It’s one of the advantages a large organisation enjoys: in-house procurement professionals and outside travel management companies haggling hefty hotel discounts, wangling inclusions such as wi-fi, parking and breakfasts, and squeezing prices for both flights and post-flight car rentals. Meanwhile, small-practice SMEs – including one-person entities handling their own travel – believe they’re too small to be helped. They bill clients for travel costs, so what’s the problem?
Travel experts beg to differ. They would, of course, but what they say makes cash flow sense.
Wayne Swaysland, general manager at corporate travel management firm World Travel Professionals, cites a conservative example: a $75-an-hour accountant spends 15 minutes online each time he or she needs to organise a trip – translating to a cost of $18.75. Add low-end website fees of, say, $19.90 for a total of $38.65. “With a travel management company [TMC],” says Swaysland, “a one-stop cost using a consultant would be around $27 – even lower using a TMC’s online booking tool.”
One of the most important factors in using a TMC is knowing that the practice gets the best available rates for flights and hotels, plus there’s the certainty of frequent flyer points and other booking extras. What’s more, there’s access to invoices and past itineraries and a shoulder to lean on in emergencies.
In small practices, with two domestic trips a month savings could be around $230 annually, aside from other benefits.
In each key expense category, there’s room to cut budget, as detailed below.
Air: Small practices with someone travelling monthly don’t qualify for discounts. Instead, those businesses should become online customers of boutique travel management companies, urges Travel Authority managing director Peter Hosper. “Great online booking tools are on the market – simple to set up, easy to use … with best-fare-of-the-day comparisons.” And try to travel off-peak – most clients won’t object.
Hotels: Here lurk the biggest savings. David Perry, chief executive officer of Melbourne’s venerable Hotel Windsor, argues independent hotels possess greater flexibility than big chains. No regular customer is too small to be given login codes unlocking discounts of up to 15 per cent. “We’ve several such accounts – a few with only principals staying,” says Perry.
In country towns, it doesn’t hurt to meet hotel managers – emphasising frequent visits and possible switching to cut costs. You’re likely to be offered a discount.
Ground transport: As with airlines, SMEs can’t access high-volume discounts. So stay close to clients’ offices to curb taxi costs. With car rentals, remember that local off-airport independents are often cheapest.
Leisure: Whether it’s golf or restaurants, ask clients and hotel staff for good-value suggestions. Sanford International Travel general manager Georgina Byrt argues for the “abiding value of the human touch”. Aside from alerting you to “any deal that’s in place”, she says, “travel consultants get to know you, your preferences and patterns”.