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The others? Which others?

Travel procurement: dealing with stakeholders

The traditional travel buyer has become outdated. At least in theory. As a current study has now shown, strategic, cross-departmental thinking and actions in plain language are still a foreign concept to the majority of travel managers. A classic case of shooting yourself in the foot.

Consultants, travel managers and associations have been issuing warnings for years. Warnings that the model of the traditional travel buyer has had its day and is no longer needed. They have been saying that the role of modern travel management is much more about directing the cooperation with other departments, „because in the company it is a sensitive interface between the conflicting priorities of safety, sustainability, data protection, compliance and revenue management“ (business travel analysis 2017 from the VDR association) – particularly in the era of digitalised (end-to-end) process chains. 

Have these calls yielded results? This is precisely what HRS wanted to find out, and in autumn it launched a survey of 400 travel managers around the world in cooperation with the market research company WBR Insights. This survey paid particular attention to the status of cross-departmental cooperation. To put it more precisely, what is the procedure when something new needs to be implemented, such as a new central payment tool or new travel guidelines? Or even if, as is the case at Siemens or Daimler, the entire travel culture needs to be digitalised?

The results are alarming. They show that "travel-related initiatives" regularly fail because other departments veto them or intervene in other ways. More than two thirds (70 per cent) of all travel managers admit that they have already been thwarted in this way. 

Understanding of internal stakeholders needs improvement
The study proves that the reason for this is that many travel managers still need to develop their understanding of internal stakeholders, or their relationships with other vested interest groups in the company. It is obvious that corporate travel can no longer function as a stand-alone unit, "because all processes upstream and downstream of a business trip also relate to other departments in the company", as Philip Kramer, HRS Director of Corporate Sales, points out. 

However, the general level of knowledge of colleagues' objectives is alarming. For example, only 35 per cent said that they had a good understanding of the key performance indicators (KPI) for their colleagues in the finance division; in terms of the HR department (14 per cent) or even IT (4 per cent), by the travel managers' own admissions the level of information is rudimentary at best. Even when it comes to the key performance indicators for their colleagues in procurement, i.e. the department in which travel management is usually housed, only fifty per cent of those questioned are "very well" informed.

However, without knowing the objectives that colleagues are working towards or the benchmarks used for their performance, the authors of the study conclude that any talks are also doomed to fail. On the other hand, travel managers who think and act on a strategic and cross-departmental basis not only have a success rate that is 27 per cent higher in terms of implementing their initiatives than those who are blinkered. In addition, their risk of encountering obstacles when involving stakeholders is just under twenty per cent lower.

Vektordata: Adobe Stock

Full schedule – or wrong priorities?
Thinking outside the box of travel management also needs development at an even more fundamental level. A clear majority of those questioned (71 per cent) admitted to having difficulties with actually identifying the stakeholders involved in the run-up to a project. In this context, respondents frequently blamed full schedules, which make prioritised involvement of potential stakeholders (i.e. departments which can be decisive in the success or failure of travel initiatives) much more difficult.

A more thorough look at the responses also certainly shows that those who have constant and good communication with other departments and have developed an understanding of their KPIs have fewer difficulties when initiating a change than colleagues who do not leave their comfort zone and accordingly know very little about how other departments work. 

Cross-departmental communication as a guarantee of success for travel projects
The study concludes that those who want to push their travel agenda forward must build bridges between their own department and others in the company. The fact that an understanding of the objectives of the respective counterpart is decisive in this process is demonstrated by the results of groups with a good knowledge of the KPIs of their internal colleagues. Members of this group are three times more likely to say that they find it "easy" or "very easy" to talk to colleagues about travel issues (12 versus 4 per cent); and while just under half of travel managers with poor KPI knowledge (49 per cent) state that dealing with internal stakeholders is a "significant barrier" for them, this figure is much lower for travel managers with a good understanding of objectives (31 per cent).

At this point, we need to mention Daimler and Siemens again. Both of these major players adopt a strategic end-to-end approach, which uses technological solutions to put the focus on travellers and support them both during, as well as before and after the trip. This simultaneously leads to increased transparency and lower process costs. At all levels. It is likely that none of the managers would have come up with the idea of doing this without involving their most important stakeholders. Or, as in the case of Siemens for example, without the support of external stakeholders such as Lufthansa (keyword: Direct Connect).

This is because the study also shows that even if travel managers show some understanding of individual departments similar to their own within the company, in spite of years of discussion around the subject of "traveller centricity", there is still an almost insurmountable gulf between travel managers and travellers. Almost three quarters (73 per cent) of those questioned admitted to having "very little" or "little" knowledge about the colleagues who used their travel service on a daily basis. The main reason for this is a lack of communication. More than one in ten of those questioned had no process for harmonising with the individual traveller, and overall more than half listened to their travellers no more than once a year. 

Integrating the mobile solution stakeholders is also indispensable
The authors of the study have also identified that the very same thing is true for the area in which travel management needs to build "with the support of its suppliers". This is because they have the "relevant systems to understand everyone's preferences". The study states: "In order to develop the necessary strategic overview of their company's travel system, travel managers must coordinate closely with other departments and get the best from their relationships with outsourcing partners."

The majority of travel managers questioned recognise this added value: 43 per cent stated that they are currently receiving support from suppliers with finding out more about the needs of their internal stakeholders, and a further 57 per cent would like more involvement in this area.