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Posted December 27, 2016

communicate travel policy

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Do your organization’s globetrotters regularly book their flights out-of-channel, traverse destination cities using noncompliant ride-sharing services or submit expense reports containing non-reimbursable purchases? If so, they’re not necessarily looking for trouble. A study conducted by the GBTA Foundation in partnership with HRS concluded that business travelers’ out-of-compliance behaviors do not usually represent an unwillingness to cooperate or follow the rules; rather, it’s a lack of understanding caused by a breakdown in communication between company travel professionals and travelers.

When Perception is Reality

Consider these highlights from the GBTA Foundation/HRS study of North American and European business travelers, Travel Policy Communication: Understanding Disconnects and Increasing Compliance:

  • 79% of business travelers report their company’s travel policy has the greatest impact on their decision when booking travel for work, ahead of convenience (71%) and cost (70%)
  • There are sizable gaps between how often travel professionals think their travelers use approved booking channels to make arrangements and what business travelers are actually doing:
    • Booking flights (90% vs. 63%)
    • Booking rental cars (81% vs. 57%)
  • There are major gaps exist between:
    • Valued amenities by travelers and what they actually use
    • Traveller use of amenities and how often it is built into contracts; and the frequency with which travellers are reimbursed for an amenity or ancillary expense that was already included in pre-negotiated deals.

These results unveil the reality, for many companies, that travel managers and travelers are not on the same page—at least, not entirely. Because travelers will act according to what they perceive as “in compliance” with their travel policy, corporate travel professionals have the opportunity to take control of their internal communications and promote was is—and isn’t—appropriate booking and expense behavior, along with everything in-between.

Actionable Tips for Corporate Travel Managers

If effectively communicating the ins and outs of your organization’s travel policy to employees is rising to the top of your list, you’re in great company. Visa and Deloitte Consulting teamed up to uncover best practices followed by “best in class” companies to Communicate Enterprise-wide Travel Policies and Procedures. They found that successful organizations regularly communicate travel guidelines as well as the impact compliance has on the organization, including cost savings and process efficiencies to employees. They outline these benefits of doing so:

  • Control and Compliance – Clear travel policies and procedures increase employee’s understanding of travel restrictions, mandates, and policy updates, helping companies achieve a greater level of control.
  • Cost Savings and Process Efficiency – Increased compliance with travel policies including the use of preferred travel suppliers and payment by corporate card results in cost savings and payment process efficiencies.
  • User Satisfaction – Comprehensive travel policies and requirements provide employees with a clear process for travel planning and booking.

Here are some tips to help you develop a winning communications plan:

  1. Know Your Employee Base

An important finding came out of the GBTA Foundation/HRS research: a one-size-fits-all approach is not the way to go. Employees have varying levels of experience and familiarity with both business travel and policy compliance, and they have different preferences for how they want to receive information about their program. Look at these study statistics:

  • Age:
    • Millennials, who may need more detailed guidance, prefer to learn about company polices at an in-person meeting (51%).
    • Generation X and Baby Boomers, on the other hand, prefer “quicker” electronic methods like email (52% and 69%, respectively) and company intranet postings (47% and 53%, respectively).
  • Region:
    • Europeans have a slightly stronger preference than North Americans for email as the ideal method for communicating travel policy (60% vs. 53%), and a much stronger preference for using the company Intranet (51% vs. 34%).
    • The employee handbook is used in 49% of North American companies and only 29% of European companies.

These results may or may not be surprising—or even representative of your particular workforce. The insights are useful, but they shouldn’t inform your approach, at least not entirely. Spend some time learning about your employees and what they need to buy-in to their travel policy and follow its guidelines.

  1. Use Multiple Communication Channels

As evidenced by that last set of data, it’s not a good idea to make assumptions about how your employees prefer to receive communications. You’re most likely to succeed by covering your bases, anyway, and providing information using various forms for both traditional and non-traditional media:

  • Face-to-face
  • Printed materials
  • Webinars
  • Intranet
  • Video
  • E-mails
  • Newsletters
  • Social media
  • Texts/Mobile

And the old adage applies here: communicate early and often. Use the communication methods your employees like, and keep messages in front of them on a regular basis. You’ll introduce new concepts, reinforce old ones, generate interest in learning more, motivate participation in compliant behavior, alert employees when they’ve booked out-of-policy…your communications can go far to support your program and its success.

  1. Address the Process, End-to-End

Be sure you’re covering a breadth of topics related to your travel policy and program, from research and booking through payment and expenses. What’s more, it’s wise to up the ante when travelers are entering higher-risk situations.

The GBTA Foundation/HRS survey revealed one of six business travellers say they do not receive any additional information before going to high-risk areas. Dig deeper in 3 Duty of Care Best Practices for Today’s Corporate Travel Managers.

  1. Incentify

The Visa and Deloitte Consulting study revealed that some organizations use proactive methods like incentive programs to drive policy awareness and compliance, such as payments for selecting low cost travel options to point systems where employees accrue points for compliance, with redeemable prizes at certain levels.

  1. Solicit Feedback.

This is on every communicator’s To Do list. It’s simply good practice to involve employees in any initiative that involves them—that requires their attention and participation. This step needn’t take too much time, and travel managers can find a method that works best for their employee base. Post-trip surveys (paper-based or online) and quarterly or annual “think tank” or focus group meetings with employees are both effective ways to collect feedback. And yes, feel free to offer an incentive for providing opinions. And naturally, you’ll work their suggestions into future iterations of your travel policy—make sure employees know this. Taking this step helps achieve buy-in and makes employee feel like they’re valued and that the quality of their experiences matter and make an impact on program design now and into the future.

For more insights into the varying preferences and priorities between travel managers and employees—as well as more communication tips—see Meeting the Needs of Your Company’s Business Travelers Starts with Communication and Feedback and Hotel Procurement: Travel Managers Balance Administration, Costs, and the Employee Experience

Travel 2.0: The Basics of Open Booking

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