by David Jonas, Executive Editor, Business Travel News& Sarah J.F. Braley, Senior Editor, M&C | May 01, 2014
Methodology and Respondent Demographics
Travel Procurement and Meetings & Conventions invited subscribers to participate in this joint research and editorial effort. In June and September 2013, 236 qualified corporate travel and meetings buyers answered an online questionnaire.

Three-quarters of respondents confirmed that they are involved in managing corporate travel and/or meetings costs. More than half indicated they are involved in setting corporate travel and/or meetings policies; negotiating rates for transient travelers and/or meetings; and/or selecting or recommending business travel suppliers and/or meeting facilities and destinations. About 40 percent said they manage outsourced corporate travel and/or meetings management suppliers.

Represented T&E spending slanted toward small and midsize enterprises, with 37 percent indicating annual 2012 volume under $1 million. Another 19 percent had T&E up to $3 million, and 9 percent more to $5 million. Nineteen percent said their organizations spent between $5 million and $25 million on 2012 T&E spending and 13 percent indicated more than $50 million.

About one in five respondents to the survey works in procurement or meetings departments. Seventeen percent indicated they work for senior management, followed by the travel department (13 percent of respondents) and marketing or sales (12 percent).

In terms of travel management structure, 45 percent of all respondents -- including 62 percent of those representing organizations with more than $1 million in annual T&E spending -- reported a centralized travel program. Another 9 percent (of both the total and the $1 million-plus subset) indicated they now are centralizing. Most of the remainder said travel spending is managed but not centralized, with small minorities reporting unmanaged travel spending.

Third-party analytics firm Equation Research tabulated all results. -- D.J.
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The discipline of supplier relationship management can run the gamut from formalized processes and data-driven performance  assessments to periodic meetings and shared user feedback. Number-crunching on key performance indicators and service-level agreements can help organizations determine if they are maximizing value, while such strategic activities as joint product development and participation on advisory boards -- as well as simple, open dialogue -- often are more important elements.

Travel buyers want good service and value for their dollar. Sellers want as much of the buyers' business as they can get. But successful and collaborative enterprisewide relationships go further to include engagement from individual travelers up to the C-suite. They may involve fostering responsible corporate practices, reducing risk, sharing goals and driving innovation.

"The challenge for procurement departments in organizations has been the balancing act between the traditional role of negotiating the most beneficial form of commercial agreement, whilst also facing the challenge of maintaining a trusting partnership," according to Kirsten Schipper and Thomas Dahm, authors of a segment within a Capgemnini Consulting research report, Supplier Relationship Management Research 2012-2013. "Many 'old school' procurement professionals have been struggling with the balance of negotiating with a supplier, and being the manager of a partnership with that same supplier. ... Today's challenge is to set up structures to successfully measure and manage suppliers and build processes and procedures to intervene if KPIs are not met."

Many of the key tenets of any good supplier relationship are foundations for the most successful ones with travel suppliers. "It's transparency; having a very open and honest and clear relationship," said Gordon Wilson, president and CEO of Travelport, which provides technology to managed travel programs, travel agencies and other travel suppliers. "If there is a misunderstanding or distrust, or people aren't getting the full information, that's a problem. The other thing is related to data. Every corporate I speak to -- every single one -- complains about data: lack of data, inconsistency of data, the form it comes in, the possibility of reconciling it. That's a key area that relationships increasingly pivot on but actually is poorly served."

Of course, it's a two-way street. To pursue meaningful relationships with their suppliers, buyers need a clear strategy and well-defined goals. The best clients "task us at being better at what we do," said Balboa Travel president and CEO Denise Jackson. "They push us to be innovative."