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The Perfect Travel Management Company

Finding the perfect fit with a prospective travel management company requires time, patience and practice.

You can’t fit a round peg into a square hole. That’s what Montreal-based Nick Del Torto discovered in 2004 when a C-suite decision came down the pipes instructing a switch from their existing call-in travel program to a snazzy new online booking tool.

“It was a bad experience,” recalls Del Torto, systems manager—travel & business services, Canadian National Railway, Canada's largest freight railroad. “We had 80 per cent compliance but the feedback was overwhelmingly negative.”

Flashback two years to 2003. On the other side of the country, Calgary-based Donna Jones was tasked with finding a new travel management company (TMC). “It was my first RFP of that kind so it was a learning experience,” says Jones, manager, travel services, Fluor Canada, one of the world's leading engineering firms. “We needed to refresh our travel program and ensure that we were getting good value for the money.”

Jones and her team, which consisted of a travel arranger, a middle manager and a traveller, sat through three presentations. Each team member was armed with weighted evaluation criteria that covered factors like cost, service and flexibility. Being prepared helped, but the tricky part was reading past the scripted chatter to zoom in on the hardcore deliverables. A surefire technique, says Jones, is to throw the presenters a curveball, a scenario or question that they wouldn’t expect, and see how they handle it.

As it turned out, “there was some variance but the team was pretty much on the same page; it was unanimous who we thought was the best candidate,” says Jones, who was working on a Canadian program at the time but now handles global travel.

Back at CN, it too one bumpy year before the rail company cancelled the contract despite having no backup program in place. For about one month employees were advised to arrange their own travel. “It was one month of pain,” says Del Torto, who has managed crew and gang transport and accommodation for the last nine years. 

Fortunately the short-term pain was worth the long-term gain. After interviewing a couple of prospects, Del Torto selected Vision2000 in 2005. From that day forward CN has had a Vision2000 travel agency onsite, staffed by six agents handling about 1,600 monthly reservations via phone, voicemail and email bookings.

Del Torto’s key takeaway? Know your company culture and fit the travel program to the people, not the other way around. For Jones, simply experiencing the process of finding the perfect TMC partner reaped a goldmine of nuggets.

Digging for nuggets
Asking educated questions provides a greater ROI (and decreases the chances of making the wrong choice). We’ve canvassed experienced CTMs and TMC experts to give you the tools to get it right, right off the bat. 

CTMs should ask:

  • Beware the black and white. Even a reference is not enough. Get face-to-face and probe the grey areas with curveball questions.
  • Flexibility. Is the company willing to work with your day-to-day needs and longer-term requirements?
  • Take attendance. Ask who will be at the presentation? If it’s just the sales team ask if it’s possible for the potential travel manager to join the discussion.
  • Tech savvy. Does the TMC have established technology to access airfares?
  • Help. Do they offer support for online booking?
  • Reporting. Do they offer ad hoc and standard reporting?
  • Data do’s and don’ts. How do they handle data consolidation?
  • Wheel and deal. Is there a network of preferred negotiated rates?
  • Ears wide open. What kinds of questions are being asked by the TMC?

TMC should explain:

  • Ch-ch-changes. How does the TMC assist with Change Management for new or existing programs?
  • ROI. What’s the strategy for measuring return on investment of the travel management program?
  • Toggling needs. Can the TMC consolidate and manage both individual corporate travel and meetings?  If so, what support is available to leverage spend in both categories to negotiate with suppliers.
  • 911. How is 24/7 emergency support managed?  Is it owned by the TMC or is it third party?
  • Benchmarking. Will the travel program elements be compared against peer organizations?
  • Integration. Is there an ability to integrate an end-to-end payment, travel and expense solution?
  • Included versus value-added? What consultative resources are available to my company to support our strategic objectives?

By Sherryll Sobie

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