Consultants continue to feel micro-managed when it comes to how they travel for business, according to a recent Consulting magazine survey of nearly 100 consultants. The good news is that most clients are not asking consultants to make changes to their typical travel expenses (so say 60 percent of respondents; up from 51 percent in 2009), according to Consulting ‘s annual Best Places to Stay survey. And, compared to last year, fewer consultants report that clients are:
However, an increasing share of consultants reports that clients are “more aggressively reviewing” their travel expenses (18 percent in 2010 vs. 13 percent in 2009). In other words, while the push back may not be getting worse, clients are maintaining the price controls on travel that were implemented during the heart of the downturn in 2009.
As previously reported, the other good news is that consultants are traveling less than they used to. The average consultant is on pace to travel about 88 days in 2010, down from 91 days in 2009 and 99 days in 2008, according to Consulting ‘s survey.
There are a number of reasons for this trend: 1) a dampening in demand requires less travel; 2) projects are getting smaller, requiring fewer nights away from home to complete the job; 3) consultants are pursuing more local clients; 4) clients and consultants are becoming increasingly comfortable doing more and more of the assignment off site. While we see no signs of a return to the high-travel days experienced at the end of the last decade, only time will tell if travel will pick up as demand improves.
While consultants may be traveling less then they use to, it’s still a major part of the job for many consultants. And, increasingly, it’s a major reason why many consultants are considering leaving the profession. Taking proactive steps to make travel less burdensome can go a long way to improving consultant morale and retention.
How to Improve Travel Policies
Consultants’ suggestions to improving their firms’ travel policies are modest and seemingly easy to implement. By far the most common request by consultants was to make their firms’ travel policies more flexible. Several consultants requested that firms improve the ease of the internal online booking service to at least match what’s commercially available from sites like Expedia or Hotwire. Specifically, consultants complained about out-of-date hotel information in small to mid-sized cities.
In addition, several consultants voiced frustration over their firms’ receipt handling systems. One consultant vented, “My firm is being stricter about retaining boarding passes for expense reporting, even for items the firm arranged and prepaid.”
Some firms are also offering some minor perks that others may want to consider, most notably:
Consultants Experience the Best and Worst the Travel Industry Has to Offer
Given the frequent flyer miles racked up each year, airlines, hotels and rental car companies should be falling all over themselves to earn consultants’ business. And, in many cases, they do. But as consultants share with alarming frequency, many fall woefully off the mark.
What’s striking in reading about consultants’ travel experiences is how different some properties respond to the inevitable misplaced reservation or unclean room. It doesn’t take much to get on a consultants’ good list (having a CRM system to record and prompt management to a repeat customers’ preferences seems can go a long way). And, at the same time, it can take very little (nickel and diming a business traveler over a fax) to ruin a property in a consultants’ mind forever.
On the Road Again: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
For sure, traveling has its ups and downs. And then it has downright disgusting. Here are a few examples from this year’s survey.