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Booking Business Travel: A Travel Manager’s Guide

The business travel market is absolutely huge. In 2019, business travel spend hit 1.29 trillion U.S. dollars. Even in 2020, which saw spend reach a 20-year low, corporate travel accounted for 504 billion U.S. dollars globally. But it’s all broken up into little pieces: flights, transfers, car rentals, meeting spaces, hotel bookings, expenses management – it’s so fragmented. For Travel Managers, Executive Assistants and Finance teams, it can be hard enough to arrange business travel for one person, let alone a group or multiple itineraries.

Business travel is complicated, but TMCs (Travel Management Companies) are there to help. They use advanced tools – like HotelHub’s hotel booking software – to simplify the process and provide the best experience for travelling teams.

But for any business travel booking to be successful, you need to have goals, a budget – and some ground rules. So, before we get into booking business travel, let’s talk about guidelines and needs that business travel meets.

Know your company’s travel policy guidelines

Some startup companies and fledgling organisations won’t have any guidelines for travel – but many of the rules that apply to bigger companies will still apply.

Your travel policy would be set and maintained by Finance and Travel Managers, and should outline your company’s rules and procedures on booking, approving, and expensing business travel. It will include rules on things like:

  • Whether an employee can fly economy, business, or first class
  • How far in advance trips need to be agreed and booked
  • Insurance details and disclosures
  • What employees need to consider when travelling alone
  • Expenses – what’s allowed, what’s not, and how to claim them

Travel policy guidelines are usually very detailed – outlining the process, from request to approval, and on to booking and expense claims. It should indicate acceptable cost ranges for all items, with exceptions for known high-cost or high-risk areas.

The travel policy may also include preferred suppliers, and give information on how trips that fall outside the travel policy limits should be submitted for approval.

Your company’s travel policy guidelines will set the framework for how, when, and why you book business travel. It’s there to protect the company, but it’s also there to protect travelling members of the team – and Travel Managers.

Know your business travel goals

At the most basic level, business travel moves members of your team to work in a different location temporarily. Tied into this goal will be several sub-goals: employee safety and satisfaction, meeting budget requirements, and hitting approved timescales.

Business travel is essential for almost all companies and organisations that can’t operate in an all-digital way. Video conferencing and remote work, while brought into prominence during the pandemic, are far from new – but some work can’t be done remotely.

Take engineering projects, where skilled workers need to be moved: IT and data centre installations can be short but intense, requiring a specialist team on site. Or construction, or specialist healthcare – in-person, physical work that needs specific skills in a specific place.

People in journalism, media, film, music, arts and entertainment industries are heavily reliant on travel for their work. And of course, meetings, conferences and exhibitions are among the most talked about purposes for business travel. And how about workers in the travel industry itself? They need to travel for everything from hotel openings to press events.

Even emergency evacuations for staff caught in disasters or conflict overseas could fall under the business travel banner – but that’s always going to be a special circumstance, and the travel policy should include special arrangements in place for dealing with evacuations.

Duty of care is one of the main reasons for having a travel policy. It safeguards travelling employees by using approved booking tools, logging their position according to the itinerary and helping them as much as possible should the worst happen.

These are just some of the goals that business travel can fulfill – and to achieve them, you’ll need to work to a process, using your travel policy as your guide.

How to book business travel, step by step

Step 1 – safety first

The pandemic isn’t over, and conflicts are ever-present. Employees travelling solo may need additional protections and safeguarding. Know the exit strategy, emergency procedures, and checkpoints for solo travellers. Keep this at the forefront of your thought whenever you’re booking business travel.

Step 2 – plan: where, when, and why

Let’s say you need to move a three-person IT team to install a rack of specialist hardware at a new data centre location. The installation will take a day, with an additional two allocated days for testing, software installation and configuration.

The project is time-sensitive, and requires sensitive technology to travel – so you’ll have to factor this into your flight and ground transfer plans.

You’ll need a suitable hotel booking for multiple rooms; close to the work site and on budget, but at a hotel that will give your team the comfort and rest they need to do their best work.

Allocate time for rest and unforeseen circumstances. Although three days are prescribed for the job, travel can be exhausting – and even the most effective teams can run into snags on a project. The budget will need to allow for additional expenses, too, like spare parts procured on site.

Try to plot this in detail, and consult your team on their needs. Refer to the travel policy at all times, to make sure the plan will be approved before moving on to booking.

Step 3 – transport

The best airfare might not always be desirable if it means sacrificing time, splitting your team up, or adding on specialist cargo. If the best price is your only goal, then your job (or your TMC’s job) will be simpler, but that may come at a different cost to your team.

Ground transfers to and from the airport, and daily commutes to the work site must be considered. Rental cars need to be booked where appropriate. Keep records of all bookings, and double-check names and numbers at every stage.

Step 4 – booking hotels and accommodation

Depending on the duration, lodging is likely to be among the biggest costs of business travel, and one of the most important as it will profoundly affect your teams’ quality of life (and work) while they’re away from home.

Hotel bookings for business travel could be the best solution, but other lodgings are available – like shared houses or apartments for teams working away for longer periods, or corporate housing. Generally speaking, it’ll be a hotel – and there are some things to remember when you come to book.

Appropriate accommodation, close to work

If the business is travelling for an event or conference at a hotel, it makes sense to try to secure lodging there – but events can lead to a lack of room capacity at the venue, so be prepared to find the next best location.

Finding a hotel with the right amenities, capacity, and location – at the right price – can be challenging; but hotel booking software, like the HotelHub self-booking tool, can make the process of sourcing and approving accommodation far simpler, for Travel Managers and employees alike.

For example, HotelHub’s integrated map view also helps users find nearby hotels, detailing whether they are in-policy or out-of-policy – making it much simpler to source the right accommodation at a glance. Content can also be highly curated, to show only suitable hotels based on business travel policies or individual clients’ preferences.

Group hotel bookings

Group hotel bookings may not be possible on consumer hotel booking systems. You may be able to submit a request to your preferred hotel for custom pricing, but this can take more time and generate additional expenses.

Specialist, integrated hotel booking software is the cleanest solution. HotelHub offers Travel Management Companies access to over two million unique hotels, with rates from multiple suppliers, and seamless integration with all best-in-class travel management solutions. (Find out more)

Step 5 – create a detailed itinerary

Once travel and lodging are agreed and booked, collate all the information about the journey: flights, ground transfers, rental cars, hotel bookings, contact information – plus all times and dates. Include maps and details of the working environment or meeting space, too.

The itinerary should be very detailed but simple and clear – allowing your team to do their job while only having to refer to the itinerary for guidance.

Step 6 – tracking and paying back expenses

Make sure your travelling team knows the relevant parts of the travel policy on expenses – what’s allowed and what’s not. Decide if you’ll provide a company credit card to all parties or one team leader, and give them a guideline daily budget.

Tracking and calculating taxes on expenses is easier with a company credit card – but there are risks, even if you trust your team explicitly, such as loss and theft. A specialist travel payments provider (with digital apps) might be more effective for your business travel requirements.

Virtual cards are predicted to become major players in this area, particularly for business hotel bookings. Virtual cards allow for smarter corporate spending, replacing the plastic card and combining all business travel expenses automatically, in one place.

Related: HotelHub forecasts surge in virtual card use and shift to offline bookings following SCA enforcement

Virtual cards, or vcards, are generated for a specific purchase amount or number of transactions. Each card is loaded with an approved amount for a specific need, and becomes inactive once the approved threshold is reached. This makes vcards highly secure.

The other benefit for corporates and travellers is that vcards are frictionless – the hotel sees that a vcard is on file for that booking, and there’s no need to present a card upon check-in, providing a far better travel experience.

Business travel is complicated…

As you can tell, booking business travel is complicated, and this is just a beginner’s introduction. There are so many moving parts, and keeping track of it all requires an experienced TMC – and rock-solid travel management technology.

HotelHub – smarter hotel booking software

We’re HotelHub. Our smart hotel booking software for Travel Management Companies makes booking business travel simpler than ever before. Want to learn more? Get in touch.