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Source the right TMC

After operating an in-house travel agency for many years, The Salvation Army International was seeking a travel management company that could deliver personal service and meet its exacting need

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THE BACKGROUND: Established in 1865, charitable organisation The Salvation Army International is based in London and today has a presence in over 120 countries worldwide. It provides health programmes, emergency response and family tracing assistance to those in need.

“A lot of our travel is to developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America, and to disaster and/or high-risk areas,” says the charity’s Travel Manager, Mark Edwards, “and we’re experiencing year-on-year expansion.”

For a long time The Salvation Army’s travel needs were fulfilled by its own in-house travel agency, but this was disbanded in 2001. It hired its first TMC soon afterwards and had a lengthy and largely successful relationship with it before Mark felt it was time for a change.

“Our old in-house operation had offered us a really personal service and that’s what we needed to get back to,” he says. “We needed a relatively small company that could look after us and meet our demanding turnaround needs.”

Mark cites the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 as an example. “By midday we were getting people out there and working. We have to be there almost immediately.” He adds: “We have diverse travel patterns and the amount we travel really depends on what’s going on in the world.”

Last year, The Salvation Army was heavily involved in projects in Nepal following the catastrophic earthquake that hit the country and this year has been working with North African migrants in Greece.

“A lot of our work is to help people in need and it’s often in high-risk areas. Our travellers aren’t obliged to travel if they’re nervous, but it’s the nature of their role and it’s in our ethic,” says Mark.

THE CHALLENGE: The Salvation Army was looking for a TMC who would handle bookings with the same care and detail as its old in-house agency. It needed a partner that could respond quickly, was available 24 hours a day, could organise both individual and group travel and provide high-quality, stress-free customer service. It particularly sought a TMC that would proactively look for cost savings and bring their attention to special rates and offers that it was eligible for.

“We’re a charity so we’re looking at the cheapest fares or rates all the time. Our travellers appreciate that’s just the way it is,” says Mark.

“That said, we recognise that cheapest isn’t always the best and it often means non-refundable or change-able tickets so we have to manage that very carefully.”

Crucially, the charity also required access to airlines’ special charity fares. “Only a small number of travel management companies have access to airlines’ charity fares so that narrowed the pool immediately,” says Mark. “At the time it was just four or five TMCs.”

THE STRATEGY: Ultimately, The Salvation Army selected Diversity Travel, with Mark identifying a good cultural fit and the sort of high service levels and account assistance he required.

“Diversity was relatively small and young when we started working with them. We got very personal service and they’ve maintained it as they’ve grown,” he says. “We are growing, our spend is increasing, and they know how we work.”

Chris Hellawell, Head of Account Management at Diversity, says the TMC quickly got to grips with The Salvation Army’s idiosyncrasies and describes its needs thus: “Their travel can sometimes be last minute or involve complex, multi- destination itineraries, and the people travelling could be charity staff, volunteers, VIPs or trustees.”

He continues, “We need to be able to hold fares up to the day of travel without commitment and we can offer a range of airlines with charity contracts.”

The benefits of charity deals include the ability to hold fares, flexibility on changes, no minimum stay requirements and more generous baggage allowances. Additionally, some airlines offer a specific discounted rate.

“Charity fares are closely guarded by those TMCs who have access to them,” says Mark. “We use British Airways, Kenya Airways and Emirates a lot but, even so, they account for only a small proportion of our overall spend.”

Mark praises Diversity Account Director, Peter Bush, for his proactive approach to working with The Salvation Army, including input on data analysis, supplier negotiations and general advice.

“We appreciate cost is important to them,” says Peter, “but lowest fares aren’t always the best because they're not very flexible. That’s the sort of thing we advise on and will present alternative, cost-effective options.”

Mark and Peter work closely together to identify trends from management reports and influence booking behaviour accordingly.

Diversity’s PinPoint traveller tracking system has proved popular, while Mark has also dispensed with an “unsatisfactory” outsourced visa service and moved those requirements over to the TMC’s inhouse team – and “has not looked back since”.

The Salvation Army’s point-to-point travel volumes are low so use of Diversity’s booking tool has not been as beneficial as working directly with reservation consultants. “For our set up, online is not the way forward,” says Mark.

THE RESULTS: Mark continues to handle The Salvation Army’s travel bookings but has access to the GDS and can research the options available to him.

“There can be a fair bit of groundwork before it even gets to Diversity,” he says, “and then they might come back to me and say ‘actually this is what we’d suggest’ or ‘did you realise such and such about this fare?’.”

He continues: “We have so many variables to our travel requirements that we have to have a fluid policy and make sure we’re getting the best deals. Our partner’s expertise is crucial in this.”

The TMC has also opened its client’s eyes to using a wider array of airlines, has helped secure new supplier deals and encouraged the use of smaller airlines with whom The Salvation Army’s travel spend has more clout.

“We’ve been very successful in achieving more flexible and competitive fares for them,” says Peter.

When it comes to MI, standard reports have been tweaked to help The Salvation Army identify savings oppor-tunities or new booking procedures. As Mark explains, “sometimes when we’re fixed on doing something one way Diversity will come in and suggest doing something else – and it normally works.”

Peter jokes: “Some-times we know what Mark wants before he even asks!”

Mark sums up The Salvation Army’s relationship with its travel management company: “Diversity was relatively small when we started working with them. We knew they would expand and grow but you wouldn’t necessarily know it because we still get the same service levels that are so important to us.

He adds: “I always feel like we’re their best client and I guess that’s how every company wants to feel.”

PROFILE:
Mark EdwardsTravel Manager, The Salvation Army International
Mark started in the travel industry some 30 years ago as a junior for a small travel agency. He progressed to assistant manager and then director before changing roles in 2001 to become Travel Manager for The Salvation Army International Headquarters, managing its international travel programme.