Higher Education Travel Programs on Each Side of the Atlantic Mirror Each Other

SCTEM and Key Travel

Research is currently being carried out among a group of University Travel, Finance, and Procurement professionals by the Society for Collegiate Travel & Expense Management (SCTEM) in collaboration with Key Travel, the specialist not-for-profit Travel Management Company. Thus far, 90 US and Canadian Universities and Colleges have participated to share learning and best practices with their United Kingdom counterparts.
“In both North America and the UK, the shape and growth of our travel programs are influenced by two main drivers:” says Debbie Gulliver, executive director of SCTEM. “One, growth in student numbers – more and more of our young people are enrolling in higher education to enhance their knowledge, experience, and improve their career prospects. And two, world-wide research and collaboration – globalization remains so important to the prestige and value of our sector. However, a big difference is that in North America, College sports are a huge focus for most North American – specifically US – travel program management, unlike the UK where college sport doesn’t factor as much”.

“The purpose of the survey was to get a current picture of collegiate travel management among our North American colleagues, and to compare and contrast with our UK counterparts. The results will provide colleges and universities benchmarking data they can use within their organizations when evaluating current and potential new programs. When taken in consideration with the UK experience, the survey should illuminate similarities or differences in the successes and challenges we experience” says John O’Sullivan, Group Marketing Director, Key Travel.

The biggest similarity between the two Academic communities (and the biggest difference between academic travel and corporate travel) is that the use of contracted travel providers and booking channels are not mandated. Over 70 percent of North American institutions do not mandate usage of their travel program. Conversely, in the UK, levels reach close to 100 percent.

“Many academic institutions and their faculties pride themselves on their independence as illustrated by academia travelers wanting to ‘control’ their business trips from start to finish without interference or oversight of their institution. This creates a number of challenges in driving compliance to a travel program and achieving consistency across our travel management,” says Gulliver.

The independence among North American academic travelers is also a big departure from the region’s many corporate travel programs that mandate use of a travel program. But it highlights a global shift toward the perception that independent travel booking is easier, cheaper, or more flexible; something that is not always the case when the complex needs of academic travel are taken into consideration.

Looking to the future, over half of the North American respondents aim to make traveller safety and duty of care their primary focus, and in the UK this receives even greater emphasis. That being said, both agree that improving the level of compliance within their travel programs is a close second priority.

Receiving great service from travel providers is paramount, with over 85 percent of respondents stating service levels being the most important supplier selection criteria. Breaking this down further, a ‘good understanding of how our organization works’ and ‘24/7 access to someone when things go wrong’ standout as the key factors in providing great service.

These and other research findings, including the higher profile of expense management in North America and greater focus in the UK on sustainability of travel, will be explored by SCTEM members at their annual conference at the Catamaran Hotel Resort and Spa, San Diego, CA, on Sept. 25-28.