Corporate Travel: Tips from the top with Melissa Elf

Melissa Elf
Travel News 08 Aug 2018

A good travel policy can boost your bottom line and help to attract and retain top-tier talent, says Melissa Elf, General Manager of FCM Travel Solutions Australia.


Melissa has been in the travel industry for more than 20 years, including a decade with travel management company (TMC) FCM Travel Solutions. The highly-regarded travel professional was appointed general manager for FCM Australia in January this year, after holding a number of senior roles with FCM and the Flight Centre Travel Group.


“During my career I’ve seen quite a few changes in the corporate travel sector,” Melissa said. “From a people and culture perspective, one of the most interesting has been the role of a company travel policy. A strategic and smart policy will do more than just help your bottom line savings… it can also make a big difference to the success of your company in terms of staff recruitment, retention and traveller productivity.”

With more managers spending more time on the road than ever before, an attractive travel policy has become a key tool for recruiting the high flyers who will help grow your business. Invest the time in developing a robust corporate travel policy and you will reap the rewards.

Here are some key things to consider along the way…


Getting ahead of the game

More than ever before, “road warriors”- people who spend a lot of time on the road - will not accept a job without examining the company’s travel policy. As well as looking for good remuneration and a challenging role, executives want to know their company gives them what they need when they are travelling for business.

That includes things like permission to travel during work hours as well as guaranteed four- to five-star accommodation. However, the fine print is also important. Road warriors want to stay in hotels that offer the amenities that make their life easier. They want breakfast included, or a choice of nearby cafes. They don’t have time to be dealing with slow WiFi, and they want a 24-hour concierge so that help is available when they need it. Another must-have: an in-house pool or gym, so that they can maintain some sort of exercise routine wherever they happen to be.


Talking tech

The companies that are getting it right often have one thing in common: they listen to their employees. For example, some travellers like the flexibility of being able to book their own accommodation or flights. Smart companies are facilitating this flexible environment by working with TMCs to streamline their technology platforms.

There is no one single solution that works for every company: it depends on the specific needs of your employees. However, it is worth bearing in mind that corporate travellers increasingly want to draw on the products they are already using in their personal travel – anything from Airbnb and Uber to the growing numbers of low-cost carriers. Ensuring that your corporate travel policy embraces new offerings and investing in technology that makes it easy for staff to book their own arrangements, is an essential step.


Keep it personal

Technology is not diminishing the role of a corporate travel manager, in fact, some would argue the role of a travel manager is even more important nowadays. The advice and support of a travel manager has become so critical for business travellers, that travel management companies and technology firms are proactively working to develop solutions that blend technology (for automation of simple tasks such as data entry) with the expertise of a consultant. By removing the more menial elements of a travel manager’s role with the help of technology, Travel managers are more productive and have more time to concentrate on the customer’s needs ensuring they have personal support from initial consultation through to reconciliation and beyond. It also means that travel managers can concentrate on service aspects such as emergency situations or travel disruptions where personal support is essential.

Over the past few years, travel risk management plans have become commonplace. However, best practice risk management is about more than protocols and processes – it is also about lending an ear.

When a crisis does happen – which could be anything from a weather event such as a cyclone or flooding, or an airline grounding its flights – affected travellers need to know that there is someone they can talk to. One of the essential roles of the travel manager is to provide personal support for a broad range of situations, both high and low risk, letting the traveller know that the company is looking out for them.


The bottom line

While an attractive corporate policy is a sure fire way for companies to set themselves apart from their competitors and attract top talent, there is no denying that when companies are looking to cut costs, travel is one of the first areas to be targeted.

As in all areas of a business, the best way to cut costs is to work smarter, not harder. For many companies, that means finding the right TMC partner. A good TMC should feel like an extension of your business. They will also know where to find the best cost savings without impacting the experience for your executives.

The biggest spend categories are, of course, air travel and hotels. The good news is that there are many ways to reduce costs that don’t involve choosing a lesser product or imposing restrictive policies on your high value executives. Changing your company’s buying behaviour, demand management and having complete visibility of aspects such as air credits on hold and leakage are all ways that companies can contain costs from the top down.

Finding better ways to source fares can significantly reduce costs. A company that keeps track of its corporate credits can often find big savings.