McQuade saw a cost-saving initiative as an opportunity to reinvent travel ©Npower
McQuade saw a cost-saving initiative as an opportunity to reinvent travel ©Npower

How Npower overhauled its travel function

posted by Francis Churchill
22 February 2018

Npower’s travel team shed the “comfort blanket” of a mature TMC relationship to cut costs and increase online adoption, its head of travel buying said.

When the department was asked in 2015 to find 20-30% savings as part of a company wide cost-cutting exercise, Npower went to tender for a new TMC contract despite having a mature relationship with its incumbent, Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT), which included a well-functioning CWT team embedded in the Npower offices.

Npower re-awarded the contract to CWT but for a completely new travel management model that phased out the embedded team and sought to increase online bookings from 75% – what Jo McQuade, group travel manager at Npower, said was a natural adoption level – to 95%. Despite continuing the relationship, CWT and Npower treated the contract as a brand new client implementation.

Of the eligible tickets, McQuade said Npower now has an online booking rate of 89%.

Speaking at the Business Travel Show in London yesterday, McQuade said: “We felt that this was actually an opportunity to help reinvent travel. Sometimes when you’re in quite a mature programme something like a cost-saving initiative can be a wonderful opportunity.

“We’re standing at a cliff edge and everything’s fine, but actually we’re going to literally push ourselves off the cliff and hope everything is going to be OK.”

The first thing McQuade did before going to tender was to talk to the business heads to “ensure we had the senior stakeholder buy-in, but also to make sure that we started to tell that story quite early on so that travellers were becoming aware of those changes”. This included doing a quarterly engagement with senior stakeholders, a move made possible by previous relationship-building work McQuade had done before the change. “They knew who I was,” she said.

During the implementation phase, McQuade said the process of increasing online adoption was as simple as “taking the easy part away” from travellers. “It is simple in practice,” she said. Her team looked carefully at what tickets could be bought through their Cytrix online platform and, with the support of CWT, mandated they be purchased online. “The implant [embedded team] supported us, we gave them the authority to say, ‘Your company would like you to book this through Cytric’.”

McQuade said when she did this she was “waiting for the celling to collapse”, but it didn’t. She attributes this to communication with stakeholders and collaborating with partners within the company. “Whether its bookers, frequent travellers etcetera, it’s about being transparent about why you’re making these changes,” she said.

Another change the new travel programme implemented was reducing the amount of travel employees did. Npower had previously surveyed its travellers and found 70% of travel was people journeying between the firm’s offices for internal meetings. “Travel and the way we communicate are absolutely dovetailed,” said McQuade, and so part of the policy was about supporting the business in its use of videoconferencing and changing the culture around face-to-face meetings.

The travel programme is still an ongoing process in which educating travellers is key, said McQuade. “We do a great job procuring, but actually [travel] is a dynamic product a bit like gas and electricity, it’s a commodity.

“The world is changing and our business is always changing; there’s always a curveball,” she said.

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