Expert insights

Debate: travel policy mandates - yes or no?

9 March 2016

Mandated travel policies can help stay in control, but for some they’re not a good fit. Two industry experts make the case for each.

Mandated policies are essential for full control of costs – and duty of care

Photo of Tony Pilcher

Tony Pilcher, founder of consultancy Pilcher Associates Limited and independent chairman of The People Awards

The main reasons for putting a travel policy in place are always cost, and traveller security – the duty of care the company has towards its staff. Measures such as a preferred supplier programme and online booking tools can help make sure those dual objectives are managed. That’s not to say a mandated policy doesn’t recognise travellers’ needs to be flexible – but it puts in place parameters within which they can be flexible.

Over the years, business travel has evolved. Heavy-handed, top-down policies are out – they now need to be more reasonable and appropriate, and the best tend to be those where the traveller is trusted to make cost-effective decisions.

Internal engagement is vital. Not only do you need to consult stakeholders – such as those who deal with tax, which can dictate how long a traveller can spend in a country – once the policy’s in place you need to make sure it’s communicated well, and that you listen to responses. Travellers are savvy. They know they can find good rates themselves, so they wonder why they need a mandated policy. That’s why travellers and bookers need to feel it’s their policy.

A good travel policy should consider whether travel is necessary in the first place. By mandating your policy, you can cut down on redundant trips and pricey internal meetings, and promote cost-effective, eco-friendly alternatives such as video-conferencing.

Most companies have a policy for all their operating divisions. The main difference between travel and the rest is that it’s more personal, but it still needs managing. At the end of the day, it’s the company’s money. There’s got to be policy surrounding any type of spend – and, although some suggest travel is different, I don’t believe it myself.

If managed, an unmandated travel policy can work for some corporate cultures

Photo of Rachel WatsonRachel Watson, director of Opteva, a consultancy specialising in travel and expense management

Clearly, mandated travel policies are great. In fact, in an ideal world they’re probably best. But in our experience, there are some organisations where they aren’t always possible

Where mandates aren’t hitting the spot, we’ve seen businesses work with travel management companies (TMCs) using a series of travel guidelines. They might set cap rates on hotels, or direct travellers to specific suppliers on certain routes, but they don’t actively manage an out-of-policy process prior to travel. If a traveller tries to book a ticket above a cap, the TMC will still issue it, but it’s up to the company to take appropriate action.

All our customers have travel programmes. Some customers might have 20 TMCs, and be looking to consolidate – but they all recognise that managed travel is essential for tracking where your travellers are and fulfilling your duty of care.

Some find they get better buy-in with an unmandated culture than with strict rules. It gives employees responsibility and flexibility, and people respond well to that. Incentivising compliance can also work well – not necessarily in monetary rewards, but in overall score-carded measurements, some of the companies we work with, even those with mandated policies, are looking at it.

To sum up, managed travel with an unmandated policy really can work for some organisations. You have control, but without some of the bureaucracy attached to mandated policies – and for organisations that might find implementing a mandate completely against their culture, it’s a good halfway house. Unmanaged travel is something else entirely, and can lead to real problems when it comes to duty of care. To us, that’s just not a travel programme.

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