First published in The Business Travel Magazine
Headware and apparel company New Era wanted to get its business travel spend under control and identified online booking as a means to help. Andy Hoskins explains how they went about it and what the company achieved.
Founded in the 1920s, New Era is a US-based family-owned company specialising in the manufacture of headwear and apparel. The EMEA Head Office is in Milton Keynes and it also has offices in Italy, Spain, France and Germany, and works with factories in China, Bangladesh, Portugal and Turkey.
Executive Assistant Vicki Mann is responsible for the company’s travel needs, on which it spends around £750,000 annually. Much of it is within Europe but directors might travel anywhere worldwide. “One of the directors travels to Russia and South Africa fairly regularly and there’s an annual trip to China to check on all the factories,” says Vicki. She joined the company in March 2015 and says her travel responsibilities take up much of her time. “I arrange travel for the directors, the VP and our offices in Europe. A colleague books travel for everyone else in the office. I tend to arrange more of the VIP trips and I manage the relationship with our agency, Corporate Traveller.”
When Vicki joined the company its travel programme was not as well-managed as it could be and it was her first role handling company travel arrangements. “It was pretty daunting,” she says. “A lot of people were just booking travel without considering cheaper options and there were a lot of late bookings and cancellations.” New Era wanted to get its travel programme
under greater control and identify cost-saving opportunities. At the same time, its travel volumes were creeping up. “Our goal was to save the company money, cut back on travel and get our fees down,” says Vicki.
Sarah Sabean, Team Leader at Corporate Traveller, identified an opportunity to drive adoption of the online booking tool it supplies to New Era, with the company’s travel needs well-suited to online booking. “If they were doing 90% long haul, multi-stop itineraries it wouldn’t be ideal, but for what New Era do it’s absolutely perfect,” says Sarah. She was confident the tool could help New Era achieve its goals, “so long as they got buy-in from the main bookers and senior heads”. The TMC’s Client Relationship Manager, Peter Jamieson, explains why pushing online booking is mutually beneficial. “Although we earn a higher fee for offline bookings, it’s about seeing it from the client’s perspective and how they benefit. Yes, we’d earn less if we pushed online booking but instead it gives us the scope to be more productive elsewhere.”
Vicki’s arrival at New Era coincided with a general review of travel policy, a process she contributed to employees would now have to give a minimum two weeks’ notice ahead of business trips and low-cost carriers were now included in the options as standard. Crucially, she had good support from directors in implementing new measures.“Our employees were already getting better at choosing low-cost carriers because they were getting pushback if they were picking more expensive options,” says Vicki.
And then there was the process of embracing the Booking tool. “Sarah came in and trained me on the tool. Initially I did a lot of offline booking through Sarah, but now I know our travellers’ typical needs and preferences it’s straightforward using the booking tool. The tool is very simple to use once you know what you’re doing and what you’re looking for.”
Corporate Traveller’s Peter Jamieson adds, “Often people don’t want to use the tool unless they get good training on it, and that’s fair enough. Users have to learn the environment. It’s not the same as booking a Ryanair flight on the Ryanair website but, in theory, it’s easier because you only need to learn the one booking environment.”
A key element of using the booking tool was the ability to present employees with a range of options and price points. “We aimed to raise cost awareness,” explains Vicki. “When I send people their options I highlight they can save £100 by choosing easyJet over British Airways. “And when we process it online you have to give a reason code and justify why you’ve not chosen the lower rate. It’s very effective. When we get reports in I’ll sit down with the Finance Director and look at why people made certain choices.” Peter adds, “You start to see patterns emerging, people doing the same thing again and again, almost manipulating the system. Some slip through the net but habits are quickly flagged up.” New Era also shifted to Evolvi for all its rail travel bookings, which is accessed through the Corporate Traveller portal. “We used to get Sarah to book all of our train travel whereas now we do most ourselves. It gives you exactly what you want, all the fares to choose from and it’s pretty intuitive,” says Vicki.
The most telling statistic is the increase in the number of travel bookings made online which has risen from around 40% to 73% currently, and still rising. In fact, excluding group bookings and multi-stop trips, the figure is closer to 100%. “There was a lot of feedback on the changes at the beginning,” says Vicki, “and it wasn’t until a few months in that the tool started make a difference. Our booking fees have fallen and we’re now capturing more travel spend and have greater overall visibility, allowing us to really pinpoint where there are further savings to be made.”
A lot of rail bookings were previously made by individuals and claimed on expenses, for example, but that spend is now captured and properly managed. A further benefit is the time-saving aspect. “The tool cuts out the middle man. We no longer have to wait for Corporate Traveller to give us options. I can just pull them up right away and present them to employees,” says Vicki. Peter adds, “New Era’s initial approach was ‘we want to save on fees’ but of course fees are only the thin edge of the wedge on business travel costs.” He says savings off full fares have increased over the last year while average return fares on the company’s top ten routes have come down by 35%. Advance booking habits have improved too, with 67% of all flights now booked more than two weeks before travel. In addition, the number of flights booked within three days of travel has fallen from 14% to 5%. Vicki says people have been largely accepting of the changes, “but I do have the support to pushback and everyone in the office is now pretty good at selecting the cheapest options,” she says.
“We do have the occasional person who goes on an airline website for their long haul flight and finds a lower rate that we’ll then have to go offline and book through Sarah, but that rarely happens.” And as Sarah puts it, “If I don’t hear from Vicki in a day that’s pretty normal.” Peter, meanwhile, believes the early training and enthusiasm from New Era have been criticalto successfully increasing online booking adoption. Vicki concurs, adding. “It helps that we’ve had a lot of support. When you book travel it can be daunting – especially if, like me, you haven’t done it before! It’s been a very steep learning curve but we’ve achieved a lot and we’re still improving.”