Business Travel: Planning to Go
Business Travel: Planning to Go
Preparing to hit the road probably constitutes the biggest aggravation of most business trips. Even when the journey doesn’t cross national borders, travelers face a welter of details – enough to render the whole experience a nightmare.
Industry experts say the secret to smooth travel is to allow ample time before departure to plan for last minute details and unexpected loose ends. Whether turning to the pros or opting for a do-it-yourself approach, an organized strategy can make the task a whole lot easier.
Travel Arrangements: The Right Agent
The Internet offers many services once available only to travel professionals. Even so, some business owners may find themselves regretting they didn’t hire an agent. The time needed for booking flights and hotels can interfere with other preparations – and airlines, hotel and itinerary glitches may sap energy and build frustration, undermining the ability to focus on business.
Agents do charge a commission. On the other hand, they have the capacity to cater to specific needs and preferences, offer money-saving deals beyond what’s available via the Internet and are a blessing in emergencies. For companies with employees, an agent also can guarantee that personnel stick to the owner’s travel policies.
To find an agent, do a quick Internet search or ask friends, family and colleagues who they’ve dealt with successfully.
Once you’ve identified some likely prospects, use these guidelines to make your final choice:
- Deal only with properly credentialed agents, preferably members of the American Society of Travel Agents (http://www.asta.org/), which enrolls travel professionals around the world. Another source for qualified personnel, the Association of Retail Travel Agents or ARTA (http://www.arta.travel/), represents small and independent travel agents nationwide. For a fast search, The TravelSense (http://www.travelsense.org) “Find an Agent” tool allows users to search for agents with experience specific to their needs.
- When interviewing agents, ask how long they have been in business, with five years of experience being desirable. Also inquire about:
- Qualifications. The Travel Institute (http://www.thetravelinstitute.com) offers the most prestigious training programs in the industry. The highest certification for an agent is Certified Travel Counselor, a designation requiring five years of full time travel industry experience and the completion of 12 courses. Other certificates are Certified Travel Associate and Certified Travel Industry Executive. These credentials demonstrate, in-depth, industry knowledge and dedication.
- Booking fees. The agent should be forthcoming about general rates and fees for special services, such as ticket delivery. Stay away from candidates who evade these issues.
- Specialties. Some agents deal primarily with group travel, while others focus on individual travelers.
- Availability. An agent should be able to offer on-call round-the-clock emergency assistance.
- Deals. Top-notch travel agents typically find ways to save money for regular clients, such as preferred supplier arrangements in the hospitality and airline industries.
- A good travel agent always puts client needs before sales. During the interview, he or she should inquire about your individual style, preferences and travel habits with the intention of establishing a relationship. If this doesn’t happen, move on to the next prospect.
- Check your own comfort level. You’ll likely get better service from an agent when you both “click.”
- When your candidate works out of a larger agency, note how the other agents are treating their clients. If they are pushing people through too quickly, this is a red flag. The same could happen to you.
- When you make your final decision, never sign a contract until you have thoroughly reviewed the paperwork.
“Do-it-yourself” travel the easy way
While travel agents can be worth the investment, some business owners prefer to make their own arrangements. Aside from the time commitment, using the Internet makes the task eminently doable. Sites such as Kayak (http://www.kayak.com) can search hundreds of travel websites for the best deals in airfare, lodging, etc., with a few taps of the keyboard.
That said, travel industry experts do suggest some strategies targeting reservations, expenses, safety and other business-travel related issues:
- When making airline, hotel and car-rental arrangements, investigate companies that offer special deals to business owners. Remember – not all travel-oriented businesses advertise savings, so it’s always smart to ask.
- Run online price comparisons using websites such as Travelocity (https://www.travelocity.com), Expedia (http://www.expedia.com/) and Orbitz (http://www.orbitz.com/).These allow price comparisons on airlines, hotels and rental cars, often at rates better than the providers advertise.
- Check organizations such as AARP (http://www.aarp.org/) for member travel discounts, as well as various auto clubs like AAA (http://www.aaa.com/), which can also help with itineraries.
- When booking air travel, make sure you allow adequate time in between connecting flights. An hour at minimum is usually sufficient, but you may want to build in a little extra time to cover delayed departures or arrivals.
- For travel in the United States, check with the destination cities’ chambers of commerce and convention/visitors bureaus for recommendations regarding meeting facilities, lodgings, restaurants and professional networking opportunities.
- The Global Business Travel Association (http://www.gbta.org/) advises owners to set and enforce company-wide travel policies; make finding and booking travel quick and easy for employees; aggregate purchasing of travel and related services in order to get the best value; and centralize information on all traveling employees to facilitate rapid response to internal or external crises.
- Set up a destination list, complete with places you plan to visit. This might include the hotel, convention center, restaurants, etc. Then, enter the address, contact information, website and map for each place.
Change Voicemail and Email: Electronic Update Messages Mean Happy Clients
Extensive travel can mean lost phone messages, ignored emails and missed opportunities. The trick for avoiding potential catastrophe is simple. Small-business owners must notify clients and customers of their pending absence - by telephone, email or short written correspondences - at least seven days prior to departure.
Office productivity programs frequently include email management features such as automatic response, an effective way for a computer to shoot back a reply once the owner is out of the office. And virtually all land-line and cellular phone providers offer user options regarding greeting, messaging, call forwarding and other functions. Here are additional tips to help avoid frustrated clients and staff:
- Always record a voicemail message detailing departure/return dates, other personnel available for assistance and alternative means, such as email, to contact you.
- Designate a key staffer to take client calls and to troubleshoot, as well as to act as an employee resource. Both clients and personnel should have access to critical information during your absence.
- Coordinate a set schedule of conference call times to ensure all staff members are on hand for updates from the road.
- Don’t forget your cellphone – the best tool for on-the-road availability. Wireless functions include calling, secure emailing, text messaging, instant messaging, voicemail and Internet connectivity, so there’s no excuse to be out of touch. A notebook or laptop with Internet capability works well, too, particularly with installed voice and video chat software. Apps such as Google Talk, Skype and other popular programs typically are free of charge.
Checklists: Before Departure
Cancelled and delayed flights can strand even the most organized business travelers in airports or strange cities – minus critical electronic files. To forestall these headaches, put together a checklist in the 24-hour period prior to departure. This process may take a bit of time initially, but once the basic format is in place, travelers can return to these “to-do” forms again and again.
The following suggestions will serve as a starting point:
Many standard insurance policies cover losses and thefts that occur on the road, but business owners who travel extensively - both in the U.S. and abroad - may find additional insurance useful and comforting. Travel plans typically cover:
- Trip cancellation. This type of plan covers non-refundable travel expenses, such as airfare, when a family or medical emergency forces you to put a trip on hold. This insurance product carries a lot of exclusions and conditions, so may be worth the cost only for long-distance trips.
- Baggage loss/theft. These policies reimburse the cost of lost, stolen or damaged luggage. Policies differ in valuation protocols and may vary according to the circumstances of loss, damage or theft. Proof of ownership (such as purchase receipts or photos) is standard in the claims process, and reimbursement can take a while.
- Emergency/accidental medical. Of all the travel insurance products available, this probably is the best buy. When a medical emergency occurs, these policies pay directly to you or provide reimbursement later. There are exclusions, however, such as pre-existing conditions; and for U.S. travel, your health insurance plan may adequately cover you.
Some business insurance plans also provide protection for:
- Business equipment. Coverage includes computers, hardware, product samples and other items critical to a business trip.
- Money. Various policies cover large cash amounts against loss or theft.
- Loss of income. Business travel policies may supplement disability insurance should a medical emergency happen on the road.
- Personnel. Some plans pay the cost of sending a substitute employee to complete a trip when the insured suffers a medical mishap during travel.
While travel insurance can be useful, it’s not for every business owner. Check with your agent for more information on how these products can benefit you.