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How to cure the nightmare of booking travel

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12th Jun 2015
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It’s the call no HR professional wants to receive. A scheduled flight crashes in European airspace. Your CEO is on the phone immediately with a single question: did we have anyone on that plane?

In theory, you can answer your chief exec within minutes. Most larger businesses use travel management companies (TMCs) with traveller tracking tools showing which employees have booked any given flight or hotel.

You can’t track maverick bookers ...

In practice, it’s a very different story. Traveller tracking tools can only trace employees who booked through officially approved channels – either by phone to your retained TMC or online via the corporate self-booking tool on their PC desktops.

If employees go down the DIY route instead by, let’s say, booking a flight through the British Airways website and a hotel room on Booking.com, you aren’t going to know about it. That is why I have met professionals who confidently told their board no colleagues were killed in a hotel bombing or an earthquake, only, tragically, to have to correct that information a couple of days later. It’s a bad situation to be caught in.

... but you can’t beat them into compliance either

The obvious solution is create a travel policy which rigidly mandates employees to use your official booking tool or TMC. But, in reality, 100% booking policy compliance is virtually impossible unless you have a strictly centralised command-and-control culture with severe punishments for rule-breakers.

Few companies do. Yes, duty of care is a key priority for HR, but so too are recruitment and retention. You don’t need me to tell you that beating compliance into employees is poor HR practice. Not only morale but also behaviour is always much better when employees do something because they want to, not because they have to.

Unfortunately, the number of employees who want to use the official booking channels, far from going up, is falling. In the case of hotels, half of all room nights are booked outside preferred channels, according to Carlson Wagonlit Travel.

All the charm of an accounting package

The reason compliance is falling is that most corporate self-booking tools still look like an accounting package from the mid-1990s, which is when most of them were actually created. At the same time, consumer booking sites and mobile apps are getting sexier and sexier. They look better and they book better, with fantastic graphics, photos, personalised recommendations, great mapping and much more.

You can’t blame travellers for having their heads turned, especially as many corporate booking tools can’t even be used on mobile devices, which is how consumers (and your employees) prefer to sort their travel  arrangements today.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

So, as an HR professional, you are caught in an impossible situation with your company’s travel policy. If you allow travellers to avoid the clunky corporate in-house booking tool, you are neglecting your duty of care. If you force them to use it, you seriously damage employee engagement – especially as travellers usually think they are doing the right thing for the company when they book independently.

Ironically, their good intentions are often misplaced. Not only are staff probably paying more than if they had looked inside the preferred booking channel, they also are wasting valuable time scouring the internet for non-existent bargains. As a result, maverick booking is delivering a blow to yet another of your strategic HR priorities: employee productivity.

The solution: corporate booking tools your travellers want to use

The good news is that a cure has finally arrived for this huge HR headache. It takes the shape of a new generation of corporate self-booking tools which are not merely as good as consumer travel websites and apps: they are actually better. Mark 2 booking tools use door-to-door technology: all the traveller has to do is key in where their journey will start, where it will end and what time they need to be there. The tool does the rest, creating within just a couple of seconds a fully costed itinerary including not only their flight/train and hotel but also their ground transport links by taxi, car, rail or bus.

Door-to-door tools are much more graphically based than their Mark 1 predecessors, and make full use of photos and maps. What’s more they are BYOD-friendly, so employees can carry on working with the same phone, tablet or laptop they normally use – which also, of course, makes them more productive.

Time for action – sort out your travel programme

Now that your employees can access corporate tools because they want to, not have to, the whole game changes. It’s time to re-think your company travel programme:

  • Take a walk down the corridor to see your company travel manager. Your goals as an HR professional for the travel programme and theirs will be very similar. Co-operation will achieve great things.
  • Review your current corporate booking tool. If it’s Mark 1, it is probably damaging your HR goals of duty of care, recruitment and retention, and productivity. Look into introducing a Mark 2 door-to-door mobilefriendly tool instead.
  • Review travel policy to ensure it encourages rather than enforces good behaviour. So long as you have the right booking tool, you can achieve excellent compliance by winning hearts and minds.

Technology has created a problem for HR when it comes to employees taking business trips. Thankfully, technology is now also providing the solution.

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