"Our company doesn't have a travel manager" is something I hear very often from travelers of major U.S. global organizations. What!?! Of course you have a travel manager, I tell them, often a big team! "Nope, we only have expense police."
When I think about the organizations that I worked for, I have to say that I didn't know there were travel managers at my companies either. I only heard from the expense people when something was questioned.
Do you think your travelers might say the same thing? Some of you might be shaking your head and saying "I know my travelers know who I am, because I'm always communicating with them." While others of you may be pausing to think "Do my travelers know I exist?"
Of course some travelers in every company know who their travel managers are because they're probably the travelers that call with issues, complaints and crazy situations on a frequent basis. Though these are likely the minority of travelers. The majority do their online booking, take their trip, enter their expense report and never think about what goes on behind the scenes. I know that was me.
Here are some of the reasons why your travelers might not know who you are:
- You've attempted to start a newsletter or travel portal updates to communicate with your travelers but there just isn't enough time -- especially for a one-person travel department.
- You've really attempted to start a newsletter but it was such a challenge to get it through the approval process that it just wasn't worth it.
- You've never wanted to do a newsletter or travel portal updates because you know that once you set a precedence, you'll have to keep up with it -- and there just isn't time.
- You do a newsletter but very few people read it.
- We do a new hire orientation on travel and expenses, but it's in an employee's busy early days and we don't have a strategy for continued traveler training.
- These are real reasons that I've heard from travel management and I'm sure there are many more justifications on why a dialogue with all travelers isn't more the norm.
So what is the magic answer to connecting with your travelers? The answer takes me back to the days when my kids were teenagers. If you remember those days (or were a teenager yourself at some point), you remember the challenges in communicating and getting more than a grunt out of your child.
- Have a regular family time to talk (usually dinner time)
- Ask open-ended questions. Otherwise you just get a grunt.
- Don't nag.
- Appear to be a 'cool parent' by knowing something that impresses our kids.
- Be accessible.
- Be visible.
- Be proactive giving them info they'll need in a manner they'll listen.
- Have fun.
Not so different from the methods of communicating with your travelers when you think about it.
If you're wondering just how many of your travelers would answer with the same "Our company doesn't have a travel manager," there are a few ways that you can help close the gap.
First, have a regularly-scheduled open time for "travel talk" - perhaps first Tuesday of each month for a one-hour Q&A travel webinar. Give out a few travel tips and then open the chat for questions from your travelers. If you're afraid to open a can of worms by asking for live questions, then offer answers to questions that you've gotten in the past that can be used for a general Q&A.
Second, call travelers post-trip and ask open-ended questions. "How was the ____ hotel? We just added it to our program and I'd love your feedback." or "We're planning on updating our travel portal to include more travel how-to's. What suggestions might you have on travel info you'd like to know." Do this with every traveler on every trip? Of course not. But a strategy of making 2 calls per day to random travelers and look at the wealth of information you'd get and the camaraderie you could build.
Next, instead of being "expense police," call and ask the background of an out-of-compliance item. "Did you know your hotel offers our company free breakfast instead of you having to pay for it." Offer travel tips and travel how-to's on your website. I've seen many a travel portal and most go right into the travel booking system while others may have a link or two to seatguru.com or weather for their destination, and that may be all. Your travelers are finding out one way or another how to tip, how to get an airline or hotel upgrade, learn about miles/points benefits and a whole lot more. Why not offer these tips (especially travel safety how-to's) right on your portal? Ask your vendors if they can be of assistance here.
Also, offer travel how-to's in a manner they'll pay attention to. A written newsletter is great as that does get read by part of your population. But how about a short video of that same written information? Make travel fun! Instead of a long list of "don't do this, don't do that," follow what the airlines have been doing with their safety videos. They've been making them fun and we've been watching them more. My top radio show topic I get requested to do is "What can you steal from a hotel room?" You know that's a very short list, only the soap and shampoos, but I know your hotel vendors can give you a whopping list of items that have been stolen. Wouldn't it be fun to share this with your travelers as a more interesting way to promote a policy?
If you think some of your travelers may have been the ones telling me that they don't have a travel manager, then I hope some of these tips will help you become invisible. I know the thought of one more initiative might have you rolling your eyes, but start small and be consistent.
To get you started with several important travel safety how-to's, feel free to download 77 Tips for Safe Business Travel. It has practical, simple strategies to keep your travelers and their possessions safe! And use those you find valuable in your newsletter, on your portal or in your conversations.
If you'd like to explore additional ways that my experience as a 30-year road warrior can help in communicating with your travelers, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.