How to...

Revolutionise bookings

With some 1,500 staff across the UK, this family-owned infrastructure service provider based in Hertfordshire, knew there was a better way of booking travel other than the reactive system in place. What McNicholas did was to revolutionise travel for the company

Revolutionise bookings

Tony Silver was keen to improve on a travel booking system where the average booker arranged travel just a day in advance. However, two attempts at making changes he knew would benefit the company – with two large TMCs – were thwarted, as Tony explains. “With a large TMC the software is geared up to the top ten clients. The TMCs were not able to adapt their systems to fit us, we had to adapt to fit them,” he explains. “All we wanted was a system that was as easy to use as when a booker makes their own personal holiday arrangements.” Read on to discover how McNicholas achieved exactly this.

STEP 1: McNicholas’ 1,500 staff previously made their own travel bookings and the company had approximately 100 purchase cards in circulation. Bookers would search for the best deal to suit their needs online, then email the booking over and receive a fax confirmation, then reconcile it in an Excel document. The small amount of air travel that was being booked was made via public sites. There was no management information, nor negotiated rates or preferred deals in place.

STEP 2: “We never got to trial the previous systems. TMCs didn’t really want to go down that route, so we learnt from that,” says Silver. He created a project team – himself and colleagues Natalie Bosher (executive PA) and Susannah Sharples (cost manager) – to trial systems from two potential suppliers. They decided that Click Travel was the better fit, not least because their system had been developed in-house.

McNicholas was particularly impressed by the rich content offering on Click’s portal, called Travel Cloud, which did not rely exclusively on GDS content. “Click’s live content is amazing,” says Silver. Travel Cloud includes live availability from the likes of laterooms.com, HRS, booking. com, Premier Inn, Travelodge, Aer Lingus, and easyJet, for example.

“It’s also a single solution, so you sign in once and every booking type can be made within the exact same system without sending you to a third party solution,” explains Silver. There are a minimal number of screens to make a booking and because it’s so easy to use adoption has been really high.

STEP 3: Contracts were signed with Click in April 2012 and the plan was to quickly roll out the system across McNicholas.

A few modifications were required, to incorporate cost centres, locations and defaulting to today’s date, and these were dealt with without fuss or challenge, in contrast to McNicholas’ previous experience.

“It’s a refreshing approach; they take on our feedback and adapt their software as necessary, which makes Click a pleasure to do business with,” says Silver.

Travel Cloud is loaded with the particulars of company policy and the profiles of all the employees that travel on business. There's also a dashboard of who’s travelling, when and where they're going, plus details on future bookings and so on.

It’s also colour coded for simplicity: green signifies contracted/preferred rates; amber represents publicly available rates; and red signals an out of policy booking.

Whatever it is that travellers are booking – hotels, train tickets or flights – the booking process is the same.

STEP 4: Some 12 central bookers were appointed from various divisions at McNicholas and they undertook training on the new system via an hour-long WebEx tutorial.

The company’s previous training experience involved 12 bookers being out of the office for half a day. “The system is very intuitive so we went live six weeks later and the changeover was seamless,” said Silver. He anticipated pushback but none came.

STEP 5: Silver's project team colleagues, Bosher and Sharples, created a travel policy together with HR, while Silver himself created a hotel programme incorporating 82 contracted rates across 12 different hotel brands.

For 2013, the hotel programme was tendered and further streamlined into three strategic hotel partners that McNicholas would do business with: De Vere Village, Holiday Inn and Jupiter Hotels.

Adoption levels on the newly implemented system are high (over 90 per cent) and cost savings have been in the region of an impressive 25 per cent. Silver has teamed up with Greg Woodley at easyJet for the first airline deal of 2013 which will generate savings of around 20 per cent.

STEP 6: “We’re in a very good place now,” says Silver. “Fees are low and we have excellent account management through Chris Vince and Gemma Jones. It all seems to work. Bookers would voice their opinion if they weren’t happy,” he adds.

The benefits have been overwhelming too: advance booking has increased to an average seven days ahead of travel; there's a 75 per cent time saving on the end-to-end process of booking; and a 20 per cent cost saving on average rates on hotels.

Looking to the future of his travel programme, Silver says he'd like to increase usage of the four videoconferencing units installed eight months ago – they are currently used mainly for internal meetings and some client meetings – and tie up with a rail company in order to more tightly manage employees' rail bookings.

Silver sees the project as a steep learning curve and has some words of caution: “As a buyer your instinct is to go out to the supplier that has the biggest buying power, but tread with caution” he says. “Go out and do the deal yourself, and look at smaller but growing companies. It’s all about relationships, and this has been an enjoyable project to work on.”