7 Tips for Booking Business Travel

 

Alyssa Schulke
Alyssa Schulke stresses that negotiating an unbelievable rate and amenities are not the most important factors for corporate bookings.

 

Business TravelAs luxury travel advisors, you may not deal with standard corporate travel clients on a day-to-day basis, but you may have those clients who are in the entertainment industry who travel with an entourage that essentially needs to be treated as a group.

Here, Alyssa Schulke, owner of Schulke Travel, a Travel Experts affiliate, gives tips for ensuring that travel for a cluster of three to 10 guests goes exactly as planned.

Clearly define client requirements: This goes with any corporate or leisure client, but I’ve found that business clients may have requirements that trump all others and they might not be items you consider. For example, I have a TV production client who won’t stay anywhere without 24-hour valet and large enough elevators to transport his gear up and down floors. Another client keeps very unusual hours and requires 24-hour room service. Don’t just assume that negotiating an unbelievable rate and amenities is going to be the most important qualifier.

 

Growing Business Via Leisure

Even if you’re purely a leisure travel advisor, some good business can come your way just from working with local businesses, which in turn, fuels your business overall.

Elaine Smith, owner of e-Destinations, a Travel Experts agency in Raleigh, NC, is a prime example of that. She handles incentive travel for some nearby firms as well as a travel program for the local chamber of commerce. From these efforts she’ll get referrals for business travel and will end up crafting leisure trips for those clients.

In the case of one financial advisor firm, Smith has been handling incentive travel for years. The annual programs are designed to be pure R&R for the advisors and their spouses.

Smith now travels with the group, which has grown from six couples to 29, to ensure everything goes well. Since she’s gotten to know many of them, she now handles their leisure travel as well. Smith doesn’t hesitate to help arrange air and finds herself in many cases trying to figure out how a business travel client can use their many frequent flyer points to plan a family trip.

“I don’t do cut-and-dry business travel, but if a business traveler taking a vacation has points and wants to use these to upgrade, I do try to help them manage their miles,” she tells Luxury Travel Advisor.

“Some will tell me, ‘I’ve got a million miles,’ and I’ll say, ‘That’s great, but can you use them for the dates you want to travel?’ ” says Smith. “I also like to extend the service level if they do have certain credit cards, e.g., if they have American Express, are they familiar with the programs or the pay with points program?”

Even though the airlines don’t compensate her for such services, Smith notes she’s keen to help “because I do want them to be able to fly to get on that cruise or take that wonderful FIT European vacation.” She also relies on Travel Experts’ and Virtuoso’s air programs.

Another way Smith benefits from booking air travel is via a private jet company that her husband works for. If a business client needs to get somewhere fast, she can get them there using the jet service; she’ll also assure a copy of Virtuoso Life is on the plane, and enclose a suggestion that the jet service can also be used for a fun leisure vacation, say, to Charleston, Savannah or Miami.

“I don’t do it every week but I do have the resources here to get a quote for someone and that has worked out nicely,” says Smith.

Sales departments are your friends: Even when I don’t have enough rooms for a “group,” I may still be asked to negotiate a rate with inclusions I can’t find in the GDS. A client of mine that travels a lot on contract has to have breakfast, Internet, and parking included in the rates whenever possible as it helps control budget. Sales departments can often put together customized rates to meet clients’ needs. In addition, even though I might only have seven rooms instead of 10, I may still have enough room nights to get a group rate. It never hurts to ask.

Read the fine print and make sure the client knows what happens if plans change: Be sure you have requested a contract for every corporate stay and that you’ve negotiated the best terms you can. Every supplier has different policies when it comes to attrition, cancellations and payment authorizations, and you don’t want to get caught in a situation where the client has to pay exorbitant penalties they didn’t know about on that special rate you negotiated.

Learn what the client’s accounting department needs to reconcile accounts: A big and often easy win to get your clients to love you is to understand what their accounting department needs to reconcile expenses and how they need their travel broken out. I am already often working with the accounting department on commissions so I might as well inform them in advance of how the receipts should be formatted so I can speed that process along for my client.

Have W-9s and invoices for the stay on hand to speed commission payments: Many suppliers who deal with business clients or special negotiated arrangements need more than an IATA to pay commissions. Have a W-9 and invoice ready to send as soon as the client starts their travel, and commissions will be sent much more quickly.

For business clients, time of arrival at a hotel can be paramount: Are they checking in and running to a meeting? Do they need to just drop their bags, or do they need somewhere to freshen up? How many are arriving together? Make sure the hotel knows these details so your clients aren’t drumming their fingers at the front desk waiting for someone to help them, or worse yet, have a case where some rooms are ready and some aren’t.

If a supplier won’t work with you or doesn’t instill that confidence that they will take care of your client, find one that will: I’ve found that if a business supplier seems unorganized or unable to meet your client’s needs when negotiating, that can be a strong sign that the overall experience won’t be great. Find someone that makes you feel comfortable that they’ve “done this before.”

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