17 February 2005 | David Arminas
Zurich Financial Services has cut 50 per cent off its domestic air spend during a three-month online trial.
Ron Mitchell, purchasing consultant at Zurich, told delegates at this month's Business Travel Show in London the savings were greater than expected.
The company began a pilot programme in early 2004 and extended it to all employees in October.
At first, Mitchell was not totally convinced of the promised benefits, but good results arrived early.
"In the first month of operation, the average price of our London to Glasgow air tickets went down by 33 per cent.
"Belfast to Birmingham fell by 42 per cent, London to Newcastle was down by 44 per cent and London to Edinburgh down by 57 per cent."
There were also savings on long-haul flights, but these were "nowhere near as dramatic" as for journeys under four hours.
He described how the search for a good tool starts with understanding "process mapping" and staff's buying habits. Changing these was the biggest challenge, which is why senior management backing was vital.
"It is important to get, preferably in writing, a letter from the chief executive saying employees will use it. E-mail notices fail because around three-quarters don't get read."
Mitchell said the Zurich system was used by 70 per cent of staff and he expects this to reach 80-85 per cent by March 2006.
Despite the savings, Mitchell said an online travel system could not replace a good travel management company: "An online booking only does a small part of what they do."
He warned that whatever tool was used, buyers should ensure it was portable, so "you can take it with you if you fall out with your travel management company".