Selecting a Travel Consultant
Frequent travel remains a critical element of today's business culture, but the associated excessive costs are showing no sign of relenting. In fact, travel industry experts are citing airfare hikes of up to 7 percent throughout 2007 as leading airlines attempt to become more profitable.
Because of this trend, it is critical for businesses across the board to reevaluate travel management methods to prevent huge increases in overall travel expenditures throughout 2007 and beyond. Of these methods, the initial and most important step a business can take is to employ the services of an experienced travel consultant who can implement proven cost-saving techniques to help protect a company's travel budget.
By using an experienced travel consultant with long-standing relationships with air carriers, hotels, and other vendors spanning several years, companies have access to undisclosed fares that simply aren't available to business travelers who book online or directly with vendors.
In the interest of protecting not only the sanity of your travelers but the size of your travel budget, an experienced travel consultant is often the best solution. The following questions will help identify such a firm with the proper experience and understanding of the business travel climate to become a valuable partner to your company.
1. Who will I speak to when booking corporate travel? An experienced travel consultant assigns a specific agent to each client's account, as opposed to shuffling each call to a randomly chosen staff member who may not understand a traveler's specific needs. By developing a one-on-one relationship with each traveler, a travel consultant can quickly understand and respond to particular travel desires and needs, such as what destinations a traveler typically frequents, preferred hotels, and typical arrival and departure times. This exclusive relationship allows the frequent traveler rapid, uncomplicated booking and the most enjoyable travel experience possible.
2. Can I reach you after hours? Look for travel consultants with extended regular business hours, allowing for bookings after 5 p.m., as well as a 24-hour backup line for emergencies occurring outside of extended normal business hours. With such a customer-focused system in place, the travel consultant will always be on call to work as an advocate for the traveler should plans change or questions arise after hours.
3. What's your relationship with vendors? Perhaps the most valuable tool a travel consultant can leverage on behalf of a client is an established, long-standing relationship with various airlines, hotels, and rental car companies. An experienced corporate travel consultant will typically have relationships with these vendors spanning several years, which not only allows its clients access to undisclosed rates, but a number of other key advantages, including the ability to:
Obtain lodging in overbooked hotels
Negotiate first-class upgrades when they aren't otherwise available
Open seat assignments that are blocked
By taking advantage of this unique relationship between the travel consultant and vendors, businesses can protect travel budgets without sacrificing traveler comfort.
4. What's the most effective way to book my travel? In today's point-and-click business world, an online booking interface is an essential and useful tool for arranging travel, but a travel consultant should also make it easy to book the "old-fashioned" way, or offline. With this capability agents can easily be reached by phone when online access isn't available to plainly discuss typical travel complications like multiple layovers and connecting flight problems.
5. What are my options if my travel schedule suddenly changes? Last-minute travel changes are an often unavoidable occurrence for the frequent traveler. Choose a travel consultant with strategies in place to efficiently respond to these last-minute changes, such as the know-how to:
Void or adjust departure dates for nonrefundable tickets when a trip is cancelled or changed and recover airfare expenses that would have otherwise been lost.
Rely on its relationship with air carriers to secure a seat on crowded or even overbooked flights, ensuring the traveler arrives at his intended destination, even in an emergency situation.
Obtain a room in a booked hotel for trips extended or changed at the eleventh hour.
Employing a travel consultant with the expertise to handle these situations ensures that last-minute business trips or changes in itinerary are not only possible, but affordable.
6. What accounting services do you offer? An experienced travel consultant understands the unique needs of the companies it serves, and will offer a series of accounting services to ensure accurate bookkeeping for its clients, such as:
Regular, detailed travel expense reports
The ability to employ and enforce various travel policies depending on whether the travel is billable or nonbillable
The flexibility to offer custom-designed invoices
These services save an enormous amount of time and labor costs when preparing expense reports, and also ensure that each traveler is adhering to the company's established corporate travel policy, potentially saving thousands of travel dollars per year.
7. What additional services do you offer? For a frequent traveler with a rigorous travel schedule, it is often the little things that make travel bearable. An experienced travel consultant that takes the time to develop valuable relationships with its clients will offer a level of customer service that is unmatched by impersonal booking tools such as booking online or directly with vendors. Look for a travel management firm that offers an array of value-added, customer-friendly services, such as the ability to:
Book limo transfers during travel
Upgrade a traveler's frequent flier status
Process visas for international travel
Enroll travelers in car rental expedited services at no charge
While these additional services typically range from trivial and time-consuming tasks to valuable, budget-saving techniques, having an experienced travel consultant on hand to provide such services will pay dividends in making travel comfortable and cost-effective.
Working with a travel consultant is not always the most common practice in today's fast-paced, online world, but doing so can ultimately save companies considerable amounts of both time and money. By utilizing the unique, customer-focused services a travel consultant offers, a skilled travel management firm will consistently ensure low fares and hassle-free travel, ultimately increasing the bottom line.
About the Author
Glen Stewart is president of Gray's Travel Management. Please visit www.graystravel.com.