If you’ve managed business travel budgets or policies for more than a year, then you’ve heard many or all of the following questions:
- “Do we need a rental car for our Philadelphia office?”
- “Can we get the corporate rate at a Hilton Garden Inn?”
- “Is there a hotel within our budget there that has a workout facility?”
- “I’m a vegan, are there good restaurant choices near the client site that serve organic vegetables?”
- “Is there a direct flight to Houston, or do I have to change in Oklahoma City? That seems crazy to me!”
- “Can I use my cell phone in Canada without international charges?”
The longer you work with travelers, the crazier and more outlandish employees’ questions become — particularly if you have several branch offices in different cities that each offer their own unique traveling environments.
Even the most power-hungry manager doesn’t want to be the “single source of truth” when it comes to these types of questions. They’re not policy questions per se, but each has the potential to turn into a “policy problem” if not managed correctly. A rookie traveler who rents a car in New York, for example, could cost the company more than $500 a week in parking fees alone if he or she is unaware of how to effectively use the subway system.
I helped solve this problem in our office with a wiki. A wiki is a simple Web site that Web users can contribute to. Think of it as a living Web site that is constantly changing. Our wiki has links to major cities that we travel to, and whenever an employee travels to a city they’re encouraged to log restaurant reviews, hotel reviews, local transportation options, and even good places to get decent coffee. We also have a list of flights in and out of various cities with the prices we paid for those tickets. Our wiki is basically an electronic “playground” that employees use to communicate the options they find in remote cities — options that DO adhere to corporate policy!
As a manager you can encourage the use of such a tool by offering incentives for the “Wiki Post of the Month” or simply by creating it and leaving it off of the corporate grid to empower the employees to post their own thoughts about what they encounter. Our wiki is frequented by about a dozen travelers in my department, and it’s proven to be extremely effective! If you create one for your company, check in on it frequently to make sure the content stays within the bounds of your travel policies. You may even want to use the content to publish an electronic newsletter full of suggestions about different cities and how to personally manage them.
One aspect of our wiki is the “Cost per Week” section. Employees who log new trips on the wiki can post how much it cost them to spend a week in their most recent destination. That becomes a moving target for other employees to aim for (or aim under) in pursuit of cost savings as traveling becomes more expensive. If the group sees that $2,100 for a week in Boston seems “normal,” they won’t try to reserve a hotel room at $500 per night.