When the recession started to bite in 2008/2009, companies frantically looked around for ways to save money. Some began to curtail business travel. Paul Wait, Chief Executive of the GTMC, the representative body for travel management companies in the UK, thinks that those who did were making a mistake. “It's the very last thing a company should do,” he says. “If I was an investor it would say to me that you're not going to see your customers to maintain existing relationships, which makes you vulnerable to competitors. And if you're not keeping existing customers happy, you're certainly not travelling to find new business.”

With the economy doing better, however, business travel is set to grow in 2016 among SMEs. Yet efficiency remains important, which is why the use of organisations using travel management companies (TMCs) is expected to rise. “The message is getting through,” says Wait. “Businesses are saying: 'We've got to travel, but we've got to do it affordably.'”

Options

The role of TMCs, says Wait, is to cut through business travel confusion and help companies find the best deals. It's certainly a crowded sector and includes scheduled air, private jet, hotel accommodation, serviced apartments, rail, car rental, chauffeur drive, taxis, airport parking, airport or VIP meet and assist, visas, groups, conferences and meetings. For business travellers these days, booking their entire end to end journey can be complicated. “Do you know what your range of options are?” says Wait. “Is it right for the budget you have? And are you sure you've made the right decisions about the flexibility you require? Because sometimes if you buy a ticket, you find out later that you can't change it. So you may have made five or six transactions for one trip — but if there's a change to your travel plans, you then have to make five or six changes to those transactions.” If you use a TMC, argues Wait, all that's needed is one phonecall. “You can then get back to doing your job, serving your customers and growing your business.”

Data

An SME can also benefit from the data capture that a TMC can provide. “Because an SME is on the move all the time, that data can help them spot trends in their travel arrangements,” says Wait. “Having a TMC collect data and monitor where employees are travelling to also addresses any concerns around their safety and security. And it helps with travel 'personalisation'. For example, one employee may love a particular hotel — but another might hate it. So they might end up staying in two separate hotels that are both within the same price range.”

For Wait, fragmentation is a “time-stealer”; which is why new technology is such a boon for today's business traveller. “I can use my mobile app at the airport for my boarding pass, which helps me check in and get through security,” he says. “That's being replicated more and more — in the car industry and the hotel industry, for example.”