Like all professionals, the skills and strengths of travel managers vary. Still, a look across the travel ecosystem reveals the need for certain skills to manage a travel program most effectively.
- Critical Thinking – As is the case with many professions, travel managers must hone the skill of thinking critically about corporate travel management by analyzing, assessing and reconstructing the enigmas they encounter.
- Analytical Approach – Travel managers must look at all the data available to them and make recommendations that support the travel policy and position the travel program strategically within the organization.
- Consensus Building –It’s critical for travel managers to work internally with stakeholders to drive consensus on evolving their programs to stay up to date with the market.
- Effective Communication – Travel managers must be able to communicate effectively in a variety of forms (email, intranet, phone, in-person, etc.) with C-Suite members and across all functions within their company because travel touches every department in some way.
- Influence – Travel managers must understand company goals and objectives around culture, messaging, strategy and more. They must then bring those factors to bear on the travel policy and program.
- Understand the Travel Landscape – Travel managers who don’t understand the technologies or nuances that accompany travel management will have a hard time effectively managing travel spend. Professional development, reading, and education about how the industry is changing are key.
- Relationship Management – Travel managers need more than just technical knowledge around travel itself. They need to develop strong relationships with suppliers because those can make or break a travel program.
- Cultural Intelligence – Empathy is a skill that when expressed consistently, can create allies out of frequent travelers and the people they visit in countries with cultures different than their own. Travel is personal. While travel managers don’t need to satisfy the whim of every employee, they do need to find the line between fiscal responsibility and traveler wellbeing. Helping travelers learn more about the cultures of the countries they visit can lead to improved outcomes with rollouts, new business relationships and more.
- Problem Solving – To keep pace with the rapid rate of change in the travel industry, travel managers need to develop finely tuned problem-solving skills. Enjoying challenges and welcoming change doesn’t hurt either. It’s important to keep asking questions of your program, policies and people to continually improve.
- Anticipate Questions – Travel managers should develop the skill of anticipating questions by always thinking, ‘what’s next?’ about every aspect of their job and the travel industry. Whether it’s the NDC or a travel policy, the best travel managers ask what it is going to look like and how they are going to manage it.
Change is one of the few constants in the travel industry. Coping with it well demands active progress toward fluency in all of the skills mentioned above.
“Our industry is going through a lot of change that will challenge customers, corporations and travel management companies (TMCs)” says Kevin O'Malley, CEO of Travel and Transport. “A particular challenge will be responding to the way hotels and airlines are pricing and distributing their products.”
O’Malley raises the reality of hotels adapting pricing strategies to reflect three, four or even five-day cancellation policies as an example of a challenge currently facing Travel Managers.
“They need to think strategically, tap into their analytical skills and potentially their ability to manage relationships with suppliers to determine whether they are better off paying a slightly higher rate to get more lenient cancellation terms. The answer goes beyond negotiating price. It requires knowing their company’s unique goals.”
Understanding a company’s unique travel goals begins with setting them, which is something TMCs can help travel managers accomplish.
Travel Managers Look to TMCs for Insight, Expertise
Busy juggling multiple responsibilities, travel managers often rely on trusted travel management companies (TMCs) for insight into spend leakage, expense management and contract benchmarking. TMCs can supplement skills and background areas travel managers have less comfort in and ultimately help them manage their travel policies and programs most effectively.
For smaller companies, a TMC can provide guidance on how to balance employee engagement and cost savings. Someone in procurement or who manages travel as a secondary or tertiary role within finance or HR wouldn’t necessarily understand travel industry trends and changes. Travel management companies can help them see how changes will impact them and proactively bring suggestions forward.
Jami Hedrick, Executive Director of Account Management for Travel and Transport, a global travel management company, says understanding that every travel manager has different strengths and aligning account managers fluent in the expertise each client organization needs helps her company establish profitable partnerships with businesses of all sizes.
“We pair travel managers who are more focused on spend and cost-avoidance with account managers who are analytical and enjoy deep dives into savings numbers, yet can also bring attention to the human side of travel management, including assessing how satisfied and compliant employees are with travel policy parameters,” she says.
It would be extremely rare for any one person to be equally fluent in all 10 skills mentioned. Partnering with a competent TMC can help a travel manager round out weaker areas and accomplish the goals of their travel program.
In the weeks ahead, we’ll examine in greater detail, six aspects of what it means to be a travel manager today:
- The Data Travel Managers Digest
- The Tools That Help Travel Managers Deliver Satisfying Service
- The Importance of Building Cross-Departmental Connections
- The Need for Cultural Intelligence
- The Power of Negotiation
- The Technology That Helps Travel Managers Do More
We hope you found today’s post informative and helpful as you consider the effectiveness of your own corporate travel management program and your role within it. Check back in the coming weeks for new installments in this educational series designed to benefit travel managers and those responsible for corporate travel procurement.
What skills do you think every travel manager needs to be successful in today’s rapidly changing travel environment? What did we miss that needs to be included on our list? Talk to one of our corporate travel experts today about tools and resources to help you manage travel more effectively at your organization.