to launch a managed small business to medium business travel program or switch providers, make sure the travel management company you choose can service your unique needs. The conversations you have should be about you, your needs and what a best-in-class solution looks like for your company. Otherwise you risk having a “provider” rather than a strategic partner.
Q: What’s your final elevator pitch to travel buyers booking travel for small business?
A: When Egencia was founded 15 years ago, we focused on solutions for small and mid-market companies with small business to medium business travel programs. Since then, we have continually won over both travel buyers and travelers in these markets by offering an incredible service, making change easy, acting as their advocate, and continually enhancing our best-in-class solution.