Everybody loves their travel agent. (Whether they should or not. That’s a hot topic for another time…) But, it is true. That time the CEO was stuck in Reno and airports were snowed out all across the Northwest and your travel agent saved the day and got him home in no time flat. These kinds of performances create loyal customers and they should. But what happens when you combine two companies through merger, or acquisition, and both firms love different travel agencies?
At Teplis Travel we’ve had a lot of experience merging travel programs. In the fifty years we’ve been providing corporate travel service we’ve had the occasion to consolidate accounts too many times to count. (Hundreds of times. Really.) And it’s usually a process that encounters resistance from one of its members…the company being merged…though sometimes the process is easier when the merged company has been having problems with the “old” agency. But these are the exception, not the rule, and most often there is heavy resistance, due to an attachment to the way things have been done in the past.
So, how to get past this reluctance and bring about unity and conformity, resulting in a travel program that will really work for travelers, travel arrangers and travel managers?
The answer is always information.
- Consolidated Fares. The most important benefit of consolidation is the effect a larger spend will have on supplier discounts. The added air travel spend may be enough to warrant an airline contract where one was not possible a year ago. Or the travel profile of the added spend may bring new top city pairs into the mix which can be parlayed to prompt existing suppliers to offer better discounts, or, more likely, to attract rival suppliers into a bidding situation for this new entity’s business.
- Duty of Care. Taking responsibility for employee safety out on the road has become increasingly important in the age of pandemics. This job is impossible to do without knowing who is out traveling and where they are. Having all traveler information available for quick review in one place simplifies a speedy response to trip disruptions. Plus, the resources needed to respond properly, either a travel security partner like Crisis24 or International SOS, or at the very least, an in-house crisis response team, are more cost-effective when done once rather than twice.
- Travel Policy Enforcement. Some of the most effective cost-reduction strategies revolve around getting your travel policy right. While differences in corporate culture might dictate different choices in room types, or ground transportation preferences, these variances are easily handled by creating separate policy groups, within your overall policy where various booking options are matched to traveler rank, or employee type. VIPs might be given a higher acceptable room rate, while rank-and-file travelers might face more restrictive rates. A good TMC can customize your travel policy and how its implemented to address these differences, while keeping focus on those directives which can really affect your bottom line. Like advance booking periods, car insurance and vehicle refueling.
This information can be used to show travelers WHY their travel agency is being changed. It may not satisfy their frustration at having to make an unwanted change, but it can show them the facts behind why the organization is pushing the innovation.
Having the right attitude toward this process is essential.
You’re not just pushing your policy and program on the new acquisition and their travelers. You need to understand why their policy is the way it is, and how it works for them in terms of their suppliers and other key choices. You may even decide that the easiest way forward is to have two separate policies, while ensuring the important factors have been addressed in both.
As always, keeping open lines of communication between primary departments (finance, security, IT, human resources) in both organizations will increase cooperation and will be the basis for a merged travel committee during future reviews.
Combine this with regular internal communications (email updates and newsletters) to keep your (new) regular travelers appraised of the situation.
And finally, consider timing. One of our clients (who does a lot of acquisitions) has a policy of not mandating an agency change for several months after closing the deal. This gives travelers time to use unused credits, and more importantly, time for getting used to the idea of change.