Insights & Trends
The Evolution of the Travel Manager's Role

The Evolution of the Travel Manager's Role

Samantha Shankman

4 Jun 2020
12 minute read
Blog Image // The Evolution of the Travel Manager's Role

The role of a corporate travel manager in the model corporate travel ecosystem is drastically different than it was even a decade ago. The travel manager’s role has evolved and the job description goes far beyond organizing the travel arrangements and itineraries of a few executives or simply crafting a corporate travel policy.

Officially speaking, a travel manager directs, operates, and administers travel programs and travel services for a business. But travel management in today's corporate ecosystem is a nuanced and ever-evolving role.

Larger enterprise corporations often hire a dedicated travel manager to oversee business travel policies and operations while smaller companies may designate someone with many other responsibilities as a travel manager (e.g. an executive assistant, office manager, or someone in the finance department). Travel managers often work in tandem with a travel management company to oversee complex operations.

As organizations become larger, the need to manage complex travel programs grows. Travel managers work closely with all other areas of corporate leadership including HR, Finance, Accounting, Procurement, and the C-level suite. They can hold significant influence and power in a decision-making process that impacts technology, software, partners, and policies.

Travel managers play a hugely influential role in the evaluation, selection, operation, and ultimately the success of a corporate travel program. In short, they're the boots on the ground when it comes to their current travel management setup.

Roles and Responsibilities

The following responsibilities usually fall under a travel manager or someone who takes on that role in a smaller organization:

  • Develop and centralize the travel functions of the organization through the implementation of a global travel program (covering air & ground transport and hotels), maintaining the company’s travel policy and systems, and establishing a process for travel related escalations.
  • Ability to analyze, recommend, and implement changes within the organization, as it relates to corporate travel, balancing business needs, and company controls.
  • Develop and maintain relationships with suppliers and ensure they deliver agreed to services by measuring performance and identifying opportunities for improvements.
  • Partner with procurement in the negotiation of preferred corporate rates for air, hotels and transportation.
  • Ensures operational effectiveness and compliance in the organization’s global travel program.
  • Manage point redemptions and travel vouchers earned through each airline, hotel or other travel related memberships.
  • Create, manage, and analyze spend reports to make recommendations for cost efficiencies or avoidance of unnecessary fees.
  • Understand industry trends for developing future programs and cost savings strategies.
  • Keep current with the latest travel industry trends vital to the travel planning process to identify the safest and most economical travel options. May include communication to employees of any temporary travel advisories.
  • Train employees on travel policies, booking tools, or other technologies implemented with the global travel program.
  • Have strong communication skills with the ability to balance and integrate various roles once assigned to a travel coordinator, travel specialist, operations manager, or program manager.

How the Role of the Travel Manager Has Evolved

The role of the travel manager has evolved rapidly in the last decade — especially in organizations that have adopted smarter technology providers. There's not a certain degree that is needed to enter the profession. Some travel managers have a bachelor's degree while others finished high school before they started working in the trade.

Let's take a look at the traditional role of a travel manager versus that of a modern travel manager whose operations and intent are boosted by the addition of a smart, cloud-based technology partner.

A Glimpse into the Past

In the past, travel managers were often pegged into the role of policy police as they tracked down which employees were booking where and how much they spent. These travel managers spent just as much time managing their travel management company as they did employees as the agency ultimately booked travel and was the final step at which policy was respected or rejected. Traditionally, this balance also created a difficult relationship in which employee trust in the TMC was fractious and program adoption rates were low, forcing the travel manager to chase after employees who insisted on booking on consumer platforms. The rate of human error alone turned booking a trip into an executive minefield of mistakes.

Where We Are Today

Fast forward to today and technology has completely changed the way that travel managers operate. The role of the travel manager is elevated from policing agent and task enforcer to a strategic, big-picture thinker that connects the dots between multiple departments and drives a culture that understands that making smart choices when preparing for a business trip really does benefit everyone. These are full-time employees who play an integral role in their team's and company's success.

For travel managers paired with a leading, cloud-based T&E platform, focus can shift back to the traveler experience. With access to real-time data and insights, travel managers can spend time talking to travelers and understanding what shifts need to happen to achieve the ultimate win-win: the best traveler experience complemented with cost savings for companies.

Profile: How a Travel Manager Gets It Done

Emmett Bamba, Travel Manager at Twitch

For nearly two years, Emmett has managed the corporate travel of more than 1,000 employees at the multiplayer entertainment system. With collaboration baked into their culture, Emmett understands the complexities it takes to manage corporate travel with internal leadership while providing the best possible travel experience for employees. He has 12 years of experience as a travel agent before joining an organization to streamline their business travel.

Emmett's Path Towards Corporate Travel

After starting his career in leisure travel—think cruises and vacation packages—Emmett pivoted towards corporate travel with the appropriately named Corporate Traveler, which is a division of Flight Centre. He led a team that specialized in small-to-medium-sized enterprises with $3M in travel budget under management. On the agency side of the business, Emmett kept a portfolio of corporations whose travel he managed. He was also a team leader so led other travel agents in managing their corporations’ travel policies.

He wasn’t actively looking to make a shift to a travel operations role when Twitch reached out to him.

“The great thing about working for 7 years as a corporate travel agent was that really I understood each side of the job. I could bring my knowledge from working in a travel agency into being a travel manager. I understood and could anticipate the issues that arise universally and forge deep relationships with CSMs. Having that experience makes it easier for me to navigate and solve problems,” Emmett explained on a phone call this month.

A Day in the Life of a Modern Travel Manager

Emmett is now leading travel operations at Twitch, a live streaming platform. Although the company’s origin is in gaming, it’s actively expanding into sports, music, and performing arts. Being the backbone in the moments between people come together in person is what the company excels at. Twitch prides itself on the quality of its technology and Emmett knew that any supplier or vendor onboarded should be aligned with that perspective.

“As a travel manager, you really have to be aware of what’s happening whether it’s weather, airline strikes, hotel strikes, or political unrest. I can expect if my travelers will rebook or cancel flights and it helps me figure out what my priorities are based on what’s happening in the world that day,” Emmett explained.

Once Emmett gets into the office, he responds to Email and Slack messages. There are messages that come in from all over the world and he receives each one as the only global travel manager on the team. Common questions that he receives might be around policy, upgrades, prices, or travelers’ Navan account.

Next, he’ll review the daily reports available in Navan. He’ll glance at the Booking Report to see if employees are traveling to the same destination and which hotels are being booked. If the same hotel is being booked, he might consider a group booking.

Then he’ll look at the Out of Policy Report. He’s on the lookout for repeat offenders, but his question is always, “Why?” It might be that a city’s inventory was sold out or overpriced because of a conference or maybe a $300 hotel room cap doesn’t work in a certain city and needs to be adjusted. The Out of Policy Report helps Emmett identify gaps in the travel policy.

The most important daily review is of Traveler Reports, which highlights where travelers are now. It’s critical for Emmett’s duty of care and risk management responsibilities to know where his travelers are in the moment. In addition to reviewing the reports, Emmett says it is important to take notes and gather data to determine what is working and what improvements can be made to their travel policy.

From there, Emmett will dive into one of the dozens of projects that he’s working on. There are always 10-15 projects in his pipeline. It might be reviewing the Unused Tickets Report, checking where refunds are available, working with IT to provide travelers with laptops in high-risk countries, and—the latest—adding gamification to the travel program.

Every travel manager has their own set of projects constantly in motion. Throughout the day, Emmett is also connecting with his colleagues. He’s following up with them to understand what worked and what didn’t. “It’s important to engage with your travelers so they know that I really care. Not everyone loves to travel, but it’s my job to let them know that we really appreciate them and see what we can do to make their trip smoother,” explains Emmett.

Emmett will also check in with his airline and hotel suppliers to review contract performance. He’ll meet with his Navan CSM weekly.

Elevating Employee Experience

Emmett’s role falls under Global Workplace, which is all about employee experience. Although cost savings and streamlining operations are important, Emmett’s top priority is the employees’ travel experience from the moment they book until they get home. The travel manager role is super cross-functional so Emmett works with departments across the organization including HR, finance, and partnerships.

With more than a decade of experience, Emmett has had a front row seat to how the industry has changed. He believes that it is non-negotiable that companies whose business relies on the ability to travel have a travel manager on board. It is important in minimizing financial loss, ensuring traveler safety, and providing the best possible employee experience by giving those who travel the guidance that they need.

Emmett is part of a community of travel managers who work with large tech companies and he says that these relationships add so much value to his work. Emmett is the role model for a modern day travel manager who approaches travel operations with a human touch backed by the best technology possible.

How Travel Managers Help Companies Cut Costs

In addition to supporting employee satisfaction and making the business travel experience as smooth as possible, corporate travel managers are also in a position to save their companies money through thoughtful and well-executed travel policies. Adoption is an integral part to gaining the visibility and insights that travel managers need for the high-level, strategic moves that boost companies' bottom line by saving on travel operations while simultaneously making business travel more effective. Here are 5 ways to savings from every angle:

  • Drive Adoption

Adoption is critical to the success of any travel program. Only once the majority of traveling employees are booking and managing their travel through a single platform can meaningful insights be found through rich data. The word "adoption" itself won't mean much to your average employee nor will the goal of 100% adoption be enough to get them on the said corporate travel management platform.

The modern traveler manager finds creative and purpose-led strategies for getting all employees onboard from incentivizing and rewarding travelers to selecting a platform that provides a user experience and 24/7 365 travel agents that surpasses anything they'd find on their own.

The ultimate goal is to create a situation in which business travelers want to use the designated channels because they're the best possible option available to them.

  • Educate Employees

Business travelers are often the most accomplished and hardest working in their organizations so we wouldn't dare recommend a classroom sit down is needed to get these high achievers on your side. The education process is a quiet and smooth component of a company-wide culture that values the role business travel plays in company success. Forget forcing draconian one-size-fits-all travel policies onto travelers and instead adopt more user-friendly, flexible policy rules that account for employees as individuals.

  • Champion a Smart Technology Partner

Innovation is now a part of the corporate travel space, giving forward-looking travel managers the opportunity to optimize their programs—with both travelers and savings in mind—in a way that wasn't previously possible. It used to be that corporate travel program managers had to choose between providing a delightful end-to-end travel experience or managing costs at the expense of that experience.

There are solutions available today that offer the ease of use and personalization of a consumer-grade booking tool combined with amazing support. On the back end, they provide a rich bank of data from which insights can be culled for strategic decisions. With improved visibility, travel managers arm themselves with the data they need to drive cost savings.

  • Find Opportunities to Save Through Data Insights

What do columns of numbers mean to an organization if not sliced, diced, and put into the context of operation and spend? Compiling all relevant data into a single platform is difficult enough without a smart technology partner, but getting to the meaningful insights that turn data into decisions is what we're after.

Travel managers are in a position to drive important decisions around cost-savings especially when their contributions are based not in theory but real-time data that accurately reflects the current state of affairs. This ability becomes even more important in a rapidly changing situation, which all organizations will face in their lifetime.

  • Streamline Your Organization's Travel Expenses

Business travel expenses make up, on average, 10% of a business’ overall spend. The importance of having all travelers booking on a singular platform becomes abundantly clear when we recognize the critical portion that expenses account for in the overall budget. Travel managers today are tasked with understanding the role of expenses in their larger corporate travel strategy and even more so have the tools in place that allow them to track spend and adjust policy control in real time.

The modern travel manager understands that progress is paramount to success. Their role requires the ability to adapt, adjust, and realign consistently for your organization especially as it scales. We'll be diving into each of these strategic aspects as we go through the course. Let's go!

The Travel Manager’s Toolkit and Support Network

Community is one of the most important factors in any group of people pursuing knowledge that makes them stronger, more resilient, and better prepared for the future. As travel managers are often the only person with their particular role within their organization, establishing a community or place to go with questions and stories is an important part of building a thriving and rich career.

Based on our conversations with hundreds of travel agents, we've compiled the following list of resources for you too to explore.

Navan Community Forum: An open, global forum where travel managers and anyone touching the corporate travel experience can come to share ideas and ask questions.

Greater Business Travel Association: As a member of GBTA, travel managers gain access to a breadth of information as well as local GBTA chapters where local communities come together.

Associations of Corporate Travel Executives: In addition to educational programs and industry research, ACTE's online community is a popular place to ask questions for a true and in-depth response from industry peers.

Business Travel News: As a source of information serving the managed business travel and meetings market, BTN has a number of handbooks, reference guides, and calculators that are unique within the industry.

Skift: The new kid on the block, Skift quickly became a source for travel managers that wondered about the big picture behind brands and marketing in travel. Their research and summits are a treat for anyone who loves travel.

Travel managers are our great allies and partners at Navan. To learn more about the job description of a corporate travel manager and how they partner with Navan, get in touch today.

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