Travel managers have worked behind the scenes throughout the pandemic to keep business travellers on the move, says Richard Tams.

As the post-Covid sun begins to rise over the ever-growing mountains of travel regulations and shines a cautious light of optimism upon the business travel sector, spare a thought for the people who make it all happen: the ‘corporate travel managers’. This often unrecognised and forgotten group of hard-working professionals seems only to be fully remembered and appreciated in times of crisis, such as 9/11, the Eyjafjallajokull eruption and now Covid-19.

While most of us have been basking in the joy of not having to venture out further than our driveways to conduct business across the globe, your corporate travel manager has been tirelessly navigating the complexities of international travel during a pandemic. Not only have they been enabling essential travel for those not able to retire to their box rooms for the duration of lockdown, but they have been getting ready to make travel available for those of us waiting to hit the road again.

The generic term ‘travel manager’ is a somewhat over-simplistic label for those expert professionals in your organisation who make business travel happen. At this point, I should relate a very telling story told to me by the travel manager of a well-known financial institution. The aforementioned travel professional overheard a rooky graduate trainee, while passing the door to her department, ask a colleague in the IT department what the travel department did. ‘They book flights’, replied the IT executive, only for the travel manager to interject and point out that, if that were so, then the IT department just ‘fixes computers’.

Invisible hands

This anecdote effectively illustrates the commonly held misconception of the role of the travel department. It may be because they make it look so easy that they are often invisible to many a traveller. While they do indeed facilitate the booking of flights, usually with the help of a good travel management company, they do so much more.

In a world of pandemics, Brexit, climate change and supply chain shortages, corporate travel managers have had to become overnight experts in epidemiology, sustainability, and immigration law along with a dynamic knowledge of the ever-changing array of international Covid travel regulations. On a daily basis, they are having to navigate these complexities in order to dispense timely and accurate advice on how to travel to and from a wide variety of business destinations without being turned away at check-in or succumbing to ten days of isolation in a foreign land. The hand-holding has never been so intense.

A demanding minority

Believe me, all of this does not happen without an enormous amount of anguish, especially among those who haven’t travelled for a while. As a Board member of the Institute of Travel Management, I am frequently a listening ear for many a frustrated travel manager. These travel managers have gone to enormous lengths to communicate with their travellers and hold ‘surgeries’ on everything from post-Brexit business travel documentation to the latest UK arrivals Covid testing regime.

Nevertheless, they are still confronted by some travellers who think that surely the rules don’t apply to them. They may think, for example, that as the hotel gym is closed, it is reasonable to ask the travel team for a Peloton bike to be delivered to their room. This is the type of request travel teams are having to field. I should say that thankfully these people seem to be a small minority with most of my confidantes reporting a huge amount of patience and understanding from their traveller client base.

So, as the dormant 80 per cent of you travellers brush the dust off your Tumi, buff up your loyalty cards and head for the airport, spare a thought for the ‘guardian angels’ in your organisation who have made it all possible and continue to look after you throughout your trip. Here are some helpful tips to ensure frictionless travel:

  • Plan ahead
  • Use the resources available to you to check requirements
  • Remember that there is no magic wand to get you around the regulations, whoever you are
  • Learn to travel again

Happy flighting!

Richard Tams is an airline consultant and executive coach