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Last updated: 26 Oct, 2017  

SME.Thmb.jpg How SMEs can write effective corporate travel policies

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Vishal Sinha | 26 Oct, 2017
India is the world's fastest growing major business travel market. According to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), business travel spend in India is forecast to reach close to USD 37 billion in 2017, and India is expected to become the world's sixth largest business travel market by 2019.

A large part of this growth is being driven by small and medium enterprises (SMEs). It is estimated that India has close to 50 million SMEs, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the gross domestic product. As Indian SMEs continue expanding nationwide and overseas, their expenditure on travel will rise significantly.

Still, "managed travel" is a fairly new concept for many of these companies. Managed travel refers to having practices and policies that control the way employees book business travel, which can help a company get a handle on its total spend. We've found that a well-executed managed travel program can save a company approximately 15% on its travel spend in the first year it’s implemented.

At the foundation of any solid travel program is an effective corporate travel policy. Here are a few best practices that companies should follow when creating their corporate travel policy.

(1)    Define your objectives. These could include keeping costs down, ensuring employees are safe and comfortable and helping them make decisions on their travel.

(2)    Align your travel policy with your corporate culture. When writing a corporate travel policy document, one size doesn’t fit all. Start by thinking about the nature of your organization – is it pretty strict or relaxed? Make sure your travel policy follows the same tone.

(3)    Ensure your travel policy reflects your travelers' needs. Consider the most common destinations for your business travelers and the best way to get to them. Address specific needs or considerations related to your company’s activities. For example, if you have many employees whose job involves last-minute travel – as is often the case at consulting companies – then a strict advance booking policy might not make sense for your organization.

(4)    Set clear guidelines for all aspects of travel. Your travel policy needs to be all-encompassing so it leaves no room for doubt – that includes everything from airline booking rules to the policy on areas such as additional expenses and the acceptance of gifts.

Focus first on getting the fundamentals in order – a proper approvals process, along with guidelines on bookings and reservations, on-site spending and expenses – and then start looking at other areas.

(5)    Give your employees options. Everyone likes to have a choice, so try to give your employees a selection of hotels or airlines. You can keep costs down by capping the hotel star rating or class of airline ticket.

(6)    Incorporate a clear expense policy and set limits: Establishing a clear and fair expenses policy is vital to the health of your business – poor management of travel expenses costs your business money. For the most part, business travelers want to do what’s right for their company – and many companies find that giving employees control over their own spend can actually reduce overspending. Find a happy middle ground by giving employees control while setting key limits.

(7)    Consider and make provisions for your employee's safety & security: The safety, security and well-being of employees must be at the heart of every corporate travel policy. While they’re engaged in business travel, your employees are your responsibility, so it’s crucial your policy has procedures in place that can ably respond to personal risk, severe weather or political unrest in a foreign country

(8)    Keep it clear and simple: Once you've written your corporate travel policy, you need to ensure your employees read and understand it. Keep the policy short, avoid jargon, and create a list of FAQs. Work with your HR department to have the corporate travel policy included as part of the induction program for new employees.

Highlight how important it is that your employees read the document, not least for their own safety, and clarify what they need to do in an emergency situation, as well as who they’d need to contact.

It's important keep reviewing your corporate travel policy. Flexibility is key, and your travel policy and procedures should be open to the changing requirements of your employees and your business. It’s good practice to involve employees in any initiative that affects them. It will help make your corporate travel policy evolve to become even better with suggestions incorporated into future iterations of the document.

(The Author - Vishal Sinha is the Chief Executive Officer of Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) India. He is a member of CWT’s Asia Pacific Leadership Team and is based in Gurgaon, India. The views expressed are personal.)
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