Who Should Buy Travel? (Part One)

This debate has rumbled on for a very long time and I expect it will continue particularly at this time of financial and strategic difficulty. Suppliers have to earn more and corporations have to pay less to achieve their recovery strategy so it has never been more important that the function in the middle of the pricing debate gets it right. If they don’t we will end up either with less products or fewer customers or perhaps both. The key reason for there being an impasse in this debate is there is no right answer for all the stakeholders. It very much depends on the flexibility, specialist knowledge and skills of individuals concerned.
It is not an easy subject to comment on without rubbing someone up the wrong way and getting called biased to one particular part of the supply chain. Although I was very much a TMC man I now feel I can look back more objectively and hopefully put forward some valid considerations to be taken into account. For example I do not believe this activity should be outsourced to a TMC in the current climate as they will be viewed sceptically by the suppliers and not have sufficient mandate within the corporation. It also has the potential of removing ongoing control of the programme, especially within large organisations and their global subsidiaries.

To understand the challenge and make an informed decision you have to know the key issues. I believe many of you know them so I hope you will bear with me while I ad my thoughts on them. Rather like buying most things the secret is to get the correct blend between quality of product and price. In the travel arena this is easier said than done especially when the product is either a commodity or a service and more likely both. In this environment the corporation needs to look closer at a) what exactly they want to buy and b) how they are going to manage the programme to maximum gain when it starts. A decision has to be made as to who in the company is suited to doing both jobs or if the project should be split into two parts. This is where it mainly goes wrong as one task naturally blends into the other.

If you put the TMC and outside consultants aside for a moment that really leaves just two functions which are procurement and the travel manager. One view is that a buyer is expert at buying a commodity and a travel manager is much better at controlling a service. Having seen both in action more times than I can remember it is very rare indeed to find one person who can lead both functions successfully as the skill-set is so different.

So there we have it. When a buyer says it should be their job they are probably as wrong as the travel manager who says it should be them. In my opinion there are only two alternatives. One is that you go out and find that rare breed of person who can both buy professionally and manage a complex service orientated project. After all travel is a commodity when you buy but turns into a service when you use it. The second option (and best in my opinion) is to form a triumvirate of a buyer, a travel manager and a leader who should be a senior board member with a strong mandate from his colleagues. All three should work together from concept to strategy to buying to delivery. This liaison should not stop at delivery but move forward to ensure disciplines and benefits are achieved.
What about the suppliers? Who should be negotiating what with whom?
I will put forward my views in part two but I can say now that I think it works pretty badly in general!This post was syndicated from the blog of former managing director of HRG UK Mike Platt.