We have read about the alarming increase in air travel costs and continual decreases in corporate travel budgets in magazines, seen it on the news, and conversed about it with colleagues. As meeting planners, can we be savvy and help solve this dilemma?
Developing budgets for the internal conferences at Symantec, I diligently allocate funds for conference operations, hotel accommodations, and air travel expenses. The internal event budgets are based on an “all-in” budget model, which captures all conference costs and provides a complete view of the company’s spend. To some, having all prices centrally managed is ideal since it offers more excellent budget controls. However, my team and I discovered that we had a wild card on our hands: air travel and expenses. (Note: the costs did not necessarily hit our event budget, but I wanted to help drive down the overall company expenses related to internal conferences.)
Since conference attendees could book their air travel according to corporate travel policy, I saw an opportunity to be a driving force in reducing travel costs. In addition to overall savings, my motivation was to repurpose the savings for other conference operational expenses. I saw an opportunity, and spending company money on evening events or a theme is much more exciting and memorable for attendees than spending it frivolously on air travel.
I partnered with American Express and the Symantec Corporate Travel team to develop a customized Event Travel and Expense Policy. This customized policy has been in effect for all significant internal events (200 or more attendees) for two years, and we are tracking cost savings and policy success year-over-year. The average airfare has decreased by 8 percent during the two years. Considering Symantec’s events middle 1,500 to 4,500 attendees, an 8 percent savings per attendee is significant, especially with industry forecasts showing the average airfare increasing from 2 to 5 percent in 2012.
A few policy highlights include:
– All travel must be booked 21 days before the conference, or the attendee’s invitation will be revoked.
– Lowest available fare must be booked, and all attendees must fly in coach, including executives.
– Changes to booked, ticketed flights may only be made with the senior vice president’s approval submitted to the events team.