Friday, December 3, 2010

How to Control Corporate Hotel Program Compliance (Hotel Compliance 4 of 5)

Most organizations control their corporate hotel program compliance - or at least try to influence it - by setting up the following 5 pillars that together provide the appropriate infrastructure to manage travel and control spend and compliance:
  • Comprehensive travel policy
  • Mandate the use of a global corporate card
  • Mandate the use of a designated travel management company (TMC)
  • Implement an online booking tool
  • Generate consolidated reporting and dashboards

Travel policy
Almost all of the organizations with a travelling population has some form of a travel policy. A travel policy could be a simple document of 2 pages, or a rather complicated policy with more than 20 pages. It really depends on the nature of the organization, and how it would like to control its travel.

A good travel policy should include enough information for the travelers to lead them to be compliant. Although, having a good policy does not automatically mean that the organization would end up having high compliance ratios. What I mean by enough information to comply would include information about at least the following - from Hotel perspective (not including air, car, and meal):
  • Who is the travel manager
  • How to book hotel (corporate TMC, online booking tool)
  • Where to find preferred properties (corporate directory, TMC, online booking tool)
  • What to do in case no preferred property was available (lowest logical fare)
  • How to pay for travel (authorized form of payment)
  • How much to spend (per diem, lowest logical fare)
  • How far in advance the traveler need to book (if possible)

Corporate Card to capture spend
Nearly all of the Fortune 500 organizations have a mandated corporate card that is used to capture all company and travel related spend. However, in reality, not all of them actually mandate the use of the cards for travel, which is really surprising.

Some companies do not aggressively force their employees to use the corporate card, and allow - even unofficially - the use of personal credit cards and other forms of payment to pay for business travel. This kind of lack of discipline could effectively render any compliance measurement or control diluted and ineffective. All spend that is not covered by the corporate card becomes invisible to the Travel Manager and is out of any reporting structure. Hence, the reported compliance ratios and spend level could be artificially high (or low) if significant spend is not captured on the corporate card.

The organization would lose, as well, great opportunity to gain better pricing at hotels if significant spend goes without appropriate tracking. For example, if the organization spend at a certain property $1 million, but half of that spend is not tracked on the corporate card, the Travel Manager may not be able to prove to the hotel the actual amount of spend at the property and end up getting a much lower deal than would be the case if he/she was able to prove the $1 million level.

Some companies may rely on expense reports to get a more realistic level of spend, but that in my opinion a lost opportunity. Until now, expense reporting - in many cases - are manual, less accurate, and prone to human error than what many corporate card companies are offering in terms of spend reporting accuracy. So, if your organization has a corporate card program in place, I strongly recommend that you mandate the spend through the card.

Having said that, we need to acknowledge that for global companies that could be difficult to attain across the board. In many cases, there could be some limitations to the use of corporate card in certain countries or regions due to coverage issues, financial systems, or even to cultural differences. Remember that what works in the United States does not have necessarily to work in China or Chile.

Travel Management Company

Hiring a Travel Management Company (“TMC”) is the third pillar for any organization to manage travel and control its travel and entertainment spend. A TMC could be any of the mega agencies recognized globally (like America Express, HRG, or BCD Travel), or it could be a more regional, smaller scale agency. It really depends on the organization and its travel patterns to determine what size and type of TMC it needs. However, all TMC’s serve the same purpose, that is, to help the Travel Manager in executing the travel strategy of the organization.

Typically, TMC’s could help organizations with the following:
  • Booking travel
  • Providing support to corporate travelers at home and on the road
  • Supporting in the hotel program RFP, and sourcing room nights
  • Rate audit (making sure that preferred rates in the GDS systems are accurate)
  • Providing reporting on booking

Organizations may choose to go with a large global TMC, or with a smaller regional TMC; however, I strongly recommend, especially for global corporations to consolidate their travel business as much as possible. It is easier and more efficient for the travel manager to handle, it would provide a more efficient way to control travel spend, and conduct proper reporting. In many cases I have seen strong reporting coming from USA or Canada for example, and fragmented reporting from Asia Pacific region. Naturally, you will end up having a stronger program in the regions providing strong reporting, and more challenges in those markets with fragmented travel providers.

Online booking tool
Online booking tools are key to enable your travelers to comply. Not only you can control what properties and rate the travelers see when they are actually booking, but also, you can insert relevant messages pertaining to your travel policy that would aid the traveler in making appropriate decisions to enable him/her to be compliant.

For example, if a traveler is booking a trip to New York city, the online booking tool would highlight preferred properties along with the type of room the policy permits. If the traveler is selecting a higher rate room or a more expensive property when there is a lower preferred rate available, the online tool would highlight to the traveler that he or she is out of policy, and he or she needs to enter an explanation for the non-compliant choice. The Travel Manager could control these explanations by a set of drop down list of acceptable reasons.

Another benefit from implementing an online booking tool across the organization is to standardize the booking process through out the company, and make sure that all employees receive the same information pertinent to the preferred hotel program of the company, as well as, the travel policy alerts. This would help the Travel Manager tremendously in global organizations, as he or she would leverage a single enterprise solution to communicate travel policy and control travel booking.

Consolidated reporting
All of the aforementioned pillars would be incomplete and ineffective unless the organization has a robust reporting regime that not only would report spend numbers and compliance ratios, but also would provide meaningful intelligence, and actionable information.

Before the Travel Manager designs the reporting structure, it is imperative to understand the limitations of the collected data by each of data sources, for example:

Travel data from the TMC would have valuable information about how much the booked room rate was excluding taxes, but we need to realize that the total spend and room night figures are actually “booked” figures, and may not truly represent the “actual” figures. For example, I may book 1 night at a certain hotel, but end up staying for 3 nights. TMC data would show only 1 night booked, and hence, the Travel Manager need to rely on another data source to capture the remaining 2 nights. Another limitation of the TMC is that it will not capture any booking that is done outside the TMC. As much as we like to assume that 100% of employees would book through the incumbent TMC, reality shows otherwise.

Spend data from Corporate Card provides a better picture of how much spend the organization has on travel and hotel. Historically, more people are inclined to use their corporate card to pay for company expenses than they are to use the incumbent TMC. Hence, corporate card data offer a clearer picture of how much spend there is. So using the above-mentioned example, the traveler who stayed for 3 nights, would charge the total amount to the corporate card; hence, card data would give us the evidence that the travelers stayed for 3 nights as opposed to one night. However, card data gives us the total spend, not only room rate. For example, a $1,000 transaction by a travelling employee, would include room rate including taxes, as well as, other spend at the property including breakfast, food, video rental, and other auxiliary expenses. To capture what we call “transient spend”, which is the spend attributed to the room rate only, the Travel Manager would use a multiplier to make educated assumption. For example, industry standards show that between 70-90% of the amount spend at a hotel would be attributed to room rates (depending on the property and market). So, in case the traveler spend $1,000 at a hotel, then we would assume that only $700-900 of that amount is really attributed to the room fare.

An important limitation of card data is that it does not tell how many room nights the traveler actually spend. This is why it is a better practice to merge pertinent data from TMC with Card. So, you can get the room rate from TMC data, and integrate it with the calculated “transient spend” data from card, to come up with the actual room nights at the property. This merged data is of paramount importance in reporting for compliance, as well as, for strategic sourcing of hotel room down the road, as it tells you exactly how much you spent at each property, how much you had been charged in terms of room rate, and how many room nights you had.

Folio data; is now increasing in popularity, and more chains and card companies are offering folio data in North America and eventually, in other places around the world. Folio data offers tremendous value for reporting spend, as it itemizes the spend per hotel transaction. For example, if a traveler spend $1,000 at a property, folio data would show how much exactly the traveler spent on room rate, food and beverage, business center, telephone and any other item.

A new practice is emerging to report the room rates charged by hotels (although you can run the report from TMC data as well) and compare it to the accepted preferred rates. If actual charged rates are higher, then that could mean one of two things; either the traveler has upgraded the room or the hotel has charged the wrong rate. If further reporting indicated that this overcharging is repeated by the same traveler then the Travel Manager could alert the travelers that he or she has been consistently non-compliant, or if the repeat offense is coming from the same hotel with different travelers, this could mean that the hotel is over charging the travelers, or the appropriate rate is not visible to the booking agent, and so on. Sometimes, a lower than negotiated rates would be reported, and in few cases my clients had actually gone back and negotiated lower preferred rates at these properties

In conclusion, the above-mentioned 5 pillars, if structured appropriately, provide the Travel Manager with excellent infrastructure to control and monitor compliance with the organization.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    Traveler compliance with preferred hotel programs, though improving, still trails other policy aspects, and buyers are reporting emerging challenges in recent months as competing hotel deals that beat negotiated rates tempt travellers to book outside the program. Thanks a lot.
    Hotels in Bhubaneswar