Time Not Well Spent

Since I got a surprisingly warm reaction to my post the other day on business travel (by way of full disclosure, I consider anything short of an actual cease and desist order a warm reaction), I decided I would magnanimously share a little more of my distilled wisdom on the subject.  Fortunately for the reader, I own my own wisdom distillery.

Airplane over buildingsMost highly successful business owners seem to have one thing in common.  They place a high premium not only on their own time but also the time of their employees.  They constantly preach the old adage of not just working harder but working smarter.

So, for example, if the average CEO discovered that the roof of their headquarters building needed replacing and a well-meaning observer were to suggest that he or she organize a work crew from among their existing employees to repair it, that executive would look at the author of that unsolicited advice as if they had three heads.

“You seriously want me to take a dozen people off-line and have them perform a task for commercial-roofingwhich they have absolutely no training or background?  Do you have any idea how much productivity would be lost around here not to mention how shoddy the roof repair would no doubt be?  Why don’t you come back with another idea when you are not smoking a controlled substance?”

And yet (you knew there was the inevitable “and yet” coming, didn’t you?), some business owners think nothing of assigning the critical task of travel management to a group of over-taxed, highly stressed administrative assistants.  Let me see if I can demonstrate how this abysmally bad idea is based on a handful of commonly held but nonetheless erroneous myths.

Myth #1:  Booking travel couldn’t possibly take that much time.

Well, on this one I will give you partial credit.  We have timed our own highly skilled corporate agents who average over twenty-five years experience and they can typically book an air, hotel and car reservation in under three minutes.  That is because they are using a GDS (an airline reservation system) that they have used for decades and their fingers fly over the keys like hummingbird wings over a field of nectar.

Admin stressed outAn admin, however, will typically spend forty-five minutes to an hour on the same reservation once they have visited numerous airline, hotel and car websites and / or placed several phone calls.  Now if your admin is so under worked that you are desperately looking for ways to help combat boredom, then you have found the perfect recipe.  Assuming your company does even a modicum of business travel, you should have no difficulty in quickly filling those empty hours.

Myth #2  We hear travel agencies charge fees these days.  We can’t afford to use a travel agency.

I know.  Shocking, isn’t it!   Unfortunately, some business owners have trouble seeing the forest for the fees. If you run a business, I encourage you to focus on the potential savings, not the minimal costs.   As Robert Burton put it around four centuries ago, “Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.”

There is not a travel management company worth its salt that cannot easily offset their service fees with the savings they generate.  We just do it a little better than most.  We are experts at obtaining low air fares, discounted car rates and reduced hotel prices.  We save you money, and . . . in keeping with the theme of this little treatise . . . if you believe time is money, we even compound the savings.

Plane among cloudsMyth #3  We are already paying our admins anyway and the end result is the same.

The finished product is demonstrably not the same, just like with the roof analogy.  It is inevitable that many more mistakes will be made, certainly not due to incompetence, but simply due to  inexperience and lack of training.

What happens when there are weather delays and equipment malfunctions?  It is my observation that when those things happen, as they routinely do, you see two sorts of folks at the airport.  The first group is standing in a long line with anxious looks on their faces praying that there are options still available when they get to the front of the long queue.  The second set  of travelers is sitting in the bar chatting on their cell phone with their travel agent  who has them rebooked before either they or their glass of beer has time to break a sweat.

To summarize, having admins book travel without any professional assistance is decidedly time not well spent  If you are looking for an example of the better use of time, being a coffee lover I will close with this anonymous tidbit.  “A cup of coffee with a friend is happiness tasted and time well spent.

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Business Travel: It Only Looks Easy

Some of you may not realize this fact (since I rarely address the subject in this blog) but in addition to making your vacation dreams come true,  we are also very good at managing corporate travel.  We have an entire second website devoted to business travel.

Since by now you are familiar with my embarrassing displays of immodesty from time to time, I don’t mind saying we are pretty darn good at it.  Which, I suspect,  might lead you believe that arranging business travel is quite easy.  Keep reading and you will soon be disabused of that silly notion!

View from airplane windowA lot of things in life look deceptively easy that really aren’t.  Take golf.

Just for the record, this is not Ernie Els.

Just for the record, this is not Ernie Els.

Tune into a PGA tournament on TV this weekend and watch Ernie Els hit a golf ball.  He seems to expend virtually no effort with his legendary, lackadaisical swing and yet the golf ball explodes off the club face like it was shot out of a cannon. His iron shots pepper the flag stick and his putts curl into the cup with monotonous regularity. As a golfer myself, I only wish it were half as easy as Ernie makes it look.

But it isn’t just golf. Whether you are talking about cooking a gourmet meal, playing a violin or adding an entertainment theater to your house,  professionals are paid huge sums of money to make their finely honed skills appear routine and commonplace.

Booking corporate travel is no different. The advent of online booking tools only reinforced the notion that booking an airline ticket, a hotel and a car could be done by a chimpanzee trained to hit three buttons in the proper order. And, in point of fact, a reasonably bright monkey probably could be trained to book a reservation.

But here’s the rub. The airfare might well be $400 higher because the monkey had no idea that a flight into John Wayne airport was significantly cheaper than LAX. The hotel might well be twenty miles and 45 minutes from your meeting place and the car might be booked for the day after you arrive. Sound familiar?

When a company starts spending significant sums on travel, rest assured some well-intentioned executive will pop up with the not so revolutionary suggestion that since we travel so much, we should just handle it ourselves. They will quote the low transaction fee of an online agency as justification for making this precipitous leap. That is analogous to an inexperienced sailor becoming fixated by the tip of an iceberg and ramming the ship into the ninety percent of the ice flow below the waterline.

Frustrated at keyboardIs it realistic to expect an administrative assistant, however bright, for whom travel is just one of many responsibilities, to book travel with the same speed, accuracy and creative faring as a professional corporate travel agent who has been doing this task all day, every day for fifteen years? It makes about as much sense as hiring some fresh-faced newbie and explaining that their duties will entail answering the phone, doing some filing and, oh by the way, performing a little brain surgery. “Don’t worry, after a few stabs at it (pun intended), you’ll catch on.”

In a blog post this short there simply isn’t space to explain all the thousand and one ways in which booking corporate travel is complex, complicated and convoluted (none of which is it reasonable to expect an admin to know). But then again, if you have any personal experience with the “do it yourself” approach to managing travel, perhaps you don’t need a lot of convincing.

I’m not saying that booking corporate travel is rocket science. I’m just saying it’s pretty darn close. At Travel Leaders we make corporate travel management look easy . . . perhaps even a little too easy.

If you would like to discuss travel management for your company, CLICK HERE.

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Travel Agents: Dinosaurs Or Crocodiles?

Not so much now but for several years after the internet burst onto the scene, I would get a very predictable reaction whenever I would mention to people that I was in the travel business.  They would muster their most sympathetic look and say, “Gosh, that has to Dinosaurbe really hard, what with the internet and all.”  What they didn’t say but were obviously thinking was, “Thank God I am not in a business that is going the way of the dinosaur.”

But thankfully the intervening years have shown that we are not extinct dinosaurs but extant crocodiles.  You see, crocodiles also date back to prehistoric times but unlike their lumbering, land-based neighbors, crocs have kept trucking right along.  They were able to adapt to anCrocodile ever-changing environment and they still thrive in many parts of the world today.

So why have travel agencies not only survived but by most measures enjoyed a renaissance in recent years?  Before I offer three answers to that question, here is some journalistic evidence for their revival as well as unsolicited appreciation for the work travel agents do.

Forbes Magazine article by Larry Olmsted –  Hurricane Sandy’s Lesson to Travelers: Use A Travel Agent

The New York Times article by Michelle Higgins – Are Travel Agents Back?

US News article by Daniel Bortz – Why It Pays to Book with a Travel Agent

I know with the advent of the internet you can book a trip without using a travel agent but why in the world would you?  Every good travel agency and their stable of expert agents consistently provide three things you will never get from the web.

Before you go, we offer you RELIABLE ADVICE.

In the olden days, before Google was a noun, much less a verb, our role as travel agents was quite different.  Information was hard to come by and thus we were viewed as mystical high priests, the keepers of the sacred books, the all-knowing ones.  People would come into our offices with confused looks on their faces and we would perform secret travel incantations.

Travel agent advising clientNow, of course, a deluge of information is just a few keystrokes away.  Strangely, customers still stumble into our offices with a dazed look but for a totally different reason.  Now the dilemma for the traveler is not too little information but an avalanche of confusing and often conflicting information.

Where we used to just deliver reliable information, we now curate, organize, evaluate and interpret it.  We can do this because we travel extensively, one of the key reasons we got into this industry.  We know what the beach at that resort you are thinking about is really like because we had our toes in it last month.  We know which hotels are under renovation and which cruise line has the best cuisine.  Of course none of us has been everywhere but we belong to networks inside and outside our own companies where we can source great experiential information.  Plus, we are constantly being updated by our suppliers.

By the time we dispense any travel moonshine, it has been carefully distilled.

Should things go wrong during your trip, we provide ROBUST ASSISTANCE

I often read media travel experts conceding that for complex cruise or tour packages using a travel agency makes sense but for routine flights or simple hotel bookings, you should go online.  Like most conventional wisdom, this is utter rubbish.  One of the compelling reasons to use a travel agent is to buy a little back-pocket insurance policy in case things go awry.  And, if you have taken more than a couple of trips in your life, you don’t need me tell you that things can go all pear-shaped in a hurry.

Just read Larry Olmsted’s article mentioned above.  Wicked weather or routine mechanical delays can have you crying at a ticket counter like a lost child at the mall.   You can either be that person standing in a long line praying all the options are not gone by the time you reach the front of the queue or you can be that relaxed traveler standing to the side, sipping a latte and talking calmly to his or her travel agent.

Should unresolved issues linger after your trip, we supply RELENTLESS ADVOCACY.

If you are in a bar brawl, who would you rather have in your corner:  Mike Tyson or PeeWee Herman?  Sometimes when things go badly there are financial knots to untangle.  You may well still be angry, defensive and vindictive.  You know, sort of like a divorce.  What you need is a trusted advocate.

We know who to talk to and more importantly, how to talk to them.  We have two big advantages over you in this regard.  We are not emotionally vested because it wasn’t us who was denied boarding at the cruise ship because we forgot our passport.   Secondly, this is not our first rodeo with these sorts of problems or with the particular cruise line or tour company.  We have a long-standing relationship to call upon.  We have significant production with that supplier to bolster our position.  We don’t promise the perfect outcome but we usually manage the best possible outcome given the circumstances.

So next time you travel just remember, don’t dial a dinosaur, call a croc!