HR v travel management company: who is better equipped to handle your business travel?

A business traveller waiting at an airport. Picture: Unsplash

A business traveller waiting at an airport. Picture: Unsplash

Published Feb 19, 2024


According to a Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) report in 2023, 79% of business travellers say on-the-go experiences directly impact their job satisfaction and devotion to the company.

So, with retention more critical than ever, smart firms are sprucing up travel policies to excite rather than alienate employees.

Since attracting and retaining talent falls squarely in HR’s wheelhouse, it makes sense for them to champion better travel experiences.

According to FCM GM Bonnie Smith, HR owns company culture, policies and employee welfare ‒ so they’re uniquely positioned to address pain points in the travel programme.

“With their pulse on what motivates employees, HR can dig into the roots of traveller frustration and fine-tune policies.”

Smith also highlighted that lately, HRs have zeroed in on diversity, equity and inclusion by tailoring trips to accommodate a spectrum of needs, from disabled adventurers to religious observers to globe-trotting parents, and that wellness and sustainability are now massive priorities on HR’s radar, too.

“Younger employees want reassurances there are eco-friendly travel options, and their health and safety are supported on the road. Since HR guides corporate conscience, they seem fit to spearhead these initiatives,” said Smith.

The FCM GM also said that while HR plays a key advisory role, you still need dedicated corporate travel managers running the complex behind-the-scenes operations, and she highlighted that the intricate strategy, number-crunching and risk management responsibilities need specialised focus.

“Juggling spend across volatile supplier markets, managing tracking systems, responding to crises ‒ that all requires capabilities beyond most HR teams,” stressed Smith.

According to the GM, confident travellers also make more productive travellers as anxious, worried employees rarely make for efficient business trips.

“Thanks to their big-picture view of employee welfare, HR has unique insight into vulnerabilities and gaps in travel confidence.

“However, travel management teams also wield years of experience constantly refining policies and crisis communication amid ever-shifting global hazards. When crisis strikes, they have robust, rapid response capabilities to extract travelling staff securely,” said Smith.

She said that rather than overburden HR leaders already wearing multiple hats, collaborative integration seems the winning formula.

HR can advocate for employee needs and share insights on pain points, while travel management brings multifaceted know-how to create positive end-to-end experiences.

“Too often, travel falls through the cracks due to corporate silos ‒ HR owns policy, finance handles budget, legal deals with risks. This fragmented system fails travellers and companies alike.

“Optimising business travel hinges on integrated collaboration between travel management, HR and other departments,” said Smith.

So how does this look in practice?

The FCM GM said that as lead designers of employee experiences, HR still plays a pivotal role in conveying pain points and gauging programme sentiment, while travel managers provide guidance around evolving risks, vendor selection balancing policy and traveller expectations, and more.

“HR and travel management identifying issues and opportunities together drive huge competitive edge,” said Smith.

She said this results in personalised, empathy-driven experiences aligning diverse needs, budgets and values and that the key is strategically combining HR’s insider knowledge of employee needs with a travel management company’s intelligence and expertise.

The GM stated that this allows companies to provide customised travel experiences, addressing personal preferences ‒ favourite hotel chains, seat choices, dietary needs; inclusion and accessibility ‒ disabilities, religious requirements, family situations; and health, safety and well-being ‒ pre-trip health checks, destination risk ratings.

“The magic lies in HR and travel management working synergistically together ‒ HR as the employee advocate, and travel management as the operational experts. That’s how you create a travel programme that meets every need,” said Smith.