Defining Policy


a:  management or procedure based primarily on material interest
b:  a definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives and in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decisions

Policy has been a foundational part of almost every managed travel program. It is often the first question asked when one endeavors to learn more about a particular travel program, as in “What is your travel policy?” The answer could be, “We have a loose (or strong) policy,” or even, “We don’t have a policy,” but we start almost every conversation with the word “policy.”

Tenets like cost management, control and compliance have formed the foundational principles for those whose responsibility it is to watch company expenses. So the word “policy,” or following a definite course of action to come to a decision, brings a lot more comfort than a general rule or piece of advice.  But if you put yourself in the shoes of those consuming the travel program versus those building it, things change quite a bit.  

For that reason I think it might be time for a subtle but important change.     

Guideline: guide·line
a general rule, principle, or piece of advice.

While some would argue there is very little difference, the thought of providing a piece of advice or a general rule is a pretty dramatic shift, particularly as one gets further from the place where the travel program is built and run.

Travel, even for work, still has a very personal component to it. While it can be exciting, it often involves sacrificing time away from family and giving up a full night’s sleep. As such, the process of buying it has always been more complicated than buying other corporate products (e.g., PC or office supplies) and services (e.g., company provided health insurance). Reacting to the demands of their employees, many companies have modified their approach when providing employee services to accommodate for personal taste. It was not that long ago that Apple products were only found in schools, art studios or at home, as corporate IT departments found supporting multiple operating systems inefficient and costly.  Today many companies support a “bring your own device” mantra, which reflects a concession to the requests or in some cases, demands of their employees.  

Fueled by advances in technology and newly introduced business models, today’s travel program is moving in the same direction. Make no mistake, all the chatter today about ground transportation is fueled by travelers and their personal preference to use a ride-hailing app – and what they view as a more efficient travel experience, versus something coming from the travel department.  

I therefore think the days of starting the conversation about a travel program with a question about policy are rapidly drawing to a close. The informed travel manager, when asked about their travel program, will say, “My role is to provide the best possible advice to the travelers I support so they can get their job done,” and, “while I’m doing that, I’m also negotiating preferred relationships with suppliers who understand and support the goals of my travelers.” 

 Policy or guidelines?  What do you think?