Travel buyers rise in visibility, value for senior management


Tough economic conditions and travel industry changes have put business travel managers in a brighter spotlight in the past year, as senior managers have grown increasingly aware of and interested in the cost savings and business support that travel managers offer.

According to this year’s 25th annual Business Travel News Salary & Attitude Survey, 57 percent of 266 travel buyer respondents reported that senior corporate executives have recognized travel management more than they did the previous year, compared with 50 percent of last year’s respondents. More than 40 percent of this year’s respondents said travel management recognition had stayed about the same, compared to 42 percent last year. The amount of travel buyers seeing less recognition dropped from 8 percent last year to 2.5 percent this year.

Kevin Maguire, president and CEO of the National Business Travel Association, said the economic conditions have made travel “probably more important than I’ve seen it in the last five years, and that’s strictly because companies are so stressed now and so strapped in terms of budget that they really need somebody who can come in and help control the travel budget.”

“They’re coming under more scrutiny because people are trying to understand better what travel managers do in terms of maximizing travel and minimizing expenditure,” he said.

With the extra visibility placed on travel by senior management, travel managers are using data and reporting to show the value of managed travel programs.

“There’s been so much confusion because travel managers have not adequately done the quantification in the past,” Maguire said. “Now they’re having to do that.”

Richard Crum, president of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, said travel buyers have been producing reports for years, but now senior management is asking for the information. “They want to understand how their travel dollars are being spent and what the value of that spend is to their company,” Crum said.

Dawn Penfold, president of meetings industry employment consulting firm Meetingjobs, added, “People now have to constantly justify their existence—document their worth, document their savings, ROI, etc.”

Richard Wooten, director of global travel services for Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin, also has noted an increased interest from senior management.

“We’re getting a lot of requests from senior management from different business units throughout our company for reporting on their departments and for advice on how they can change traveler behavior and reduce costs,” he said. “They’re looking at things like advance ticket purchase, usage of nonrefundable airfares and usage of our approved hotel program.”

While Wooten previously had been reporting travel data, interest in the information is increasing, even to lower levels of management. At the beginning of this year, he began supplying them with an executive summary that provides comparative internal benchmarking of travel costs by business area. At the same time, Wooten began publishing in a monthly newsletter for business travelers metrics on nonrefundable ticket savings by business area.

Wooten anticipated attention from senior management would grow. “Rather than cutting travel budgets, they’re trying to travel more wisely and get more out of their spend,” he said.

Maria McSorley, vice president of global travel at investment management firm BlackRock, reviews travel data with senior management quarterly, but also conducts smaller presentations that show division heads their group’s spending on air, car and hotel, and opportunities to save money.

“We’re targeting those who are in charge of budgets that are looking for opportunities,” she said. “It’s trickling down from above. Everybody’s looking for an opportunity to cut costs.”

While the methods travel managers use to show their value to senior management may vary, travel buyers saw a slight increase in their average earnings year over year, less than 1 percent from the $92,494 average in last year’s survey to $93,290.

Jason King, CEO and chairman of New York-based executive search, career development and consulting firm, said salaries offered by companies hiring corporate travel managers now range from $100,000 to $145,000.

“For the first time in a long time, they’re sort of dipping and going up at the same. Normally, there’s a pattern that we can utilize even in our recruitment of travel managers because generally the pattern has been continually going up,” he said.

King added that the companies hiring now are looking for someone who has the capability of restructuring the company’s travel department as well as take on more responsibilities, such as ground transportation and fleet management.

Strategic meetings management, including logistics, and security-related responsibilities, including management of traveler tracking software, top the list of roles travel buyer survey respondents expect to assume by 2010.