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How Cisco and Airbnb manage travel policies in today’s complex environment

August 08, 2023
By Andrew Sheivachman
Categories Innovation

A successful travel program has to evolve with the times.

In a world of remote work, duty of care concerns, and a global workforce, travel programs need to evolve policies to address new challenges and meet changing traveler expectations.

Spotnana VP of Partnerships Johnny Thorsen recently hosted a conversation with travel managers at Airbnb and Cisco to learn how they are approaching this period of change and providing a better experience to their travelers.

To hear the full conversation, view the recording of our Managing the travel policy of the future webinar here.

Facing new challenges

For Airbnb, the shift to remote work brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic posed new questions about how their business travel policy should evolve.

For Airbnb, the pandemic led to a period of realignment around the best ways to unite global teams.

“We are thoughtful and intentional about bringing our teams together,” said Katie Loudon, Airbnb’s Senior Manager of Global Travel and Expense.What does that do to our policy and what changes do we need to make? The culture [at Airbnb] is very open and I’d say everyone’s very communicative.” 

While Airbnb retains its global offices, employees are not required to work from them. Enabling employees to do their best work is a key consideration of Airbnb’s travel policy, which seeks a fine balance between trips and virtual meetings.

“We balance when it is necessary to take a trip and when we can accomplish it virtually,” said Loudon. “I can’t say we have it all figured out, but we’ve come a long way over the past year.”

Getting the right metrics

For enterprise technology giant Cisco, the global scale of its travel program means enforcing policy based on achieving business goals in a measurable way.

“It’s really about aligning the business travel program, which is so critical to a company’s growth strategy, to increasing revenues and the acquisition engine that we have,” said Carlos Almendros, Cisco’s Global Procurement Service Leader.

The disruption of the pandemic has given the company’s travel program leaders a seat at the table with other crucial leaders. Meaningful travel that drives Cisco’s bottom line is a priority, driven by a strong understanding of the company’s travel program based on data.

“If we think about how we were traveling before and how often we were traveling, we’ve really learned a lot over that period,” said Almendros. “We have been able to get a seat at the table, driving a lot of value in terms of how purposeful travel can be in the future. Smarter travel, meaningful travel, but also maybe not so frequently, maybe longer business trips, maybe not visiting a customer every single week by getting on a plane.”

Driving culture

At Airbnb, travel policy is defined by the company’s cultural goals. Loudon partners with teams across the company, including HR, to ensure employees can travel with family members under certain conditions and that travelers have duty of care support from providers like International SOS.

“Cross-functionally, we really are investing in this program and that makes my job a little bit easier,” said Loudon. “But a lot relies on the technology and our TMC to operationalize [our program goals with us. We’re trying to get more efficiency in automation, but it’s a little bit duct-taped.”

Cisco, as well, has made allowances for remote work and the ability for employees to enjoy leisure travel surrounding their business trips, keeping the company culture strong. Sitting close to finance and procurement functions helps align Cisco’s travel program with the company’s overall goals on the financial side, as well.

Longer trips are allowable so long as travelers stay in policy, with duty of care and tax ramifications tracked by Cisco’s travel team. Making guidelines easy for travelers to understand and access is crucial.

“We drive a very strong culture around protecting and being responsible for our employees when they’re conducting business travel,” said Almendros. “We digitized our policy a few years ago, for example. Gone are the 10-, 20-, 30-page policies that nobody ever reads.”

Designing the perfect policy

Still, policy tools and functionality lag behind the needs of the world’s most dynamic travel programs.

“The way I’m looking at the policies and these changes is how do I really bring those into the traveler journey: the plan, the book, and the post-trip?” said Almendros. “This leads into how you drive a greater experience. Travelers are used to seeing a lot more valuable information when they’re planning that business trip. In the business journey, it’s not necessarily easy to tell them all the great benefits they get that we as buyers have negotiated with our suppliers and our partners.”

Spotnana VP of Partnerships Johnny Thorsen showed off Spotnana’s powerful modern travel policy functionality which includes:

  • Clear out-of-policy explanations – Spotnana displays why a particular booking is out-of-policy, encouraging travelers to find a better option while reinforcing policy guidelines.
  • Configurable out-of-policy reason codes – A customizable question that  captures the reasons travelers are booking out-of-policy. 
  • Configurable fields – Configurable questions that capture data from travelers, such as project codes, cost centers, customer accounts, or reasons for travel. 
  • Dynamic policies – Travel policies based on configurable rules that are automatically applied to search results. Dynamic lowest logical fare – Define policies based on a percentage or amount above the lowest logical fare. Calculations include NDC fares, and various exclusions can be made from the lowest logical fare calculation.
  • Hard and soft approval workflows – Supported across air, hotel, car and rail with support for multiple approvers. Approval emails highlight missed savings opportunities and out-of-policy reason codes.
  • Alternate form of payment for seat purchases – Allows travelers to book with a corporate card and purchase a seat with a personal card, increasing traveler satisfaction and reducing leakage.
  • Agents and travelers on one platform – Since all global travelers share a platform with agents, all content, policies, profiles, preferred suppliers, and more are available through all channels.

To find out more about Spotnana’s industry-leading policy functionality, view the recorded webinar or get a demo today.