BCD Travel Expands Government Travel Services: Interview with Tracy Maier, SVP, BCD Government Travel
By Sharon Lo, Managing Editor, DTJ & NDTAGram
BCD Travel is a global travel management company whose expertise includes corporate and government travel. This includes providing support to individual travelers on the road and the travel managers charged with program management. BCD also operates a meetings and events group, as well as a travel consulting group. The 13,800-employee company has global reach with a presence in 109 countries.
Recently BCD announced the rollout of an enhanced government services practice to expand its travel program offerings tailored to federal agencies. DTJ caught up with Tracy Maier, Senior Vice President, to find out more and gain some insights into the greater government travel space.
DTJ: Thank you for taking the time to chat today. BCD recently expanded its government services practice—what exactly did that expansion entail?
Ms. Maier: At BCD, we’ve always invested in people and technology. For our government services practice, we invested in a government-dedicated team of highly-experienced travel counselors who also have an exceptional service approach. Because government travel has distinct requirements, we’ve developed counselor training programs aimed specifically at government travel. We also increased our depth and breadth in business development, account management and leadership, which serves to ensure we’re active in the government travel arena.
From a technology standpoint, we’re applying our proprietary technology used for corporate travel to government travel. This includes our Tripsource® traveler engagement platform and DecisionSource® analytics and intelligence platform. We integrated federal guidelines, domestic and per diem rates, GSA government-contracted airfares and GSA-approved hotel rates into these platforms. That means the experience, whether you’re a traveler, travel manager or contracting officer, is easy and compliant. We also developed a website tailored specifically to government traveler and travel managers, where they can find information and advice to improve their travel and their program.
This is the beginning. We know as the government modernizes its travel program, we’ll continue to enhance our people’s skills and our technology’s capabilities. BCD typically invests 40 percent of its earnings back into technology and infrastructure. We see that being the case across corporate and government—and we’re committed to continuing that investment.
DTJ: What was the major driver(s) behind this expansion?
Ms. Maier: The government is undergoing a great deal of modernization. Civilian government agencies started their modernization project about five years ago; the Department of Defense is starting its own project now. In each instance, there’s an appetite to align with industry best practices.
Both DOD and civilian agencies want to attract and retain valuable talent. Studies from industry associations, including the Global Business Travel Association, indicate that the travel program is one of the criteria individuals consider when determining their next career move. So while some may think the travel program is simply a given, we’re finding that it drives choice—the choice to work for an organization or not. Additionally, the service provided to travelers impacts their productivity and satisfaction. A smooth, efficient and engaging service experience results in travelers that arrive at their destination ready to work. For the government, it’s important to implement travel-related opportunities the private sector enjoys. And there are pockets of opportunity for improvement, in areas like service delivery, technology and reporting.
We’ve been part of that modernization, starting with the civilian government several years ago. With modernization comes change. And with change comes choice. We believe it’s a good time to offer government agencies—both military and civilian—more choice.
DTJ: You mentioned change. Any advice for those travel managers facing change?
Ms. Maier: Agencies are no longer locked into the status quo, so their opportunities increase tremendously. Government travel is not typical or business as usual. My advice to travel managers is to look for processes and partners that make your agency’s travel and travel management easier. For travelers, that can take the shape of better technology and tools, along with better support before, during and after the trip. For travel management, it includes a greater choice of TMCs with whom to partner. Expect a higher level of delivery across the program, including traveler service, duty of care and reporting to support compliance and agency transparency. All these equip you to prove your agency is making the most of taxpayer dollars and fulfilling its fiduciary responsibility to the public.
DTJ: So with the changes you have made, what are the major advantages you are hoping to achieve for your government customers?
Ms. Maier: We’re focusing on three key areas: traveler support, cost savings and increased transparency. We know the future holds immense opportunity for government agencies in these areas. I like to think of helping our client agencies achieve headlines like, “Government employees report all-time satisfaction record with their travel program,” “Agency traveler hold times reach near non-existent status,” “Agency drives savings to new heights with increased compliance to government rates,” or “Agency gives public full view of travel budget investment.” Each of these builds the profile of the agency with their travelers, their leaders and their constituents.
DTJ: How did these changes affect the BCD team?
Ms. Maier: When we increased our government focus, we created opportunities within our own organization to expand current employees’ skillsets. For instance, corporate travel counselors who want to add to their experience can come into the government practice and learn the information, resources and processes critical for successful government travel management. That can include the GSA City Pair Program, Fly America Act, FedRooms and other areas specific to official travel. We have distinct training programs for our government counselors and that training prepares agents to handle complex government requirements. And while these counselors may need to learn the specifics of the government arena, they come with a strong client service mentality, as that’s important to every role at BCD.
We’ve increased roles and opportunities in business development, account management, IT management and leadership as well. These roles not only support our government clients, but also ensure we actively participate in helping realize the future of government travel.
Our focus also enables us to attract top talent, whether they’re starting out in the industry or have been working in it for years. Our culture, combined with our technology investment, has made us a place where top travel counselors want to invest their time and talent.
DTJ: You’ve touched a bit on your technology solutions—can you tell us a little more about that?
Ms. Maier: Our corporate travel clients use our proprietary TripSource® traveler engagement platform and DecisionSource® analytics and intelligence platform on a daily basis. TripSource® simplifies travel, enabling travelers to access their trip details, book hotels, share itineraries, get real-time flight notifications and other alerts, as well as respond in an emergency, all through 24/7 access on desktop, tablet or mobile devices. DecisionSource® gives travel, procurement and financial managers the business intelligence they need to manage their travel program better, provide duty of care, increase spend transparency and make faster and more confident decisions. When appropriate, these platforms can be made available for our government clients.
Beyond our platforms, one of the areas where we’re focusing is data protection. We recognize the significance of government travelers and the duty we have to protect their data. For example, traditional ways of paying for hotel stays can be improved upon with technology-based options, like virtual cards and virtual payment automation. We’ve seen clients benefit greatly from virtual payment automation, which protects traveler data, removes the payment burden from travelers and, at the same time, streamlines payment and reconciliation for travel management.
Another area we know all organizations and agencies are concerned about is duty of care. In today’s world, it’s not a matter of if, but when a crisis will occur. We’re using technology and technology partners to help travel and security departments locate impacted travelers quickly and precisely, send alerts and reach out to them to check on their wellbeing or offer emergency assistance. When a crisis matters, seconds count.
DTJ: BCD has already been providing support to the Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal entities—how do travel needs vary across departments and agencies?
Ms. Maier: Agency travel is not your typical business as usual. Always on service requirements, exceptionally large programs, and extreme confidentiality requirements are just a few examples of that. And each agency has its own challenges. For example, the Department of Defense has special considerations distinct from civilian agencies; for the DOD, we’re combat enablers which can include rush deployments. Some agencies have surge travel due to disasters. In those situations, we operate with a “all hands on deck” mentality to get federal employees where they need to be to provide necessary support. Other agencies have their own distinct needs, which may not fit into a typical model. We operate 24/7, so we can handle specialized needs no matter when or how they happen.
Successful TMCs aren’t one-size-fits-all; they need to be willing to customize to make clients’ jobs easier. Quite simply, that’s what we aim to do every day.
DTJ: What excites you about what you see in the government travel space?
Ms. Maier: We’re excited about the federal government aligning with industry best practices to adopt what’s working and adapt it for official travel. There’s an intentional recognition of the complexity and significance of official travel—that all who touch the travel program, regardless of role, are combat enablers for the DOD and service enablers for the civilian side. The recent reduction of the travel policy from hundreds of pages to a guide that can be read in about 15 minutes is testament to that. And that’s just the start—government travel leaders are looking at every component of the travel program to achieve modernization goals. Using the right travel management company is critical to accomplishing those goals; agencies need a TMC that can flex with them rather than remain locked into historical practices. We’re excited to help agencies adapt proven processes and tools to the government arena.
DTJ: Being that BCD’s expertise originated in corporate travel, how do the two compare?
Ms. Maier: Regardless of what arena our clients are in, travel should always be evolving. In corporate travel, we typically say 3-5 percent of spend is invested in managing the program. The other 95-97 percent is spent with suppliers. Your TMC needs to understand that and work for you on making the most of the 95-97 percent. Our experience with corporate travel means we can bring best practices from that environment to the government in areas like cost reduction, traveler engagement, duty of care and technologies that overlay and enable those.
The best TMC partner also looks out for what’s coming ahead. As I mentioned before, duty of care is a big focus for government and corporate organizations alike. But what actions do you take to proactively impact duty of care? There’s a variety of actions you can take. For one, we know that increased hotel attachment directly impacts ability to reach travelers quickly in the event of a crisis. So we’ve been helping corporate clients increase their duty of care effectiveness by increasing their hotel attachment. We can bring this same expertise to government agencies.
And we’ve learned a lot about traveler engagement from the corporate arena. You can foster traveler engagement by ensuring travelers know the value they bring to their role. For the government, ensuring travelers know the value they bring to our country through their travel is essential. Using industry best practices, we can help agencies find ways to enhance their communication so travelers know how they contribute to the greater good.
DTJ: Is there anything we have not covered that you would like to share with DTJ readers?
Ms. Maier: The commitment DOD employees have made in their careers is humbling. We’re honored to serve government travelers and travel management. The outlook is exciting for government travel and we’re committed to helping agencies realize their future potential. We believe that change and choice can lead to very good results for the government, its agencies and its travelers.