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Posted: April 06, 2009

Pin a medal on your corporate travel manager

2.4 million people work in corporate travel — and keep America moving

Robert Polk

Outside of the financial industry, there is probably no other industry that has come under more fire than the travel industry. And, heaven forbid, if you happen to be working in the financial industry and traveling then you should change your name to “Bulls Eye” because everyone is taking shots at you!

While some in the financial industry deserve this scrutiny, us poor folks in the travel industry have done nothing to deserve such wrath from Washington. All we are trying to do is eke out a living and keep our clients happy. Have you ever stopped to wonder about all the things that the people involved in travel do to keep their clients happy? 

If you have a corporate travel manager at your company, you probably wonder what this person does all day and why they seem to have so many rules for everything. Their “client” is every traveler, every travel arranger, the CFO, the CPO, the CEO and the board of directors. Our guess is that very few in this group of “clients” have any idea of the amount of thought, time and energy that goes into balancing the needs of the traveler on the road and the company’s budget requirements. Well, whether you know the ins and outs of their day-to-day, their job has never been so important and may have never been so complicated. 

CTMs do some of the following each and every day to keep their travelers on the road and their company happy:

•    CTMs interview and select vendors that best fit their company culture and their travel budget.
•    CTMs negotiate contracts with these vendors, promising them their entire travel spend so as to obtain the best discounts for their company.
•    CTMs then spend endless hours on the soapbox preaching to their travelers about why it is so important to use the vendors they have selected.  They tread carefully while explaining that certainly Aunt Betty is a great person who runs a great bed and breakfast, but she is not an approved vendor, and only approved vendor spend will be reimbursed. 
•    CTMs are constantly reassuring their travelers that they do indeed know something about travel.  However, almost all exceptions to their travel policy will not be allowed. 
•    CTMs try to amend, defend and enforce a travel policy that changes as the economy changes. 
•    And today CTMs are faced with many more travel policy questions than ever before, such as:

―    Should additional airline mileage offers be reimbursed?
―    Should additional baggage fees from the airlines be reimbursed?
―    Should additional fees for seat assignments be reimbursed?
―    Should additional fees for moving up to preferred seating, such as United’s Economy Plus, be reimbursed?
―    Should additional fees for boarding priority upgrades be reimbursed?
―    Should fees for registered traveler programs, like the Clear Program, be reimbursed?

•    CTMs spend time with their senior management assuring them that the above items are being looked at on each and every transaction.
•    CTMs manage each company travel dollar just like it was their own dollar being spent.
•    At the end of the day, CTMs are confident they are a very valuable asset to their company; corporate travel brings valuable revenue into their business.

CTMs must also rely on their primary partner, the travel management corporation, to help accomplish the above goals and duties. CTMs and their TMC account managers should be joined at the hip. These two people should be able to complete each other’s sentences and thoughts. They have to be on the same page on every issue and topic and work as a team so both the corporation and TMC can earn a profit and plan for the better days that are sure to return. (If you are a CTM and you do not have that kind of close, attentive, “Jerry McGuire-esque” relationship with your TMC or AM, you are using the wrong TMC!)

So, for all 500 of the corporate accounts that our travel agency serves, and the thousands that we would like to serve, give your CTM a break! Smile at them when you pass in the halls!  And, don’t get upset when you can’t stay at Aunt Betty’s bed and breakfast on your next business trip.

Did you know there are 2.4 million of us poor travel folks that eke out a living working in corporate travel?  We — from the CTM and AM that jointly write a travel policy, to the agent that books your flight, to the pilots and flight crew, to the guy who drives the hotel shuttle — suggest you do not forget that we are what keeps America moving, and each of the 2.4 million of us should be presented with a great big medal.

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Robert Polk is CEO of Polk Majestic Travel Group, Denver's largest independent travel agency. He welcomes your comments and questions at

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