How do you save money on business travel?
You have talked to all the major TMC's (Travel Management Companies) and (hopefully) some of the smaller ones, looked at high tech solutions, self booking tools, even a small little gadget that when stroked the right way makes a cup of tea and sounds a warning bell if someone breaks line from policy. Still, despite all this, a big figure always looms from the gloom at the end of the year.
I want to look at some statements which directly affect the day to day booking of business (and indeed leisure) travel:
1. Any travel agent is only as good as the person that answers the telephone
3. Self-Booking tools can't think.
2. When you call the travel agent 99% of all opportunities to save money have been lost.
The first two statements are indeed closely related. The people you see at an interview or at a sales meeting are not the people booking your travel. They are salesmen, not travel agents. Travel Agents - good travel agents - are in very short supply these days. Airlines have seen to that. Thing is, travel agents were some of the few people who had a holistic training in travel. Airline staff tend to be trained only for the function they are to perform and have little, if any, knowledge of any related aspect of their industry. Worse still, many airline service functions have been farmed and are operated by people who are taught to simply follow a strict set of rules. Any deviation causes untold problems and if you want, say, an opinion - forget it! Unfortunately, nowadays, the staff from many TMC's come from the same stable.
Right, so how many really good travel agents does your proposed TMC employ? Have you met any of them or do you just rely on the face presented by the sales people?
It used to be said that anyone under the age of 50 was far to young to come into travel. The reason being that until one had attained that ripe age, one had no hands on experience of other cultures or grasp of the real world, of where places are located and how they all fit best together - essential qualities in a good travel agent. So part of being a good travel agent is not just a matter of being able to operate high tech equipment (or even low tech equipment) and being able to follow a set of rules. It is a matter of being able to act intuitively given a set of destinations and dates. That is the difference between being an order taker and a travel organiser.
In my time, I have often had a problem extracting from the client what they really want. Even today and even after many dealings, I still get a phone call that goes "How much does it cost from A to B?" Ten minutes later a further call asking about B to C, then from C to D and then from A to D and so on and so forth. After much coaxing I can usually get to the real question. "Well, I want to visit A B C and D and I am trying to get them to fit together"
I confess that this sort of question usually comes from someone who is used to one of the larger TMC's. I don't know what they do but it sure as hell cannot be helping their clients. Once I get to the bottom of what someone is trying to do, I can then set to work doing the job you pay me for. As I often to say: "You worry about the technical stuff/ the selling/ the deal closing and I will worry about getting you to the right office at the right time"
Of course, if the person who answers the telephone or email can only take orders and book, you are not going to get the added value that a travel agent can offer.
Once it is established where you need to, be and when is resolved it then takes a skilled eye to look at what you have got on the itinerary and find some sensible fares to fit around things. The modern approach is that one is presented with an itinerary and then simply looks up the applicable contract fare that goes with it. Very often, by very small amendments or flight changes significant cost savings can be found. For this to work, the relationship twixt client and agent must be one of a partnership. The two must work together to find the best way of combining places, dates and times to find the most cost effective solution.
This also means that the agent must be involved at an early stage (this works, by the way) and certainly before a whole series of untenable dates and times are arranged with clients!