Governments: Tips for working with a travel agency
If one way your government agency accomplishes its mission is through travel, a contractual relationship with a travel management company can be your best option for consolidating travel decisions and managing spending in this area.
Working with a travel agency is like hiring a consultant to help you better manage your travel budget. That may seem counterintuitive: Aren't you adding a "middle man" and the fees that go with that? In actuality, a highly effective travel management company offers a savings far beyond its fees — economies that are not available by going directly to airlines and hotels for bookings.
Even for state and local governments that already appreciate the value of bringing in travel experts to help them with travel, some are unaware of the benefits these third parties provide.
Selecting a Travel Agency
Comparing two travel management providers — one that charges $25 per ticket for booking and another that charges $35 — the choice might seem obvious: go with the lowest bidder. However, a $10 spread is within the competitive range, and the higher price might be supportable for a proven track record of more effective cost savings. For instance, in a $5 million budget, that amounts to a $100,000 difference between the highest and lowest prices. If one agency could successfully reduce your travel spend by 10 or 15 percent, that cost would be supportable.
In selecting a travel management partner, concentrate on what each travel agency is proposing to do, and carefully examine the agencies' track records for other government clients. Past performance is predictive of future outcomes.
To vet an agency, ask for their length of experience serving state or local government clients, and get references to ensure they are reputable. Procurement officials can evaluate travel agencies by determining whether they have:
- Clients of similar size;
- Knowledge of the marketplace;
- Airline, hotel and car rental agreements in places your travelers routinely visit; and,
- Deals with airlines that fly on routes that your employees frequently travel.
Tighten Your Travel Policy
Once your government entity has selected a travel management partner, make sure your travel policy reflects your agency's needs. Then, emphasize to employees how important it is to adhere to that policy. Government agencies with employees on travel have 24/7 responsibility for the traveler, under what is called "duty of care."
Allowing travelers to stay wherever they want could have tragic consequences, such as booking at a hotel that does not have a proper sprinkler system, or up-to-date inspections. Should a fire break out, and your traveler is injured, your agency would be liable for what has happened. The same is true if a traveler rents a car and has an accident on a trip.
By requiring travelers to be transparent about their travel plans, and to check in with your agency, itineraries and travel reports are generated, making it possible to reach travelers in an emergency and ensure their safety as much as possible.
Tracking Experiences, Generating Reports
Your contract with a travel agency will determine what activities are included in reporting. Be clear about what details you need to track. These reports will allow you to manage "spend," and they can help you identify where violations of the travel policy — going "off program" — occur, so those situations can be addressed.
Regular surveys are another component that should be part of your agreement with the travel agency to gauge travelers' experiences with the airlines, hotels and rental companies you use, so the agency receives timely feedback about all providers and can make adjustments as needed.
Creating a strong relationship with a travel agency can bring your government entity a substantial savings and, just as important, give your travelers and the people who manage them, peace of mind.
Goran Gligorovic is executive vice president of Omega World Travel, a global travel management company. Based in Fairfax, Va., Omega services government, corporate, meeting, and leisure clients throughout the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Gligorovic wrote about 2013 government travel trends here.