Striking back at the corporate travel RFP

January 27, 2020 Mark Dauner

The world of motion pictures changed forever in 1977 with the release of "Star Wars". It continues to this day in the form of motion pictures, television series, and other media. It should come as no surprise that a great deal has changed in movie-making, technology, and society over those 42 years. Likewise, the three individual trilogies making up the 9-film saga, despite having common themes, stories, and characters, were all a little different from each other.

The original trilogy focused heavily on story, character development, and amazing practical effects that continue to make them watchable to this day. The second trilogy, or “prequels” as they’re known, dove deeply into the details and placed a huge emphasis on digital effects. The final trilogy revisited many of the same themes and stories that came before, but in a manner more reflective of our current society.

Although they didn’t always hit the mark, what can be said for certain is that each trilogy attempted to be relevant to its time period, pushing digital technology forward and exciting audiences from start to finish. 

Over Travel and Transport’s many years in the travel business, we’ve responded to thousands of corporate travel requests for proposal (RFPs). The business travel industry has transformed significantly over that time.  In most cases, the RFP has not. Change for the mere sake of it is not helpful (as George Lucas found out in 1997 when he made digital revisions to his original "Star Wars" trilogy).

Updates for the sake of updates aren't always necessary or well-received. Likewise, there are fundamental elements of business travel management that have remained unchanged. RFPs should reflect that. However, there are other areas of an RFP in which modification and customization of questions asked should be based on the buyer’s goals, travel patterns, pain points, budget, culture and more.

Just because the original RFP may have been drafted a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, doesn't mean it has to remain in its original format. It's long past time for TMCs and travel buyers to strike back at the template and reform it into something more helpful for all parties involved.

What is the purpose of a corporate travel RFP?

The RFP can be a critical aspect of selecting a travel management company. When handled effectively this process can form the foundation for a long-standing relationship based on trust and a mutual understanding of each participant’s needs and capabilities. Unfortunately, the RFP process rarely turns out this way.

Too many companies walk through the RFP process as if their organizational heads are disconnected from their hearts. The RFP has become, for many, a habitual, mechanical exercise that merely justifies a foregone conclusion. In these cases, travel management partners are chosen based on personal relationships, uncertain promises or “the safe choice”, instead of clear capabilities and evident distinctions. Today’s corporate travel RFP doesn’t help with this.

“Buyers pay a lot for a travel management company,” according to Devon Niebling, global proposal writer for Travel and Transport. “They should ask the specific questions to both get the data that helps them make an informed choice as well as obtain descriptive answers that display a real sense of the company they’re considering hiring.”

Watch out for clones (in your RFP)

Within the galaxy of this legendary motion picture saga, the republic had many generations of clone armies that were excellent, skilled soldiers. When the empire took hold, the people who eventually became troops were really just copies. They looked similar to the old clones, but they didn't have the skill of the originals, and they were infamous for one thing over all else: rarely hitting their targets.  

While the business travel industry has changed significantly over the past few decades, in most cases, the RFP has not. If you look at RFP questions from 2003, for example, you're likely to see many of the same questions in an RFP from 2019. Just like those highly inaccurate stormtroopers, when the entire industry asks the same RFP questions over and over without fluctuation or update, responses become generic and are unlikely to get to the heart of a travel buyer’s specific needs.  

You’re not sending out that RFP for fun. You want to obtain responses that truly differentiate one TMC from another.

A new hope for business travel management RFPs

We believe there are some areas where a fresh look would be beneficial in terms of questions asked and their relevance to you company’s business.

Business travel is more than transactional, particularly for the traveler. Travelers, not travel dollars, are an organization’s most important asset, and their convenience, comfort and safety are the priority. RFPs should solicit responses that convey a TMC’s ability to secure traveler safety and improve the travel experience, while meeting travel spend, policy and process goals.

Throughout this series we’ll introduce ideas and resources to reform the RFP. At the end, we’ll deliver an RFP tool kit that keeps the elements that work well, and suggests alterations that we believe will enhance the elements that don't.

Over the next several weeks we'll cover many facets of the RFP, including:

  • Perspectives on the RFP process from Travel and Transport's global bid writers and sales managers
  • Industry perspectives on the RFP process
  • An outside perspective revealing what can be learned from RFPs in other industries
  • Best practices for creating and administering a successful travel management company RFP

Travel is transformative. Its impact changes lives and improves the world. It’s time for the RFP to transform for the better too. 

Are you ready to join the rebellion?

Check out the additional posts in this series: 

You can also get more information and tools that will help you in guiding your travel management program with our free ebook, Skills Every Modern Travel Manager Needs to Succeed. Get it today!


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