Travel Better

Anywhere Travel

Most smaller companies struggle to manage their travel properly. So says Barbara Whitten, and she should know, because she is Managing Director of a company that has specialised in servicing corporate (and private) clients and providing them with a tailored travel service for more than 30 years.

Anywhere Travel of Kingsford is “one of the largest privately owned travel management companies in Sydney,” says Barbara. As a leader within the travel field, Anywhere is a boutique agency which has grown from two directors to 25 staff. The firm continues to thrive despite the increase in activity from online providers as both online and offline bookings are managed for clients.

“Businesses that I speak to tend to have a policy [regarding their employees’ travel] but they are usually booking too late, spending too much and could be doing it a whole lot better,” shares Barbara.

She finds that many of the staff who look after travel at smaller companies are not always properly trained – often with no background at all in sourcing travel or sorting the best ways for executives and other staff to move around. Yet still many companies persist in ‘doing it themselves’ under the impression they are somehow saving money by not using a specialist service.” But there is a way to do it better. When I go to talk to [a potential new client] they usually ask what my fee is. We have to charge a fee and it’s pretty much the same as anyone else would charge. But what people do not understand is everything else that needs to be done to find the best value for a customer.” In general terms, often the fee charged by agents is far outweighed by savings that agents provide through better sourcing – that is, finding the better routes and an awareness of the total travel cost.

As Barbara says, travel is quite an emotional commodity; a bit like a company car, it is often regarded (and frequently quite incorrectly) as a sort of perk for many employees and one about which they can get quite hot under the collar. “If you are a procurement manager at a large company, you won’t be getting excited about the type of pens or computers in the office, but you will get a lot of flak from some people about your travel policy.”

One of Anywhere’s biggest clients is one of Sydney’s top universities. “A lot of what they spend is their own research money. They want to have some input as to how it is being spent,” she says. Anywhere does a lot of academic travel, “which is probably the hardest sector of the travel industry. It comes under the heading of ‘corporate’ but it is pretty interesting but challenging to handle.” Barbara says that having such discerning clients means that her staff members have developed into true experts at constructing itineraries. “When someone comes to them with a really complicated itinerary they can do it because they have done it before. Universities have a habit of doing such complicated trips and we can handle it.”

Barbara explains that, “Our high staff retention facilitates better understanding of client requirements. Staff stability is a great customer benefit.” She herself is a hands-on Managing Director who “works with clients’ staff and suppliers. Staff are used to both internal and external company procedures. Experience in our industry counts and we have a corporate manager celebrating 30 years with our office this year. Three staff have been here for over 20 years, two staff have been here over 10 years and eight staff over five years. We provide a very flexible environment, where staff have young children and need to work from home sometimes. The account manager for the major clients, the operations manager and the accounts team work together.”

There is, Barbara stresses, no “call centre environment. The real value of the business is the advice we give and the personalised service delivered.” Quality of service is thus maintained via KPI reporting and delivery, service logs “for the good, bad and everything in between”, and welcome-home surveys. Value is delivered by the combination of booking channels (offline and web sites) and negotiated pricing.

Little extras that clients come to appreciate include a 24/7 emergency advice facility for those situations where the traveller is stranded – such as in the Icelandic volcano eruption a few years ago that stopped aircraft flying, or the southeast Asian tsunami of Christmas 2004.

Anywhere’s staff do not just sell you a ticket and forget you, is the message; if you’re stuck you can call them from anywhere in the world and they can try to re-route you or find a way of getting you to safety. “Usually travel insurance does not help in such cases of disruption or strikes,” offers Barbara; while you might be able to claim after the event, the immediate problem is that the customer does need to get out of a danger zone, which is dealt with by Barbara’s staff.

Anywhere operates in the corporate, leisure and also the ‘corporate leisure’ sectors – the latter denotes individuals travelling for business purposes but not on a company’s books. A new division is ACE – Anywhere Conferences and Events developed from a need to do more for the clients.

Many individuals have deserted the conventional bricks-and-mortar high-street agent and taken to doing their own thing on the internet but Barbara counsels against this – not surprisingly, she has strong views on the topic. “There are good reasons why you should not use the internet alone. First, people have a perception that the internet is cheaper but it is not often the case.” Usually an agent can come up with a better price for a fare or a room because they have access to all the available deals, many of them not visible to the general public. It is how you buy which allows you to sell cheaper.

“Secondly, if you go to a website the payment requirement is often immediate – you have to book and pay for it or it is gone. We have the ability within our systems to hold a booking, sometimes for 24 hours but often much longer. Thirdly, we can make changes much more easily – who do you call if you are dealing with a website?” There is also the ‘one-stop shop argument’, she adds – get your air ticket, hotel, ground transport and everything else in one place.

For the more simple bookings Anywhere has its own online system in any case, used predominantly for domestic travel by its corporate clients. “Domestic travel is a sector where customers have gone to airline sites direct instead of using an agent. We give them an alternative. “Most of our domestic business is corporate, booked online through our booking tool,” says Barbara. The company’s profile is stored and a simple trip can be booked in seconds without specialist knowledge on the part of the secretary or executive assistant making the booking.

High street agents still have a place because people still want to talk to someone and get advice, especially for more complicated bookings or bookings to places they have never travelled before.” Going direct is also, as Barbara says, very time-consuming and can be – especially for the non-frequent or less experienced traveller – extremely confusing. “I defy anyone to do complex trips via a website; for anything more complicated than a simple point to point you will still probably want to check with an agent.”

The company’s primary area of operations is international travel – as much as 80 per cent of its total. This is where Anywhere Travel truly excels – it has successfully been moving with the times and keeping its eye on where it can continue to add value. School groups and conferences are coming in for attention together with other tailor-made groups and organisation travel, all of which benefit from an expert’s input. The policy is evidently working, because the company has garnered more than its fair share of travel-industry gongs in recent years. It is reassuring, says Barbara, to get this approbation from industry peers: it proves she is travelling in the right direction.

For more information about Anywhere Travel, please visit http://www.anywheretravel.com.au/.

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June 21, 2018, 1:10 AM AEST