Does your business need a travel policy? Here’s how to create one

A comprehensive travel policy will streamline staff travel bookings and save money

02 May 2018 - 11:42
Image: 123RF/MichaelJung

When running your own business, the furthest thing from your mind is dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s when it comes to creating guidelines for business travel for staff.

Large companies generally have a travel policy that dictates the terms under which travel is planned, approved, booked and carried out. But for smaller business where business travel is not as frequent, is there any point in taking the time to create one?

"Just because you’re not an enterprise doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a travel policy," says Ryan Potgieter, Flight Centre Business Travel (FCBT) brand leader. If anything, it’s even more reason to have one.

"Most companies typically don’t have the buffer that bigger corporations have when it comes to wastage. A travel policy helps you keep track of what you’re spending on your business travel, and puts in place rules that can curb unnecessary expenditure."

He adds: "Without a travel policy, there are no guidelines for staff on entertainment allowances, changing or cancelling flights, or what class should be booked. Employees have no understanding of the rules surrounding whether or not they can book a more expensive but more flexible ticket because they’re likely to change it. There’s also no real policy for claiming travel and entertainment expenses."

Having a travel policy in place provides boundaries, ensures staff members' wellbeing while on the road, and helps define what they can spend on, so the company can manage it better. You know the adage – you can’t manage what you can’t see.

"It’s not just about keeping costs in check," says Potgieter. “The travel experience of staff is important when you’re putting together a sound travel policy. Looking after key staff members is critical to the success of any company.

"Your business travel policy must take their specific needs into account so that you alleviate the stress associated with their travel experience. The last thing you would want is to lose that important staff member because of unnecessary wear and tear due to uncomfortable duty travel."

Among the advantages of a travel policy are:

  • streamlining processes such as bookings, expense reconciliation and reimbursement;
  • helping to eliminate fraud;
  • reducing traveller friction; and
  • empowering you to negotiate with suppliers based on company needs.

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all travel policy, but there are guidelines on compiling one and what should be included.

Your complimentary guide and template to write a travel policy

Start with the current scenario

It’s helpful to know where you are currently, in terms of business travel, before defining where you need to go.

"I would begin by writing down what travel suppliers you already buy travel through; what the nature of your travel is, such as lots of changes to air tickets, or last-minute travel; what your company’s goals are – for example, keeping track of costs or improving staff wellbeing; and what your travellers' preferences are – you could create a travel profile for each frequent traveller," says Potgieter.

What's important to your business?

Ask the following questions to understand what’s important to your business:

  • What are you trying to achieve through your business travel and having a travel policy?
  • Are you trying to retain millennial staff who see business travel as an opportunity to extend for leisure?
  • Is your business a sales organisation where face-to-face negotiations are important?
  • Are you trying to streamline processes so that staff spend less time trying to book their own travel?
  • Do you need to understand exactly what you’re spending on travel so you can get a handle on it?

The full travel experience

When you start writing your travel policy, consider every stage and process involved in business travel: the planning, the booking, the travel itself, reimbursement, and how that travel is reported. Your travel policy needs to be comprehensive.

What is included in your travel policy will again depend on your company and its requirements, but essentially it is important to provide some flexibility and be consultative in your drafting process.

A "freedom within framework" approach is always best when it comes to business travel. Give your travellers a range of options that fit within the travel policy so that they have some choice on where to stay, for example.

You can also benefit from consulting multiple stakeholders when crafting your policy, such as your human resources department, if you have one. Their input can be invaluable in defining a robust business travel policy.

A travel policy is only effective if your staff are willing to comply with it, and the first step is to communicate that it exists and what it contains, says Potgieter.

"You may find that a one-off communication won’t be enough to achieve compliance and you’ll have to institute an ongoing communication policy to ensure that staff understand the nuts and bolts of the travel policy.

"A good tip is to meet your most frequent travellers on a regular basis to get their feedback on the policy – especially since a good travel policy changes with the needs of the company and its travellers.

"Your travel policy should be reviewed and updated proactively to ensure it continues to contribute to the company’s goals and the wellbeing of its staff."

This article was paid for by Flight Centre Business Travel.