We approve this message: Taking another look at pre-trip approval

June 8, 2020 Scott Johnston

Pre-trip approval is not something new, but it is a source of many conversations these days. It’s something that cycles through our industry usually as a result of the heavy financial burden placed on a given industry or economy.  In today’s environment, we are seeing more and more companies question pre-trip approvals as a way to monitor duty of care or safety and wellness policies as a result of the pandemic. While information and rules are in a constant state of flux, it can be tempting to think that a pre-trip approval process could be the answer, but companies should be taking a deeper look into this decision.

In the shared economy of travel management industry, the experience when exploring the right solution for ‘approvals’ can be daunting. You must think through the different methods of booking, including third-party solutions and even more so, the internal churn on managing responsiveness to approval requests. Is there an app for that? Is it “easy” to implement?

All great considerations, but the biggest question to ask yourself is what is the key problem that you are trying to clearly articulate and solve.

Our experience in pre-trip approval shows that booked trips that are declined by an approver is typically less than 1%. This effectively makes your approval process a rubber stamp. That’s something to consider when thinking about taking on the risk of fare increases, operational processes impacting your leaders, and overall traveler satisfaction with your program and TMC (travel management company). 

Deciding to stop bookings once they have been made and wait for action from an approver to ticket can be risky.  Remember fares are subject to change until ticketed.

There are some questions you should consider if you are debating your pre-trip approval course of action:

Do you TRUST your travelers?

Trust is key when you provide your employees with building access cards, corporate cards, or budgets. Should it be any different with booking travel? Asking yourself this question can drive conversations with key stakeholders. Is it behavior you are trying to change with your travelers? Would your approval process send the wrong message and become more of a boundary than a business enabler?

Is your policy really a policy or more of a guideline? How has it been communicated or implemented to your travelers?

We have seen customers want to implement pre-trip approval when really the solution is making travelers aware of their travel policy. Engaging HR and senior leadership can help guide your travelers to make the best decisions for the company.

How engaged will your approvers be in the process?

It’s important to put yourself in the shoes of those impacted and consider the responsibilities that each individual already has in place.  Is adding this additional process critical to achieving your goals?  If so, then engage with traveler arrangers who book for several travelers and finance/expense personnel to determine what would be needed to gain support and buy-in across the company.  Ask for C-level for support of this new process.  Having high-level leadership is always important for change management success.  Continuous communication and asking for feedback will be key. 

What data points or behaviors are you hunting when thinking about the approval process?

It’s important to identify the outcome you want to achieve (target condition) to determine the best solution.  Isolating the right target condition identified from your data can help guide you. Key targets could be all bookings, international only, bookings over a certain dollar threshold, specific business unit, specific location, specific vendor, class of service, or lack of a hotel booking. All of these data points can lead to a successful implementation, but it’s important to ask if that data could be obtained (and actioned) without putting the travelers/arrangers/managers through the pain of an approval process. Are the gains worth the potential pains?

As a result of a recent customer poll, we found  61% of our clients were considering implementing a pre-booking approval process and 67% said they wouldn’t consider approvals after booked/before ticketing. Moreover, 71% of our customers thinking of implementing an approval process agreed that receiving a report showing who has booked a trip and the destination booked would allow enough information to manage the need. Most of those customers when asked on criteria to require approval in some fashion leaned towards ALL travel needing approval. Above that, the feedback received from our customers didn’t place pre-trip approval as the highest priority for investment.

This is a conversation that is cyclical in our industry and not just related to the pandemic. This may be a key topic in your organization, and if so here are 3 key takeaways to help you navigate the conversations:

  • What are you trying to achieve?  Is it cost control?  Is it duty of care?  Is it compliance to policy? Once you clearly articulate the goal, then determine the simplest path that will be met with the least resistance.

  • What does the existing data tell me?  Data is valuable but change only results when data is actioned.  Determine what you plan to do with the data once you have it and verify that the outcomes you are aiming at are supported by the data.  If you’re not seeing changes in the program, the process is not working effectively. 

  • Be open to change and communicate often. Your travelers realize that it’s not “business as normal” and are open to new policies or guidelines. Clearly communicate why those policies are being implemented and then also understand that as the world continues to change, your policies should as well.  Be flexible and realize that nothing remains the same.  Change is inevitable, especially in the travel industry.

Pre-trip approval isn't the only aspect of your program that could use a second look right now. Prepare yourself for the new reality in business travel management by reading our ebook, The Ultimate Guide to When Travel Returns today.

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