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Managing Travel: Streamlining Suppliers

Should you use one worldwide agency or several local ones? This four-part plan can help you think global and reduce travel costs.

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Cost-cutting businesses have long tried to wheedle down their rosters of suppliers, focusing only on the right partners and improving prices as a result. That “rationalization of suppliers” applies to travel departments too–and, more and more, it requires a global perspective. But taking your managed-travel program global isn’t as daunting as it may seem.

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While many companies stumble in trying to streamline their partnerships and procedures, the process can be boiled down to four steps. For each of these phases, we’ve outlined common problems, along with suggested solutions that have worked for other businesses.

The Current State
First, figure out where you are with your managed-travel program. Answer the following questions: What is our baseline for measuring costs, savings, and opportunities? What issues and opportunities arise from the way we are configured now?

Common Problem: While this step may seem fundamental, companies often find it to be the most difficult, for a number of reasons. Data can be hard to come by, company personnel can be less than enthusiastic about taking on another project, and travel suppliers may create roadblocks to prevent good analysis. One client of ours had spent nine months — nine months! — trying to pull together a list of all the travel agencies they were using.

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Suggested Solution: Ensure the support of management. This can be from the local level or from the boardroom, just as long as it help you jump over any data-gathering hurdles.

The Desired State
Decide what you want to achieve — what’s the end goal? It must be clearly defined so that all involved know whether the rationalization of suppliers worked. This will require a sharp focus on dealing with current events (airline bankruptcies and airfare changes) as well future related events (whether airlines continue their full participation in the current sales channels — i.e., global distribution systems and travel agencies). Determine whether you prefer one global supplier, or a supplier for every region, or one for every country. A client of ours went from using 277 agencies to only one. Also consider questions of culture, technological possibilities, and process efficiencies that wrap around the entire project.

Common Problem: Lack of clarity. Companies can quickly point out what they don’t like, but often find it more difficult to summarize what they want. Challenges can also arise from attempting to decide on one desired state when surrounded by a rapidly changing environment.

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Suggested Solution: Clarity is easily achieved once the “must haves” have been outlined. “Must haves” can be broadly categorized into service, technology, security, and ancillary services. And properly framing the issues to be solved keeps the team focused.

The Transitional State
Prepare the path forward. This includes building the team, organizing the process, shaping and setting the scope of the project. Consider this the John the Baptist phase.

Common Problem: Often, neither the right team nor the right framework is put in place at the beginning of the project. This results in inefficient teams, stalled decision-making, and confusion about the process. Teams often allow project creep to begin, changing the very nature of the endeavor.

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Suggested Solution: Identifying the right team means choosing the appropriate level of personnel and defining roles and responsibilities–at the very start. Ensuring that the process is consistent across each country and region minimizes misunderstandings and helps set clear milestones and checkpoints.

Many teams want to tackle each and every problem as it arises. Don’t. Companies can get off track by taking on too many “good” initiatives. Limit your project to the most critical items. Focus on those key wins (or “must haves”) during the project, rather than trying to do it all. Remember, the good is often the enemy of the best.

The Action State
It’s now time to put into movement all the planning and analysis that has come before, closing the gap between the current and desired states. This step of the process is very much like stretching a rubber band — if you let go of the front (desired state) the band will move backwards (the current state). This creative tension is good so long as it pulls us toward the desired state.

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Common Problem: Organizations that don’t follow the order and details previously described can often end up with project chaos. Choosing champions, engaging stakeholders, prioritizing key criteria and unifying the process are often overlooked in the eagerness to get going. Remember: Fire, Fire, Fire is not as successful as Ready, Aim, Fire.

Suggested Solution: Follow the steps we’ve noted. Following a logical and sequential process ensures completion of all relevant points, encompasses all critical considerations, and naturally moves the team toward best practices. Lastly, don’t forget to continually communicate and educate your audience — helping all concerned parties with greater understanding ensures the rubber band snaps only forward.