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Dynamic businesses are travelling smarter, faster and cheaper, too

BUSINESSES are spending 20-25 per cent less on travel than they were this time last year. The average cost of a business hotel room is down 18 per cent. There are 15 per cent fewer business trips being made than 12 months ago. So says Egencia, the corporate travel management company. The recession has had a big impact on the business travel market, and on companies that regularly send workers on business travel trips.<br /><br />But smart businesses don&rsquo;t have to suffer and the cleverer ones have been making the recession work for them. Caroline Allen, Regional Director, Northern and East Central Europe and Russia of ACTE, the global not-for-profit association for corporate travel executives, says that the recession is helping companies to make fairly profound changes. &ldquo;Travel policies are being enforced more strictly at the moment. There were previously people in large corporations who fell outside them, but this has been an opportunity to bring them in. The travel procurers have the ear of senior management at the moment.&rdquo;<br /><br />She also says that there has been a lot of talk about &ldquo;demand management&rdquo;&ndash; evaluating whether you need to travel, and if so exactly how. &ldquo;For example, taking a train after 9.30 when the tickets are cheaper, combining meetings and sometimes staying in a city overnight rather than taking a number of trips.&rdquo;<br /><br />International firms are also getting creative in choosing venues for meetings. &ldquo;For example, if you have people from America and Southern Europe getting together, then it can be better to meet in London.&rdquo;<br /><br />There are bargains to be made wherever you look. If a hotel room costs less than it used to, you can get better quality for the same price. And there are plenty of things that companies can do to reduce their travel spend. As Egencia&rsquo;s managing director Christophe Peymirat says: &ldquo;If you book in advance then you can get better prices.&rdquo; Companies are also paying more attention to developing close relationships with the big hotel chains. Shopping around for the cheapest room can be less effective in the long-term than having a longstanding deal. <br /><br /><strong>REDUCING WASTAGE</strong><br />Wastage is also being reduced. More businesses are making sure that they are claiming back for unused tickets, something which didn&rsquo;t always happen when money was easier to come by.<br /><br />Travelling by rail is an option, too, not only in the UK but for some European travel. &ldquo;Going to France and some other European countries, we have seen a definite increase. You can get from city centre to city centre, and you can really make better use of your time; for a trip under three hours, better to use rail than air&rdquo;<br /><br />Businesses in the UK are not good at using corporate travel websites to get the best prices, he says. &ldquo;They are having to learn now, and hopefully in the future they will continue this.&rdquo;<br /><br />For serious businesses, though, it is important to remember that things are more complicated than just looking after the bottom line. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s not always the cheapest ticket that will allow them to do their job properly,&rdquo; says Caroline Allen. And sometimes, there is just no alternative to putting somebody on a plane. &ldquo;In business, as with so much else in life, nothing beats face-to-face interaction.&rdquo;