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Exploring the Strategic Role of Today’s Corporate Travel Manager

Posted August 10, 2015


In the not too distant past, when a business traveler needed to take a trip, interaction with whoever handled their travel arrangements was minimal. Someone in the human resources department or a representative from the corporate travel agency would schedule their flights, book a hotel stay, and help them get their travel expenses reimbursed. But today, business leaders count on their corporate travel manager for more than handling trip-related transactions.

Travel management professionals are becoming strategic partners, their skill set growing to encompass supplier relations, data analytics, corporate communications, and more. Today’s corporate travel manager (even if they’re working in a third-party capacity through a travel agency) is a part of the global executive team—impacting their company’s success in reaching financial goals, achieving employee satisfaction, and maintaining a productive workforce.

Becoming Part of the Strategic Dialogue

As their role becomes less tactical and more strategic, travel managers are learning how to connect the dots between the company’s goals and the objectives of its travel program. They’re expected to answer this call in 5 important ways:

1. Support the Bottom Line. C-suite decision-makers are careful to make certain that investments in their travel program result in revenue. Travel managers are the first in line to understand and control their company’s travel costs—from the big picture to the minutiae. Building and maintaining winning relationships with suppliers and other business partners is critical to helping travel managers reap savings, as is optimizing every step of the travel management process, from expense pre-approval through program evaluation.

2. Make Sense of Metrics. Travel managers use analytics to help them make the most of their resources and demonstrate the travel program’s value to company stakeholders. Working with other company leaders to identify goals and benchmarks—and the type of data needed to answer key program performance questions—the travel manager needs comfort with “Big Data” concepts and applications to support informed decision-making. A command of metrics also helps them effectively reconcile expense reports and boost their negotiating power.

3. Manage Travel Policies. Travel managers are called upon to create, communicate, enforce, and continually adjust their corporate travel policies. They’re at the helm of ensuring their business travel policy is understood by employees, reinforced by leaders across the company, and aligned with sourcing initiatives. The consequences of non-compliance can be costly—so travel managers have to stay ahead and on top of all policy issues.

4. Drive Technological Innovation. Technology stands behind just about every process and system innovation in the travel management industry. And travel managers stand behind every travel program-related tech decision. They’re in charge of choosing, using, and evaluating their company’s travel technology solutions, which might include online booking tools, mobile apps, and expense management software. Like their counterparts in other areas of the company, travel managers need to show how their tech tools add value (and a good ROI) to the big picture, and keep up with the market for what’s new.

5. Keep Travelers Productive.  One of the primary ways travel managers leverage technology is for employee productivity—so they don’t miss a beat while they’re on the road. A Virgin Atlantic study revealed that 1 in 4 business travelers get their best ideas while traveling. Their travel manager can make sure they have the devices and resources work, connect, and collaborate, whether they’re at a business lunch, sitting on an airplane, or relaxing in their hotel room.

What are other ways the corporate travel manager’s role has changed to become more strategic? Let us know in the comments.


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