Wider role for agents gives purchasers strategic scope

20 June 2001
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21 June 2001 | Robin Parker

Corporate travel managers are moving into more general purchasing roles and there is the potential for a more strategic responsibility, according to the Institute of Travel Management (ITM).

"The role of the corporate travel manager is changing," Loraine Holdcroft, executive secretary of ITM, told SM. "Applications to join the ITM are increasingly from people in general procurement who have been given responsibility for travel management as one of their procurement roles."

She denied that travel management will cease to be a specialist skill, "but there is a trend, even among long-term ITM members, to broaden one's skills to other areas of procurement".

A survey by Cranfield University commissioned by the ITM suggested that travel managers could outsource much of their purchasing administration to travel agents to justify their transaction fees.

"The opportunity is certainly there to remove a lot of administration and free up time for strategic decision-making,"said Keith Mason of Cranfield's air transport group, who compiled the study.

Most respondents use only one travel agent, which handles on average 92 per cent of their air travel spend. Most buying is arranged by telephone, with a tenth booking via e-mail.

The Internet's main benefit, identified by more than 80 per cent, is for checking flight schedules. Less than 5 per cent book online, a process actively discouraged by three-quarters of travel managers on the grounds that it makes it hard to monitor and control spending. But they said 42 per cent of travel would be booked online within five years, as users become accustomed to the net and technology improves.

"Online booking is being used for short-haul flights, but it will never replace the corporate travel agent, as it cannot replicate the diversity of roles or provide management information such as payment history," said Holdcroft.

The survey team spoke to travel managers of 20 companies with over 1,000 employees, and to travellers at 16 of these firms. The firms have a total annual air travel spend of £95 million.


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