By Debbie Suenson-Taylor
We’ve all heard the travel horror stories. The business executive who finds the hotel they booked online is miles away from the office and bears no resemblance to the glossy pictures on the web site. Or the hotel hasn’t received their booking and there aren’t any rooms left because of a major sporting event. Or the executive with the excruciating toothache who can’t afford to see a dentist. The worst case scenario is that the airline which your Personal Assistant (PA) booked has gone into liquidation; you’re stranded so you have to pay for another air ticket at a greatly inflated price.
Businesses must be travel savvy to avoid these situations. The assumption is that the Internet will magically find the best deals, but this isn’t always the case. Cheap prices are flagged up on web site to draw visitors, but the reality is often very different. Your PA may be drawn to a travel web site because of bargain prices, fabulous pictures and promises but on closer inspection, you may find that although the price may be right, other elements aren’t.
The best course of action is to outsource all your travel arrangements to a travel professional who can supervise all the details. They will have access to the best rates, can ensure that the travel operators are legitimate, standards are upheld (for example IATA, CAA, FAA) and monies are protected through bonded and trust accounts, such as ABTA, TTA, or ATOL (UK only) to protect clients’ money should the travel supplier default on service. Travel professionals also have the operational back up so alternative travel arrangements can be put into place if there is a problem.
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The Role of the PA
Many companies offload travel bookings to the Personal Assistant (PA). The PA will not only spend an enormous amount of time trying to find the best deals, but without personal knowledge or experience will be unable to detect the closest hotel to the office, for example. They also lack a network of global contacts to find out invaluable local information such as bank holidays.
The best solution is for the PA to work alongside a travel management company because this will save time and money and give peace of mind. They will have the reassurance that if something goes wrong on the business trip, a travel professional is dealing with it. Many business trips are a last minute situation which means a PA would need to drop everything to make the bookings whereas a travel management company can easily pick up the request and using their experience and contacts, make all the necessary bookings.
A travel management company will supply a 24 hour emergency number which a business executive can call from all over the world if there is a problem, if they want to change travel plans or requirements such as a hire car.
Using a travel company is advantageous to PAs as most offer a free booking service and an incentive scheme. Travel management companies will have insider knowledge about destinations as they are part of a reliable support network of industry professionals who share information.
It is vitally important that the correct visas are obtained prior to travel and for any business, this is very time consuming. For example, a European travelling to the USA must have a visa, but if the PA tries to do it online they may fall victim to several scam web sites which charge £100 for a visa for UK citizens compared to $14 by using the official site.
A good travel management company will arrange all visas either directly or through a specialist agency. You need to allow plenty of time for the visa process so the rule of thumb is to apply for visas as early as you can. Again your travel management company will advise you.
If you’re travelling to a country on business for the first time, it’s a good idea to do some research into the business customs so you don’t make any mistakes. Travel management companies can advise on this.
Did you know that pointing in the UAE is considered rude, so don’t use a pointed finger to accentuate words. In Saudi Arabia always give a warm and firm handshake starting from the person on your right hand side and move towards your left anti-clockwise. Do not forget to greet each person with a “Salaam Alaikum” with a slight bow of your head and a genuine smile. It goes down well with your hosts.
In Japan, business cards are essential so make sure you have plenty with you. European Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Italy often combine business with lunch, which can start at 1pm and go on for most of the afternoon.
Check what the typical working week is. Many of the Chinese companies require staff to work on a Saturday morning including Hong Kong; whilst recently the weekend in Oman has been changed to fit in with Dubai, UAE so it’s now Friday and Saturday rather than Thursday and Friday.
One of the conditions of booking travel arrangements is that you must have your own insurance. A recent consumer study found that insurers had not updated the small print of their policies for years, failing to account for rise in expensive items such as smart phones and tablets that business employees now travel with. Many have very low limits on what people can claim, especially once the excess had been deducted. Many have a limit of £300, some only £200 yet an iPhone cost £500 to replace. So you need to check your insurance cover to ensure that all gadgets are covered. Travel consultants will refer you to specialist insurance companies but you must check carefully what is covered.
Health insurance is vitally important. If you have to see a dentist in the USA with severe toothache, you want to have peace of mind that you’re covered.
If your spouse or a family member is joining you on a business trip, make sure you check what the policy says about children travelling with you. Another survey showed that about 42% of insurers will not insure a child that does not live permanently with the family, nor include stepchildren with a different surname, unless they are specifically named.
If your country is part of the European Union (EU) you will be entitled to a European health card which gives you free access to healthcare in Europe. Apply for yours online.
Vaccinations and health concerns
You need to check what vaccinations and health precautions you need to have before travelling to various countries. An essential took for worldwide advice can be found at www.nathnac.org which is full of facts and requirements for all countries
Health advice – http://www.nathnac.org/ds/map_world.aspx
If you’re travelling to China, Asia, Africa or South America, you must make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date. Plan well ahead – in some cases, you may need to have a six week course of tablets prior to your trip. Major cities and airports throughout the world have health centres which will carry out the vaccinations and give you healthcare advice. Check online for the one nearest you.
By their very nature, business travel arrangements tend to change. The boss realising you are in San Francisco then wants you to visit a client in San Diego “so just hire a car,” she says. One of the advantages in having a travel management company oversee the travel itinerary is that the PA, who is always overloaded, can call them and know that these little details will be taken care of.
Outsourcing your travel arrangements to a travel professional will not only attain the best deals, but also peace of mind.
Debbie Suenson-Taylor worked in large corporations before setting up her own company Travel Producer www.travelproducer.co.uk offering bespoke travel solutions to TV production teams, PAs, business executives and consumers.