It’s madness to have a policy that ends when the travelling stops.

While most companies have highly detailed corporate travel policies, very few can point to parallel documents outlining their meetings policies. This is a serious mistake.

For some unaccountable reason, companies in the UK are less likely than those elsewhere to have a formal meetings policy – and you have to look right to the top of the enterprise scale before it’s the norm. If you ranked businesses in size on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the huge corporations, businesses as low as a four would have a travel policy, but only those at eight and over would have a meetings policy.

It makes no sense because the two are inextricably linked, and all of the decisions that are documented in a travel management policy – preferred suppliers, preferential rates, group discounts, cost savings, efficiency savings, risk assessments – are equally important considerations for meetings management.

According to a recent report by the GBTA, between 1% and 3% of a company’s total revenue is spent on meetings and events, with between 25% and 30% (of the M&E spend) going on travel and related expenses directly associated with meetings and events. If a company has a travel management policy but no meetings management policy then less than a third of this significant spend is being subjected to formal and centralised corporate scrutiny.

Let’s compare and contrast

Formalising standards

Travel management policies usually include details of preferred modes of transport and approved ticket classes along with the room specifications, rates and terms that have been negotiated with preferred accommodation suppliers.

For meetings, prudent companies could decide in advance the type of venue they would expect to book for their typical meetings (from client presentations and sales team briefings up to whole company events) and at what price along with the services, technology and catering they would want to see included in the deal. They could also negotiate preferential rates and group discounts for an agreed amount of business over a year with their favourite independent venues or chains and benefit from these new preferred supplier arrangements.

Reducing costs

Travel management policies typically include stipulations for both cost savings and cost avoidance. For meetings, a list of suitably considered stipulations could save your company a fortune over the year. For example do give preference to venues with on-site accommodation to reduce travel costs but do not book external meetings rooms when internal rooms are available.

Mitigating risk

Travel management policies usually set a limit on the number of high level executives that can fly together to reduce the threat to the company of losing too many decision makers at once. Meanwhile standard airport security measures will have reduced the risk of terrorists getting onto the flight with them. However, once the same key people arrive at a hotel or meeting venue the concern often ends and they are free to stand around in groups talking to other attendees (including those they were forbidden to travel with) and generally roam around at their leisure. So we take great pains to both scrutinise and safeguard people who are going to fly together – then leave them all to wander in and out of meeting rooms and venues unchecked.

Therefore it would be sensible to have a meetings policy that mirrored at least some of the safety precautions you have insisted on in your travel arrangements.

Harnessing technology

Companies are often keen to adopt technology that will improve their travel booking processes, such as online booking, online check-in and e-ticketing, and these time savers are enshrined in their travel policies.

The market is bursting with innovations that could be used to support meetings management such as automated registration tools, online conference services, audience participation and content management systems to name just a few. But there does not seem to be the same drive to tie these meeting enhancers into business policy at a corporate level.

Tracking budgets

Possibly the biggest oversight in all of this is that while a company’s travel-related expenses are capable of being tracked against a policy document the same rigour is not applied to other meeting-related costs.

Remembering that (according to the GBTA figures) up to 75% of a company’s spend on meetings and events is not connected to travel or travel-related expenses, that leaves a huge amount of corporate money that is being spent without a suitable policy to guide it.

Reap the rewards!

In conclusion, companies need to give their meetings the same attention they give their travel arrangements and, if this is not something you can organise in house, then look for a meetings management company to advise you.

The chances are that the savings you are able to make by formalising your meetings arrangements will cover the cost of their expert advice and enable you to take control, save money and raise standards going forwards.