17 experts advise on what’s to come this year. Spoiler: Data factors big.
The Innovate Conference for the Advancement of Business Travel offered business travel executives the opportunity to articulate priorities and recommendations.
Technology has made it easier for small and midsize
enterprises to expand, yet their spend still may not be enough to negotiate global
contracts. BTN associate editor JoAnn DeLuna spoke with MathWorks senior travel
coordinator Jeff Berall, GameStop director of meetings and travel Judy Payne and
LetGo VP of finance David Wieseneck about saving time and money while maintaining
a good travel experience. The right technologies and partners help.
BTN: Jeff and Judy,
you both recently switched travel management companies to Egencia. How did you determine
which TMC would be able to grow with you?
Jeff Berall: Egencia
has a more user-friendly interface that's more consumer driven. Our focus is to
have strong adherence to online booking, so that tool definitely helps us with that.
Egencia now handles the majority of our travel management. Japan and China both
have local solutions in place. There is potential for us to move to a fully globalized
program with Egencia, but that is yet to be determined and will depend on the service
offerings in certain countries. It's really just about enabling the user to have
an easier booking process, a more straightforward consumer experience.
Judy Payne: [It was]
really difficult for us because 50 percent of our spend is for meetings. We had
to find a good partner for transient as well as a meetings program. We heard Concur
will retire their meetings portal in 2018, so we had to put that out to shop. In
May, we moved over to Egencia, which could not only accommodate our transient needs
but also support our complex meetings requests.
BTN: David, you don't
use a TMC. How do your travelers book travel?
David Wieseneck: We
have a travel agent, a one-man show with good prices, who's worked very closely
with us. We built an approval process and he's been able to scale with us for 150
people, but we don't know how much further we'll be able to go so we've started
to look at a larger TMC program.
BTN: What are you
looking for in a TMC?
Wieseneck: We're a
tech company, so we're looking at tech-forward companies with really good technology
where we can have a consumer-grade booking experience for users and administrators
booking on behalf of executives [and] connection with all the new companies like
Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. Connection with our expense report system, Expensify, is
really important. Good selection and pricing is a no-brainer. That's where the real
selection will be made. We also don't have time to do a three-month implementation.
We'd love to be up and running and try them out before we sign a long-term agreement.
Data privacy and the varying degree of legislation between regions and countries make global contracting difficult."
BTN: Jeff, the majority
of MathWorks' 4,000 employees are in Boston, but the company also has offices in
Western Europe, Japan, China and India. You've said data privacy legislation like
the General Data Protection Regulation has made global contracting difficult as
you grow. Can you elaborate?
Berall: [Such legislation]
makes the sharing and storage of any personal data difficult, even within an organization.
When involving third-party partners like a TMC or other vendors, this brings on
an entirely new responsibility of data storage and protection of the personal data.
It's a working headache and an absolute hindrance to getting some of these global
initiatives out. Unfortunately, part of it is wait-and-see over the next six months
to a year.
BTN: Are there travel
program-implementation challenges as MathWorks grows in Asia/Pacific and EMEA?
Berall: Some hurdles
with those locations are how to push those same guidelines to a smaller office or
[how to] account for cultural differences in policy. How do we bring a new location
to our travel agency or self-booking platform? [Additionally], how do you balance
that startup mind-set with becoming a much more established and global organization?
How do you maintain that adaptability that comes with that tech startup feel?
BTN: David, you've
mentioned a similar challenge in traveler experience as a fast-growing startup.
Wieseneck: As we grow,
employees see finance as the department that brings on the bureaucracy and changes
a startup to a corporate hell's gate. That's always my biggest concern with putting
in a control, a process or a system: How can I do it so that it's as minimally invasive,
so they look at us as a partner that's finding them better ways to get their job
BTN: How do you manage
Wieseneck: We want
to make travelers' lives easy. If I'm going to ask them for something like filling
out a timely expense report, I'm also giving back by taking line items off the reports.
We buy their plane tickets through our trusted third-party agent and have our office
managers book hotels for travelers. Big expenses are centralized, and we can dictate
certain policies like business travel versus premium economy and the hotel level.
It's not up to the employee to figure out whether they're in policy or not. Their
expense reports now are just meals and snacks at the airport.
I'd rather someone book seven days out instead of changing the flight seven days before [to avoid] incurring $200 to $300 plus the additional cost in airfare."
BTN: What else are
you doing to control spend and simplify processes for travelers?
Wieseneck: We [also]
signed up for centralized company billing for Uber, Lyft and Airbnb, as we know
our travelers like to use them. It's also a risk management thing, as Uber can track
someone and if you lose a computer it's much easier to get it back than a regular
taxi. We're also giving back by reimbursing them [quickly].
BTN: Judy, you've
got 800 mostly U.S.-based travelers and 100 travelers based in Australia, New Zealand,
Canada, Germany, France and Ireland. How do you position your travel program?
Payne: We have a responsibilities-and-controls
policy, which basically states you should use [the company] money like it's yours
and be frugal in all areas. We ask everyone to book between 14 and 30 days out to
get the best cost in flights. We also have a lowest-available-cost clause in our
policy, and we ask travelers to minimize last-minute changes. I'd rather someone
book seven days out instead of changing the flight seven days before [to avoid]
incurring $200 to $300 plus the additional airfare cost. We also ask travelers to
use a three-hour [flexibility] window on their flight times because leaving an hour
and a half earlier or later [often] reduces the ticket cost. We ask that travelers
secure a one-stop or connecting flight in lieu of a nonstop flight if they can save
at least $250, but [the layover] has to be less than 90 minutes.
BTN: Your international
airfare policy is interesting. Tell us about it.
Payne: [For international
flights], if you book 21 days in advance, you're eligible for business class. However,
for the past four years, [we've offered] travelers a $500 compensation if they save
the company money by flying coach. We see a significant savings … probably $35,000
to $50,000 annually.
BTN: Do most travelers
take the incentive?
Payne: About half.
Usually the ones who don't travel internationally often take advantage of it. Our
true road warriors want business class. We
[also] make sure the road warriors are comfortable and enjoy their travel, so they
can keep all of their air, hotel and car points.
We want to make travelers' lives easy. If I'm going to ask them for something like filling out a timely expense report, I'm also giving back by taking line items off the reports."
BTN: Besides relying
on traveler moderation, what other tactics do you use to keep costs down?
Payne: Since we don't
have enough spend to get company discounts, we [also] take advantage of the corporate
point programs offered by airlines like American, Delta and United.
BTN: Jeff, how do
you use traveler rewards or other tactics to mitigate travel spend while expanding?
Berall: It's all about
balancing the cost containment and cost avoidance with as positive a travel experience
as we can provide. It may not be a business class ticket, but it'll be premium economy.
Or it maybe not be a five-star hotel, but it'll be a three- or four-star hotel.
We really look to our travelers to spend money as if it's their own and make smart
BTN: Judy, at the
end of the day, what does your balancing act look like?
Trying to stay within the expectations of the executive
team while [dealing with] the increased costs of the travel industry. We have to
set traveler expectations yet make sure they have a great experience when traveling.
[We also need to] be agile and ready to change course and come up with new solutions
as the industry and [our] global needs require.
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