Where’s the Juice in tomorrow’s business travel program?

Scott Gillespie, CEO, tClara 

Historically, travel managers have done a great job at managing all that goes into a traditional corporate travel program.  Unfortunately, this success is now travel management’s biggest problem.

Where’s tomorrow’s Juice?

There’s a well-known list of things that travel managers need to do to make a program deliver value. Many travel programs are mature; most could be with a bit more work.  But once they’re in their mature state how can travel managers show they are adding significant new value?  You can bet management’s always going to be asking “Where’s tomorrow’s juice?”

The two main goals of travel management have been to keep travelers safe, and deliver cost savings, preferably without burning travelers out.   After addressing traveler safety, most firms design cost-first travel programs.   Their goal is to produce significant savings – that’s today’s juice.

Today’s juice comes from price negotiations and compliance to travel policies; policies which can often be tough on travelers. Travel managers have delivered plenty of juice…but at some point, in cost-first travel programs, the juice runs dry.


The bigger picture is business impact

No travel budget owner has ever spent money to increase savings.  Savings are an outcome, never the primary goal.  So what is the most important goal of any travel program?

To deliver a positive business impact!  To get a good result.  To sell someone; to fix something, to forge better relationships…there’s always a reason, and always an expected benefit.  It’s these expected benefits that must be the top goal of every travel program.

The traveler’s hierarchy of needs

So, how can a travel program help business travelers deliver their best, trip after trip, year after year?

It’s simple, really.  You must meet their needs on three different levels, in order, just like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (yep, that’s where I got this idea).


Traveler health and safety

Health and safety are the most fundamental needs, of course.  You can’t expect a traveler to do well on a trip, or even go, if they aren’t willing and able to travel.  Mature travel programs are set up to handle the traditional risk management issues, but there’s always more that can be done.

Think about travelers who are part of the “silver tsunami” – the swell in our aging workforce nearing retirement. A lie-flat seat on a long flight, particularly for these travelers, will help a lot – giving an opportunity for some real sleep while lessening back trouble and the chance of pulmonary problems.  A semi-annual “fit to travel” medical checkup will help too, especially when it’s performed by a doctor well versed on chronic medical conditions and travel-related diseases.

Another part of helping travelers feel safe is protecting their digital security along with their physical well-being.  Get the IT folks to teach travelers how to protect their electronic devices in flight, at the hotel, and even during a rental car return.

Traveler productivity

Once a traveler is ready to go, the next priority is productivity.  Productivity is part “not wasting time” and part putting that “un-wasted” time to good use.

A well-designed travel program will easily meet the “not wasting time” priority.  Think TSA Pre-Check, GOES, priority boarding, even pre-packed and shipped luggage services … anything to help increase the traveler’s uptime.

And what are the biggest productivity killers? Economy seats too crowded to use a laptop; no Wi-Fi on a plane; a poor night’s sleep at a sub-par hotel; inefficient ground transportation choices.  When travel managers create travel policies and pick suppliers with productivity in mind over price, travelers are in a better position to deliver better business results.

Traveler engagement

Don’t dare settle for just safe, healthy and productive travelers.  Really, the best travel programs are designed to keep them satisfied and committed to their work.  These are the programs that take out the friction that other programs expect their travelers to put up with.

Sure, a generous cabin policy is important here, but so is promoting a culture that respects a traveler’s work-life balance.  Think about discouraging itineraries that require people to travel on personal time or stay on the road over X many nights. This, of course, can always happen, but make sure it’s an exception to the rule, not the norm.

It wouldn’t hurt to get senior management to send a few thank-you notes, or even a gift, to your road warriors every now and then, too.  All these things add up to higher retention and better recruiting – which of course leads to better results over the long term.

A bolder mission

Travel managers must reframe their mission by designing an impact-first travel program.  Focus on the traveler’s hierarchy of needs, and you’ll open a whole new source of juice for years to come.  I’ll expand on this in my next post.  Meanwhile, here is a study that links better business results to traveler-focused travel policies.


Scott Gillespie helps corporate travel managers get the best out of their programs with advanced benchmarking and analytics. He leads tClara’s business, speaks at travel industry events around the world, and often breaks new ground and a bit of glass with his provocative views on how the travel industry should be improved. He welcomes connections on LinkedIn.