How Unilever is plugging travel policy leakage

23 February 2017

Unilever has relaxed its hotel booking procedures in an attempt to plug leakages in its travel policy.

Previously the company negotiated hotel rates around the world and employees were expected to use them, but many chose not to.

In an overhaul Unilever now negotiates rates for just its top 30 cities. Elsewhere travellers get free rein on where they book accommodation, so long as the cost is within a city price cap, according to Yvonne Moya, Unilever’s director of global travel services.

“We have taken a totally different approach to savings this year because we have realised that our leakage is so huge,” she said. “We completely opened up the programme… And it works. They [travellers] go through managed channels.”

This gives Unilever visibility it was missing, while still driving some savings through the caps. As of next year, Moya said she will have more data to work with. “It gave us the buy-in from the travellers who say, ‘OK, I don’t mind buying from the programme because I now have a better choice’,” she said. 

Speaking at the Business Travel Show in London today, Moya said making savings through travel was more about managing demand than driving down supplier prices. “It’s really not going out there and negotiating harder. It’s more around the aspects of communication: do you need to travel? Can you substitute by video conference?” she said.

Moya added that the travel department had “huge targets to cut” spend but were working hard to avoid an all out travel ban. “We’re trying to be smarter in the way we book and what we book and channelling demand and of course substituting traveling with technology,” she said. 

Speaking about forecasting, Moya said current events were making predicting prices harder to do. “Do I build a programme solely on a forecast that issued in December and then, rightly so, adapted in January and February and after Brexit? Probably not.”

“From our perspective [forecasts are] really something that we build a baseline around and a long-term strategy, rather than reacting on those changes 1% up or down,” she said.

Moya would not comment on whether Unilever was looking to make cost reductions after declining of a takeover bid from Kraft Heinz. However, she did say savings from the travel policy were part of an unrelated cost savings programme. 

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