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Executive Q and A Featured

Executive Q&A: Christopherson’s CFO Shares Details on How the Company Financially Navigated the Pandemic

Next up in our Executive Q&A series is an interview with Christopherson’s Chief Financial Officer, Heather Young. Heather shared insight on how Christopherson financially navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and where the company stands now as travel restarts. 

Q: It’s no secret that the last year and a half has been brutal on the travel industry. From your perspective as CFO, how did Christopherson’s financial philosophies protect the company through the pandemic?

A: Our owners, Mike and Camille Cameron, have taken a conservative approach to running and growing our company over the past 31 years. Additionally, at the beginning of March 2020, they had just paid off our corporate office building. This meant that as the COVID-19 pandemic began, Christopherson was in a great financial situation with good liquidity and very little debt.

As a company, we also rely on data to drive decisions. Because we review our ticketing information everyday through our data visualization dashboards, we could see travel bookings begin to decline in the weeks that led up to the pandemic being declared. By seeing that change early, our executive team was able to come together quickly and make a solid plan to weather this storm. We have been able to make important decisions throughout the pandemic, faster than many, because we track that key data in real-time.

Q: So as we see the pandemic coming to a close, where does Christopherson now stand in terms of financial stability?

A: We are in extremely good financial shape. We began the pandemic with sharp focus on protecting our cash, our people, our clients, and our clients’ customer experience. By the end of 2020, we were able to shift our focus back to investing in our future, particularly through a human and digital transformation. 

Even though sales are still below pre-pandemic levels, we are currently tracking higher than the rest of the industry. We are strategically investing in areas that will allow us to continue being a leader in travel. We are able to make these investments because of our conservative fiscal approaches. We have also utilized the government’s COVID relief programs to aid our stability. Our cash reserves remain strong and we have the financial ability to make these investments for our future.

Q: You mentioned you do a daily review of travel bookings. What are you seeing in terms of business picking up? Is business travel on the upswing? 

A: We are definitely seeing business pick up. We said all along that leisure travel would lead the way, followed by business travel. This is exactly what we are seeing. Our leisure travel division’s bookings began increasing in early 2021. That is now being followed with more business travel bookings as well as meetings and groups. We also implemented numerous new clients throughout the pandemic and have been excited to see these new customers begin traveling this summer.

Q: Part of Christopherson’s plan to weather the storm was protecting its people. How has Christopherson been able to support its team members over the last 18 months?

A: We kept a sharp focus on our two company values—1) We create value. 2) We value people.—in all our decisions over the last 18 months. At the beginning of the pandemic, we all experienced the difficulty of making the sacrifices needed to preserve our financial stability and allow us to keep as many people employed as possible. We are happy to report that we were able to reinstate our 401(k) match and restore any pay reductions even before we returned to profitability. We’ve retained much of our staff and have also been able to hire back many of our previous employees as business continues to ramp up this year.   

Protecting our teams’ mental health was also important to us during the pandemic, so we made sure our employees had access to programs that provided unlimited access to professional help with stress, depression, financial concerns, family difficulties, and more. We also enhanced our employee benefit package by adding paid short-term disability in 2021, paid bereavement leave, and COVID-related paid leave. We continue to evaluate our benefit offerings for competitiveness in the market and ensure our decisions demonstrate that we value people.

Q: So having gone through the last 18 months, how would you say Christopherson is doing now?

A: COVID gave us an opportunity to make difficult decisions and we have emerged stronger. We spent that first month looking through all our expenses with a fine tooth comb, cancelling or negotiating better terms on anything we could. We learned who our real business partners were—those who were willing to work with us as we navigated through this very unique time. And while business was certainly slower, we used that time to strategize how to increase the value we bring to our clients and the industry.

We are being even more deliberate with where our money is being invested. We are hyper-focused on the design and delivery of our service model and are expanding our product development team. We have an ambitious roadmap of enhancements planned that combine the human and digital experience in a transformative way and will allow us to lead the future of business travel.

Q: Just for fun, do you prefer …

  • Window or aisle? Aisle—I hate feeling trapped and I try to stay hydrated while traveling 😉
  • Beach, mountain, or city travel? I’m a beach person at heart.
  • Salty or sweet travel snack? Sweets.
  • Where are you looking forward to traveling next? My husband and I had an anniversary trip to Portugal booked for the fall of 2020 that was cancelled due to COVID. We are looking forward to rescheduling that soon.
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Business Travel Travel Industry Travel Tips

How To Choose The Right Travel Management Company For Your Business

Most corporations spend about 10% of their revenue on business travel. However, that investment tends to pay off. Companies typically see a $2.09 profit increase and a $9.50 revenue increase for every dollar spent on travel.

Still, it’s difficult for many organizations to track and report those metrics. Additionally, business travel expenses often fluctuate, making it hard for companies to budget for it.

For these reasons and more—including concerns about employee safety—it is critical to hire the right travel management company (TMC). A travel management company will help you manage business travel risk, improve reporting, expenses, and more to ensure your investment in corporate travel pays off.

Here’s a short guide on how to choose the right corporate travel management company for your organization.

What To Look For In A Corporate Travel Agency

There is a persistent myth that corporate travel agencies are interchangeable and that one is as good as any other. This myth stems from the misperception that corporate travel management companies are simply travel agents that only help you book flights, rooms, and car rentals.

However, experienced corporate travel management companies provide far more valuable services that extend beyond typical travel agencies. As a result, they are an invaluable partner that can elevate your corporate travel program with the right strategy.

To ensure that you select the right corporate travel agency, look for the following features and services that will provide you with the most value, saving you time and money.

Cutting-Edge Business Travel Technology

There are many business travel management software providers. But the right corporate travel management company will have integrated, digital solutions that deliver the right tools to your employees. In addition to technology for corporate travel managers that track expenses, report metrics, manage unused tickets and assist with risk management, your corporate travel software should offer business travelers easy access to booking options, itineraries, policies, risk plans, and their support team.

From self-service options to mobile apps, your business travel technology should be up-to-date, real-time, and fully integrated. Look for a corporate travel management company that provides software that helps you manage your entire program conveniently, centrally, and cost-effectively, all while keeping a pulse on your employees’ locations in case of emergency.

Furthermore, if you are a corporate travel manager or are responsible for tracking your business travel expenses and ROI, your corporate travel management company’s technology should deliver real-time reporting with actionable data.

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Experienced Travel Agents & Business Travel Support Teams

There is no substitute for experience. The business travel industry transforms quickly and is often the first indicator of how economic, geopolitical, weather and climate situations are going to affect global industries and economies. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example of that.

When situations like these arise, they can often affect travel prices, the availability of travel vendors’ services and products, and sometimes, the safety of an organization’s business travelers.

An experienced corporate travel management company has its finger on the pulse of the travel industry and will know when and how these factors may impact your business travel program. Additionally, a TMC provides a team of expert travel agents, an account manager, and additional client service members who can assist you and your business travelers in navigating those changes or any other domestic or international situations that arise.

When business travelers encounter those unexpected, or even concerning, situations, they need access to someone who can assist them immediately. Your company may not be able to facilitate 24/7 availability for traveling employees. When looking for a corporate travel agency, look for a partner who provides immediate access to expert travel agents 24/7, 365 days a year.

Christopherson’s travel agents are particularly skilled at swiftly helping business travelers en route who have encountered these kinds of sudden and unforeseen situations. This level of skill and expertise is invaluable to maintaining your duty of care standards.

Ultimately, your travel management company’s team of travel agents, account managers, and support personnel should be consultative advisors who offer personalized solutions and deliver a plan that meets your needs, saves your company money, and aligns with your goals, travel policies, and risk management plans. It can also be beneficial to find a corporate travel agency with experience in your industry sector and an understanding of your frequent business travel destinations, whether domestic or international.

Meet Our Travel Advisors

Corporate Travel Policy Integration

Every business travel program should create a corporate travel policy. These policies ensure that both the organization and its business travelers are protected. They also help companies save money and manage the risk associated with business travel.

The right corporate travel management company will have the expertise to consult with you on current best practices of corporate travel policies. They will also have the technology needed to integrate that policy with all your booking options, helpful benchmarking tools, and your HR feed.

Additionally, the right corporate travel management company can guide you in presenting and communicating your corporate travel policy to your business travelers. Maintaining a current travel policy that 1) aligns with your corporate culture, 2) offers a measure of flexibility, and 3) is clearly communicated, allows you to set expectations while keeping business traveler satisfaction high. It also ensures that all your bookings are compliant which saves you money, gives you data to leverage when negotiating rates, and provides the intelligence you need to manage risk.

While business travel risk management is one of the most important duties of a corporate travel manager, it can sometimes be a bit of a grey area.

For example, what happens when employees participate in extra-curricular activities while “off-the-clock” but are still traveling for business? What if an employee gets into a car accident on their business trip, but the accident occurred not while engaged in business but while they were on their way to meet a friend? Should the consumption of alcohol be allowed while business traveling? Should your travel program address phone usage or other safety standards while driving?

These questions and more are another reason corporate travel policies are important and the right corporate travel management company can help you define what you want to allow or not allow within the scope of business travel.

Risk Management and Business Traveler Safety Tools

In addition to utilizing corporate travel policies to facilitate duty of care requirements, companies should also outline plans for managing business travel risk. Such plans ensure the lines of communication in an emergency are defined, open, and accessible if a business trip goes awry.

The right corporate travel management company will help you outline and implement your risk management plans. Risk management plans should consider business traveler safety needs and outline contingency options to enable quick pivots and immediate service when employees are on the road. Your corporate travel management company’s technology should also offer solutions for real-time notification of emergency, disaster, and weather alerts.

Intelligent Reporting & Travel Data Options

Suhail Doshi, the CEO of Mixpanel said, “Most of the world will make decisions by either guessing or using their gut. They will be either lucky or wrong.”

There is a world of difference between data and actionable data. The right corporate travel management company will deliver the reports and tracking software you need to access actionable data that measures performance and helps you analyze areas for improvement.

When your corporate travel management company provides easy-to-read reports with the right data, you can more easily justify the investment in business travel and prove the ROI of your corporate travel program to your management team. With proven, actionable data, you can also see where to save while identifying additional expenditures that yield greater profit and revenue.

When searching for a corporate travel agency, ask for a demonstration of their reporting software and look at the data they deliver. Ask if they are customizable and ensure they track metrics that will assist you in your future decisions.

Corporate Event Management Team

A challenge for many corporate travel managers is the additional level of detailed coordination required for corporate event planning. Organizing large conferences, making group travel arrangements, and negotiating with vendors can prove overwhelming on top of the numerous daily tasks associated with managing a corporate travel program.

But the right corporate travel management company will have an experienced corporate meetings and events team with specialized expertise in group air travel, incentive trips, and the various types of business travel events.

Such business travel events may include small gatherings like executive retreats and team meetings, or large events like trade shows and conferences. Regardless of the size of your event, your corporate travel management company’s meetings and events team has the ability to help you plan, manage, and execute details like audiovisual needs, catering, activities, ground transportation, attendee registration, and more.

Additionally, corporate meetings and events teams ensure each event is uniquely themed and aligns with your organization’s vision for the type of experience you’re wanting to create. They also maintain established relationships with trusted vendors worldwide to ensure the quality of that experience.

Business Travel Vendor Negotiation Expertise

When you partner with the right corporate travel management agency, you are able to leverage the collective buying power of that travel agency. Additionally, you can rely on your account manager to identify the power of your own spend data to strategically negotiate rates that benefit your bottom line.

Why Use A Corporate Travel Management Company?

If your company engages in business travel, partnering with a travel management company will save you time and money. An effective travel management program includes the following and more:

  • Intelligent corporate travel software
  • Centralized data and reporting
  • 24/7 support
  • Online and agent booking options
  • Risk management support
  • Expert vendor negotiation
  • Cost savings
  • Simplified and streamlined process

The right corporate travel management company should provide a comprehensive travel management plan that helps you navigate the unique needs of your own corporate travel program and caters to the needs of your business travelers.

How To Choose A Business Travel Management Company

Here is a quick checklist of things you can do to screen and choose a travel management company:

  • Review their website to understand their services
  • Ask for a demonstration of their travel software
  • Assess their solutions against your greatest needs
  • View sample reports
  • Read case studies
  • Ask for references
  • Check online reviews
  • Inquire with an RFI

Why Choose Christopherson Business Travel As Your Travel Management Company

Christopherson Business Travel is the travel management company you need to manage your travel program. What sets us apart is our unique approach to balancing the need for personalized, consultative service with technology that leads the way in this fast-paced world and ever-changing industry.

We take pride in improving our clients’ travel management programs and providing best-in-class service to meet the needs of their business travelers.

Contact us today!

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Business and Leadership Executive Q and A

Executive Q&A: Christopherson’s COO Talks About Delivering the Right Service Experiences for the Future

Next up in our Executive Q&A series is an interview with Christopherson’s Chief Operations Officer, Nathan McClellan. Nathan shared his optimism for the future of business travel as well as what’s needed in order to deliver the right service experiences for that future.

Q: In a recent leadership meeting, you outlined three things management team members can express to effectively lead their teams—reality, vision, and hope. Can you share a bit more about how those three things can help us all as our industry recovers?

A: I have always liked the quote attributed to Napoleon who said, “The leader’s role is to define reality, then give hope.” Reality is seeing the world as it actually is. Defining reality creates trust within the organization that its challenges are known, understood, and quantified. This need not be bleak, nor should it be covered up. 

A leader’s role is also to give hope. Hope provides confidence that positive outcomes are achievable. When leaders cast the vision for employees, outline the path forward, and set clear expectations, hope is felt.

As the travel industry recovers, new challenges arise. Every leadership challenge has its own set of constraints. Constraints catalyze creativity. People are the source of creativity. When people understand the problems and are engaged in their work, good things happen. Defining reality and giving hope fosters this environment. This simple leadership skill can turn into a very tangible competitive advantage.

Q: Why do you feel hope and optimism for the future of Christopherson and business travel in general?

A: Conducting business face-to-face remains as essential for companies now as it did before the pandemic. It is true some travel will be displaced through technology and virtual interactions. However, business conferences, networking events, sales calls, special projects, consulting engagements, and recruiting trips, to name a few, still have value. 

Company policies regarding when travel will take place are evolving, but travel itself is a mainstay. Companies will leverage future travel as an investment in their business with a clear ROI, as opposed to simply viewing it as an expense. This type of purposeful travel recognizes that personal relationships enable companies to transact business. 

I am optimistic for our industry because of the power behind these relationships. Travel is a key component for building and leveraging relationships. 

I am also optimistic for our own company due to the investment we are making to meet the expectations and demand of the future while also reinforcing our own relationship-based service model.

Q: What changes are you seeing in operations as recovery begins and business travel rebounds? 

A: The service industry is shifting from a transactional model to a consultative model. This is true whether engaging in a digital or human channel. Travelers are increasingly comfortable with technology to book their own trips. This is ideal for simple itineraries. When things become more complex, customers want the confidence of working with a trusted professional. 

A next generation travel advisor cannot simply be an order taker possessing technical proficiency and industry knowledge. They must also be problem solvers, offer useful advice, consult proactively, and take ownership of the traveler experience. 

A next generation digital experience will use predictive analytics to streamline the interaction, anticipate customer needs, match preferences, and optimize the traveler journey.

Q: Christopherson has communicated that it’s undergoing a human and digital transformation. Both of these things affect operations. How are you and your team positioning your side of the transformation? 

A: Operations is an exciting part of a company where the human transformation and digital transformation come together to create the best possible service experience for customers. Many companies have perfected the human experience, and others have mastered the digital experience. Few, if any, are able to deliver on both. Enter Christopherson Business Travel. 

Our investment in the digital transformation is two-fold. First, we are investing in the technology used at traveler touch-points to make things easy for our customers. Second, we are investing in behind-the-scenes technology to facilitate the service experience. This is how the human transformation and digital transformation come together. The easier we make it for our employees to take good care of our customers, the more likely we are to consistently achieve this goal. 

In addition to our technology enabled human transformation, we have also restructured our organization to focus on the human-to-human customer experience. The tenets of our coaching framework enable advisors to create positive connections with customers, create trust and confidence, and create value. This approach seamlessly integrates both the digital and human components of our business transformation efforts.

Q: Why is accessibility/availability so important for customers and how is Christopherson making it happen? 

A: Our goal in operations is to provide the right service in the right moment. We don’t choose those moments. The customer dictates the terms of an interaction. They determine when to contact us, in which channel to contact us, and whom to contact. The role of operations is to be available to provide an excellent experience whenever, and wherever those interactions take place. 

Online interactions are managed through automation. Offline interactions require a human touch. Metrics like accessibility and availability enable Christopherson to more accurately forecast our staffing needs to accommodate anticipated business volume. They also ensure we do a better job matching the utilization of our existing staff to the contact arrival patterns of our customers. This translates to a better experience for customers who can quickly have their needs resolved. 

Our travel advisors are the ones making this happen. We have invested heavily in creating an environment of intrinsic motivation where employees use self-discovery and self-management to maintain high levels of engagement. Engaged employees give discretionary effort to their work and exude a love for what they are doing. Our customers notice the Christopherson difference.

Q: What is your vision for the future of Christopherson’s operations? 

A: Our vision in Operations is to continuously improve our capabilities. It’s one thing to talk about continuous improvement, and another to build the kind of infrastructure where it permeates our DNA. Someone once said, “a good customer experience anywhere changes customer expectations everywhere.” 

The service experience of the future is evolving quickly. Walker Information, an experience management consulting firm, has noted that the furiously fast pace of innovation will continue and that customers expect companies to keep up. 

Our vision at Christopherson is not only to keep up, but to set the pace. We can’t do this by relying only the things that have made us successful so far. We are never done getting better. This environment of constant refinement requires a commitment to change across the entire organization. Accomplishing this vision starts by increasing our advisor capability, followed by expanding our customer capability, and finally by growing our operational capability.

Q: Nathan, thank you for sharing your thoughts about Christopherson’s operations. One final question just for fun: What’s your favorite travel destination and why?

A: The more I travel, the more I learn about the world around me. The more I learn about the world around me, the more I want to travel. It is a virtuous cycle. Traveling to Thailand exemplifies everything I love about travel. It’s rich in natural beauty and culture. 

For western societies, Thailand has been a well-kept secret—although I think it is starting to get out. In addition to the jungle scenery, mountain terrain, vibrant cities, and delicious miniature pineapples, I am most impressed with the people. Thai people are some of the most down-to-earth people I have ever met. Yes, the country as a whole is amazing, but it is the people that make it beautiful. Through them, I have been inspired to become better myself.

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