Expenses, Events, Policy, Technology

New Year's Resolution for Travel Managers

This year I’m going to establish the value of travel and my travel program to the executive management team at my company, based on metrics that go beyond the cost.

As we discuss in our latest video, at many companies the knee-jerk reaction to any negative economic news is to cut expense, and travel is often a primary target. The traditional thought process for many companies is a belt tightening exercise that often includes either reducing or eliminating travel.

This would suggest that the executive in charge believes travel’s impact is primarily on the expense side of the ledger, or that much of the travel being done is not critical to the company. And let’s face it – cutting expenses is a very good way to impact the bottom line.

Having been in sales roles for many years, I can attest to the value of the in-person meeting. No matter how good technology gets, nothing replaces the value of sitting and getting to know that critical decision maker. But how do you quantify the impact of that meeting on your results? That has been an age-old problem for the travel manager, and as an industry I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of quantifying the impact. In fact, we might overweigh “cost containment” as the primary objective of the travel program, which right off the bat suggests it’s some kind of necessary evil that has to be controlled.

Over the years, GBTA and others have conducted studies that mostly measure the impact by gauging “perceptions” which are often thought of as “soft” assessments versus hard facts. While most would not argue that in-person helps, can we definitively say that a meeting or series of meetings was the reason why a deal was closed? Can we even say with certainly that it was 50% or 75% responsible? 

To counter that perception, maybe it’s time to turn the conversation around by making some positive statements based on real information. What if you took a measure of your travel expense and associated it to company revenue, revenue growth, or some other hard metric used by your company as a key performance indicator? Then you take a backwards look and compare travel expense to performance against the key indicator of choice across a period of time that includes good and bad years. Call it the travel-to-revenue ratio. If the data works and a trend appears, maybe that would allow the travel manager to position the travel program differently.

In addition to focusing on cost containment and savings, they can also talk about maximizing value and how travel creates opportunity. The trend data might allow a travel manager to say, “A historical review of our revenue suggests a direct correlation to travel. The more we travel the higher the revenue,” or something like that. And when times turn a bit negative and the boss comes looking to reduce expenses, the armed-with-data travel manager can say, “Please note that by cutting travel expense, you could be cutting our revenue.” This might cause the knee to stop jerking. For a travel manager and program, that would be a good thing.