As we come to the end of another year, many travel managers, procurement directors, and other travel program stakeholders will turn toward the process of reviewing their choice of business travel agency. Some institutional accounts have rigid schedules for holding vendor reviews, while others do so on a semi-annual basis, and others only go to bid if there is some problem with their current service plan.
Whatever the case, the RFP process can be time-consuming (for both vendor and client) and sometimes results in finding the perfect business partner. Just as often, the end result goes the other way, and the new business travel agency has different issues which make them less than perfect, or the same issues as the last vendor but they just hid them better!
Turbocharging your RFP can help you reach your goals without taking a month out of your life, and surprise…it doesn’t have to be 100 pages long. What it does have to be is focused on your particular situation. Your company has a unique travel profile and the most beneficial global travel management partnership will be with the agency which can best meet your needs and, of course, which has a solid commitment to customer service.
Following are eight ways you can enhance your chance of finding the perfect corporate travel service partner with a turbocharged RFP…
Pinpoint Anything That’s Not Working with Your Current Relationship.
Knowing what’s making your travelers, travel arrangers, and accounting team unhappy about your travel program is the most important aspect of putting together your RFP. With this knowledge you can be sure to address the areas of concern in your bid document. Mentioning areas where you would like to see improvement in corporate travel service will let the bidders know what you expect from them and the suggestions they make or solutions they offer will help you get a sense of whether these pain points will go away if you select them. To find out what’s broken we suggest you survey every employee who touches travel, from the CEO on down. Find out what frustrates them while booking travel, what they would suggest as a solution, and what new benefits they would like to see added to their travel program.
Put Together a Solid Travel Review Committee
Sharing the responsibility for selecting a new business travel agency will ensure all your stakeholders have input in the decision-making process. Plus, the more members on your team, the harder it will be for any single member to steer the contract toward a friend or relative’s company. Be sure to include a C-level executive among the members and several key travelers and travel arrangers as well. The more open and collaborative the process, the less likely you are to have issues after a new vendor is selected.
Meet with Your Committee Before Sending Out the RFP
Discuss the results of your travel satisfaction survey. Make sure everyone understands what aspects of service need to be improved so everyone is aware of the challenges your travel program may be experiencing. You should also address the unique needs of your program. Do you go to risky destinations (making Duty of Care a prime consideration) or do you have a lot of long-haul travel (increasing the importance of getting complimentary seat upgrades from the TMC). Make sure everyone understands the difference between overall cost and cost per transaction. A couple of really valuable upgrades can easily outweigh a year’s worth of savings on a lower management fee. Discourage any rigid review structures which place a high value on lower transaction fees. You could wind up being forced to pick the wrong vendor and still spend more money.
Limit Your Questions to Just Those Areas Where You Have Concerns, Want Improvement, or Have Special Needs
Allow the bidders to have the freedom of including whatever service benefits they choose to highlight in their proposal. This will help you see where they focus their energies, plus they may have technology or programs you don’t know about. Of course, you’ll ask them for their cost-savings suggestions, service level agreements, and call answer statistics specifically, but after describing your program needs (and volume) simply ask them to describe what their configuration would look like, how they would implement the change in corporate travel service, and what technology they would use. Resist the urge to prohibit the inclusion of brochures and sales material. Just make sure they send enough copies for everyone on the review committee. Don’t fall into the trap of combining two or three RFPs from different sources, containing hundreds of questions about every aspect of a travel vendor’s program. While you may think this makes it look like you’re doing your due diligence, in the real world this doesn’t actually give you insight into how well they do their job. That’s what the call statistics and KPI documents are for. By simplifying the process, you make life easier for your review committee and you improve the chance that you pick the right vendor, not just the one with the best RFP department.
Don’t Do a Deep Dive into Online Booking If You Have No Intention of Changing Programs
If you have great online adoption (85%+) and all of your travelers love using the program, don’t waste everyone’s time by asking 20 questions about each vendor’s tool. You’ll just wind up with one holdout on your review committee who falls in love with a different online booking tool and has to be talked down from a cloud before they’ll change their vote.
Remember, Group Travel is Still Travel
While the word has circulated that combining group travel with transient travel is the best practice for vendor negotiations, enroute support, and ticket quality, many folks didn’t get the memo. We still see so many RFPs where there is little to no interest in Group Travel Programs. Usually a result of a lack of cooperation between meeting planners and travel managers, this disconnect hurts both sides of the equation. We suggest you include your meeting planners on your review committee and ask them to help craft questions for the RFP. Some of the bidders may offer advanced Cvent support which can be a tremendous aid to keeping a large meeting on track. Plus bridging this divide during the RFP might improve other areas of cooperation between the Meetings and Travel departments moving forward.
Give the Bidders a Pricing Grid to Fill Out
For a true apples-to-apples comparison, put in your projected transaction volume and get a projected total cost of annual service. This will make it easier to compare management fee bids or other unique alternative pricing arrangements suggested by a bidder, which you should allow as long as they complete the grid as their standard option. Make sure every bidder lists every add-on fee, along with a projected volume so you can get all the bids on a level playing field. And finally, make sure to include a disclaimer for your own projected volumes, stating that conditions may change, and that you aren’t guaranteeing volume amounts.
Save Some Consideration for Presentations
Often the deal-making winning benefit among bidders is found during the Presentation stage. After filling out your RFP and reading through your guidelines for presentation topics, the finalists in your review should have a pretty good idea of what an ideal program for your firm looks like. Sit back and enjoy watching what will hopefully be a parade of well-crafted solutions for your travelers. Encourage presenters to bring along team members so you can see whom you’ll be working with. Turbocharge this stage of your review by waiting until you have made the first cut to decide on presentation topics, but always include an extra chance for bidders to present an additional financial benefit, like complimentary incentive tickets, or a signing bonus.
Holding a travel management RFP doesn’t have to be a negative experience. If you get lucky and you get two or three strong contenders, then the work on soliciting responses was worth the effort as you will have both choices for new partners and a few fresh ideas for innovation as well. You can learn what you need to know about the marketplace and connect with valuable business partners as part of the process. Just stay focused on your program’s needs and you can keep the process from taking over the project.
Teplis has been providing corporate travel services for over four decades. During this time, we have developed a set of best practices that are guaranteed to deliver maximum cost reduction. Our extensive contacts in the travel industry, when coupled with our experience, can help you get a corporate discount where others have failed.
Don’t go to an RFP process without including Teplis among the bidders!
Contact us at [email protected] for help with maximizing your travel program and minimizing spend.