May 26, 2024

Independent days

Using a business travel consultant can help give an expert and non-biased view on how to improve your travel programme, writes Rob Gill

Over the past few years there has been a growing band of independent consultants working in the corporate travel world.

But what exactly do these mysterious figures do when it comes to helping buyers and their organisations? What benefits can they bring to the table and, perhaps most importantly, how much do they cost and are they worth the money?

Let’s start with who the consultants are in the first place. They generally break down into several categories including former travel buyers, managers and procurement specialists, as well as those from the supplier side of the business such as travel management companies (TMCs) or leading travel technology firms.

A huge wealth of experience tends to be what consultants bring to the party, with many of them having held senior travel buying positions within major global organisations or at a leading TMC – and sometimes both.

The size of consultancies also varies hugely, with some having a global presence with partners spread around the world and others effectively being a one or two-man band.

Jo Lloyd, a partner at Nina & Pinta, sums up the main selling point: “Consultants are a good independent guide to help companies navigate their way through the travel landscape, make informed decisions and avoid some potholes.”

What they do

Consultants offer a wide range of services to clients and these depend on the skillsets of their particular experts. This makes it imperative to know exactly what you want to achieve before deciding who to work with.

Most consultants can assist and advise on all elements of a travel programme and policy – from helping with RFPs to finding the right TMCs, online booking tools and expense management providers. They will also create airline, hotel and ground transport programmes.

Often consultants provide the missing link in knowledge that an organisation might not have internally for managing travel, or sometimes it can just be a case of looking at a programme with a cold, professional eye and giving advice on how the client can most efficiently meet its objectives.

Rachel Watson, co-founder of consultancy Opteva, says: “We are engaged to support organisations that don’t have an internal travel and expense skillset, or do have a travel and expense skillset but recognise that they don’t have the knowledge of the broader marketplace and appreciate external consultants are best placed to provide independent market intelligence.”

Independence is also a key selling point for consultants, agrees Pascal Jungfer, founder and partner of Areka Consulting. He explains: “As consultants are independent, they are in a position to offer impartial advice, guidance and business case development.”

Some consultancies also go beyond assisting with the practical mechanics of travel procurement and management, and can help clients to fundamentally “rethink” the strategy and sourcing within their programmes.

Paul Tilstone, Managing Partner at global consultancy Festive Road, says: “We focus on supporting customers with rethinking the “why” and the “what”, and only then do we take them through the “how” of the future of their travel programme.”

Who should use them

So are consultants just for large companies and organisations who need help with complex travel management issues? Most leading consultants say this is not always the case and that SMEs are also able to benefit from their services.

Raj Sachdave, Managing Partner at Black Box Partnerships, says: “We have small businesses that are realising they need to get their house in order as they punch up the scale in expenditure, behaviours and processes.

“There is a place around the table for all shapes and sizes, with the right infra-structure, support and aspirations. We’re here to support them, offering a sound voice in business decision-making and commercial positioning.”

Nina & Pinta’s Jo Lloyd agrees. “Ourclients are of all sizes, depending on their needs and the services we provide. For airline and hotel programme management, clients tend to be larger – just by the nature of their spend,” she says.

“But smaller companies can also benefit from the independent data we have through using our dashboard for managing air contracts. For projects related to strategy, policy and expense management, we find that companies of all sizes reach out to us for support.”

Value for money

Another obvious consideration is cost. There are myriad different payment models including fees per project, hourly or daily rates, ongoing retainers and ‘success’ fees based on meeting specific objectives. Often it will depend on the nature of the work or project that the consultants are being asked to help with.

Travel technology specialist consultant Guy Snelgar, from Barndello Consulting, says: “For very clear, well-defined projects, it can make sense to agree a specific project fee. The advantage for the client is obviously the certainty. On the downside, it may not allow the flexibility for the scope of a project to change as it evolves.

“Complex or longer-term projects are usually more suited to paying an ongoing daily rate, especially if the specific solution or outcome is not known at the start.”

Measuring return on investment can be tricky, although Areka’s Pascal Jungfer estimates a consultant usually returns “three to 20 times the cost” for the client. Most would agree that is money well spent.

A selection of business travel consultancies

3Sixty Global – The London-based consultancy has been working in the sector since 2009 specialising in areas such as travel programme optimisation, outsourced travel management, supplier sourcing and payment/expense solutions.

Areka Consulting – Created in 2010, Areka is now managed by five partners and has offices in the UK, France, Germany, Australia and the US.

Black Box Partnerships – Specialising in business travel, meetings and events, Black Box is led by managing partners Leigh Cowlishaw and Raj Sachdave, both formerly of Capita Travel and Events.

Festive Road – Headed up by managing partners Paul Tilstone and Caroline Strachan, Festive Road now has consultants based around the globe including France, Germany, Sweden, Australia and the US.

GoldSpring Consulting – The Texas-based consultancy has increased its UK and European presence by joining forces with independent consultant Chris Pouney.

Nina and Pinta – This London-based managed travel consultancy and training provider recently added industry veteran Chris Crowley, previously of BCD Travel and HRS Group among others, as a new partner.

Opteva – The UK consultancy was set up in 2005 by directors Rachel Watson and Johanne Young. Opteva’s industry experts have more than 100 years combined experience in the corporate travel market.