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Travel Program Success

A new policy, self-booking tool and "accidental" travel manager who keeps it all in check equals success for one company. Here's how!

Majda Moustarji didn’t exactly apply for the job to implement a new corporate travel program at Ricoh Canada—it was more a case of the job coming to her by default. “No one else stepped forward,” laughs Moustarji, who is executive assistant to the CFO for the Toronto-based company.

As in many growing organizations, business travel costs had increasingly fallen under the financial spotlight, particularly in light of a 2009 acquisition which more than doubled the company’s Canadian workforce to around 2,000.

The CFO’s challenge was to find out why corporate travel costs seemed to be all over the map, get recommendations on how to better manage and negotiate business travel, and choose a travel partner with a high level of service and support.

Travel glitches, service gaps and mysterious pricing had contributed to frustration. In one pivotal instance, the CFO discovered that the preferred travel agency had quoted a fare of $5,000 for an executive flight to Japan, even when an identical flight was available online for $1,600.

Like any good “accidental” travel manager, Moustarji plunged into her role with determination to do a complete overhaul. “No one had managed travel before, so travel arrangers had little guidance,” says Moustarji. “It was clear we needed a travel policy and a way of influencing behaviour.”

Her sensitivity to corporate realities was shaped early in her homeland of Morocco, where she spent 10 years with Unilever in a number of marketing and support roles. With the firm blessing and support of Ricoh’s CFO, and carte blanche access to financial reports and travel agency files, Moustarji spent three months poring over corporate business travel data, getting a grip on employees’ needs, travel patterns and opportunities to save money.

Technology is the Ticket
Early on, it became clear that technology would be the ticket to steer compliance to a new corporate travel policy by implementing a self-booking system to reduce agency service fees and make travellers accountable for their choices.

“We wanted to go with the flow of technology, and start by seeing what’s out there that can make the experience better,” she says. It needed to be a solution that could keep the executives happy on the reporting side, and yet make life easier for travellers.

After reviewing demos and proposals from five corporate travel management companies, Concur Cliqbook best suited Ricoh’s list of needs. While the software was supported by both of the short-listed candidates, the choice of Carlson Wagonlit Travel Canada came down to that agency’s willingness to provide solid references and accept inclusion of a service level agreement clause to the contract.

An Ambitious Checklist
Amazingly, in the first half of 2009 Ricoh was able to:
• Negotiate a preferred supplier agreement with Best Western for North American business travel.
• Create a booklet of travel policies, setting guidelines for travellers and travel arrangers, also built-in to the booking tool.
• Load corporate rates, preferred hotels and policies, and set up the self-booking tool over a three-month period.
• Customize reporting to capture purpose of corporate travel and exceptions for going off-policy.
• Publish a user sign-up guide, and launch a live training session for employees at the corporate office and via Webex, company wide.
Within 12 months, Ricoh more than doubled the Canadian travel industry’s best practice average adoption rate of online booking tools, at a remarkable 95%.

Other positive signs include a nearly perfect traveller satisfaction rate of 99.9%, program compliance at 87%, and immediate cost-savings of nearly $1 million.

What will follow this impressive feat? With some 600 Ricoh employees already up and running with their travel profiles on Cliqbook, Moustarji’s next task is to bring aboard the road warriors of newly acquired IKON Office Solutions (Canada), a service organization with 30,000 clients coast to coast, 1,000 employees, and some 500 field service technicians. Another big job. Her secret to gaining compliance? Despite the smile, she reveals her tough side: “Force. But in a really nice way.”

Olympian feat
Ricoh Canada’s fresh new corporate travel program couldn’t be more timely. After months of preparation, the company deployed some 200 field representatives and technicians to Vancouver and Whistler to support the 2010 Olympics. As a sponsor, Ricoh provided every device that spits out a piece of paper at the Games, from the media centre to the judges’ suites.

How She Did It!
Here’s how Majda Moustarji of Ricoh Canada Inc. pushed for results:

• Learn from your peers. One of her earliest tasks was to informally talk to corporate travel managers at companies of comparable size, with similar travel patterns, for advice.
• Demo it yourself. A hands-on look at online booking solutions was essential. In addition to the show-and-tell from the corporate travel management companies, Moustarji had all the tools implemented on her laptop.
• Become the expert. Once Cliqbook was chosen as the self-booking application, Moustarji learned all its intricacies and capabilities, and stays on top of updates.
• Own the training process. Moustarji personally trains new recruits and troubleshoots problems with the online booking system. “Everybody comes to me first. I love the tool, and I want everybody to love it too!”
• Steer behaviour. “Anyone who picks up the phone to book with the agency gets a call from me asking why. I run a report everyday,” says Moustarji.
• Be available. “If someone needs help, I’ll never say it’s not in my job description,” says Moustarji, who welcomes questions and complaints, ready to offer advice or even complete a tricky travel reservation.

by Julie Charles

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