If companies think booking travel is just about the best deal, they're wrong

It's one thing planning your family vacation - but business travel is an entirely different bag of chips.

Coordinating trips to align for more than one colleague, with various departments and budget approval processes in the mix - it can all be so very taxing.

Many believe you can shop around for the best deal, but fail to consider it about so more than just the best deal. A cheap hotel might put your employee at risk. Or the amount you're saving on a per night rate, could be eaten up in transport costs since the hotel is so cheap, because it's far from any convention centre or business district. You're also paying in valuable time when trying to secure these deals.

Whatever the economic climate, saving on expenses and efficient systems are always essential. A  white paper on Travel Management Companies (TMC) by Flight Centre Business Travel (FCBT)shows "when one takes into account that employee overspending can constitute one third of a business’ entire travel and expense budget, corporate travel can become a very high-cost item".

It suggests that partnering with a (TMC) is not a luxury for Small to Medium Enterprises or large established companies.  

“There is a misconception among many SMEs that if they book their business travel themselves, it will be quicker and cheaper. In most instances, this simply isn’t true,” says FCBT South Africa Brand Leader Andrew Grunewald.

Although there are costs associated with hiring a TMC partner, the fees are negligible when one considers the compound time and cost-savings a TMC can achieve for your business in the long run.

Fazlin Lakay of Travel with Lia explains the benefits of having "online assistance with your travel from start to end".

"This gives you total control of your processes from booking, approvals, receiving relevant documentation and managing your spend in real time."

"Travel costs are also reduced, as you have access to all flights and fares in one view. Whether you are on the go or in a meeting , you have access to book, change or cancel your booking.

SEE: Foreign currency jingling in your pocket? What you need to know about exchanging Forex in SA 

So how can companies, large and small, appoint the best travel management solution for their business? 

Find out how to leverage  their supplier relationships for savings and service?

Size matters and the volume of travel book certainly means better rates. But what about the small guys. 

Grunewald says, "Ask your TMC what buying power and partnerships they have in place with suppliers from which you can benefit. FCBT with global buying power will be able to leverage its relationships with suppliers to get special benefits, such as avoiding having to pay up-front deposits when renting a car.”

Sure Travel Group, in existence since 1979, is a members of WIN (Worldwide Independent Travel Network) and ABTA (African Business Travel Association). As an independent travel agency their reach extends across South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. 

Lakay says Lia uses its GDS partnership allowing access to all flights with negotiated rates. They also have hotel suppliers and other travel related suppliers.

"The great thing about Lia is that we’ve proved it works for companies of all sizes, from a huge corporation such as Naspers to a smaller business like SnapScan. There are no setup or monthly costs, so you pay only for what you use."

Ensure you're being offered the support you need

Employees are unlikely to be travel experts and that makes finding the best deal unlikely, and mistakes can end up costing the company, says Grunewald.

Lakay adds that "being an online system that provides you with real time availability and inventory from suppliers, Lia triggers approval workflow that creates auto ticketing." 

Support systems should also be here for you when things go awry, like flights are delayed or you miss a connecting flight. 

Proper travel management is not only about saving the day when something unexpected happens, Grunewald maintains. “It is putting in place a travel policy and programme to try to prevent it from happening in the first place. Having a clear corporate travel policy, and applying it consistently, are important steps SMEs can take to help to reduce travel costs, streamline their travel management and achieve the greatest ROI for their travel spend.”

READ: Hanekom: A third of those who visit SA for the first time at a conference, come back for a holiday

It's about saving the business, staff time and effort  

Travel management is not just about getting the best deal. It’s about spending the least possible time and effort in finding it too. And there are many factors at play.

If you company is still relying on Excel worksheets or – dare we say it - using pen and paper to calculate travel expenses, they are not alone. According Certify, a US-based travel and expense company, 49% of companies today are still using manual systems for their expense reporting. Added to this business travel is expected to reach $1.7 trillion (R25 trillion) by 2022 alone.

“Reporting is an important tool to help your company identify areas where efficiencies can be made and costs can be cut,” explains Oz Desai, GM Corporate Traveller. “If you work with a travel management company (TMC) or other travel partner to book your travel, the easiest way to gain a clear overview of your spending is to ask for a few key reports per month. That way, you can summarise the most useful data and won’t be overwhelmed by figures.”

Lakay says Lia offers a platform whereby a corporate can book their entire trip from a single landing page. Flights, hotel, and cars in a few minutes in comparison to the back and forth with a traditional travel agency.

Also, she states, TMCs with "transparent accounting systems that allows you access to your travel spend and account statements at any given time" are vital, as are "open purchase reports to manager bookings approved but not yet invoiced."

SEE: How to avoid unnecessarily paying double for your travel insurance

Ask questions about the contracts and payment options, and make sure you like the answers 

“Cashflow concerns and getting tied into contracts is one thing that will make most business owners run a mile,” says Grunewald. “If your TMC is asking you to sign a fixed contract and insisting on one payment solution that suits it, start lacing up your tackies,” he warns.

It is vital that any TMC partner offers a range of flexible payment options to suit your business, including an interest-free credit account. 

While the Lia product is the same across all companies, it provides custom accounting integrations for systems such as SAP, Oracle and Sage Pastel. Lakay says flexibility is key, with a 30-Day account upon credit approval and clients are able to use their lodge cards as payment for flight bookings."

SEE: 8 Sure ways to screw up a business trip

Find Your Escape by searching and comparing flight prices here. You can also sign-up for the Traveller24 Weekly Newsletter – Subscribe hereOr download the News24 App hereto receive expertly curated travel ideas and deals directly to your mobile. 

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