Analytics are great.

Even if you barely scraped by in math class, you can recognize the value in good data reports.

They crunch the numbers. They show you what’s working and what’s not. They make your CFO smile like a kid in a candy store.

But it’s important to be honest with yourself when you’re trying to analyze your travel program data. Don’t assume you’re an analytics guru just because you’ve been managing travel for 10 years. Your reporting and your understanding of those reports may not have grown as much as your program has. It’s time for a little truth serum. Let’s see what you’re actually tracking, shall we?


The brutal question you’ve got to ask yourself:

Are you using your data to understand:

A. Who’s booking what

B. What causes people to book what they book

C. What’s going to happen to your travel program next year

(When you answer this question, be a pragmatist, not an optimist. Are you sure you were totally honest? Go back and look one more time to be sure.
Ready for your results?)





You’re a beginner.

You’re a master of the WHAT.

You know everything about your travelers, from how many prefer window seats to who your policy-bending repeat offenders are, and that is really great stuff! You’ve got a solid understanding of what makes up your traveler base, so you’re able to make some snap judgments. You can use your data to get better rates when negotiating with suppliers, and to help your department heads roughly estimate their travel budgets. Your accounting department probably loves you, because you’re able to identify your major players and help keep their expense data clear.  You also likely have a low non-compliance tolerance, because you’re focused on getting all your ducks (a.k.a. travelers) in a row.

But you’re still only covering the basics. Your next step is to stretch your skills a bit. Look for rough trend lines. Talk with your department heads and road warriors to learn more subjective data. Once you start digging into what's behind the WHAT, it’ll show you the WHY.



You’ve got intermediate skills.

You’re a master of the WHY.

Department heads love you, because you can provide some compelling data when budgeting season comes around. You’ve used your reports to streamline and optimize your QC processes and online booking tool, as well as your travel policy. Rather than assigning arbitrary rules, you understand what kinds of travelers you have. You assign different attributes to different departments or tiers of employee, and you’re a bit more lenient when it comes to compliance. But also, your policy is pretty intuitive because it understands that not all travelers are made equal.

Pat yourself on the back. You’re ahead of most travel managers.

Your next step is going to be a big one, though, so you’ve got to really nail down your processes and understand how elastic your travel program can be before you attempt it. You know the WHAT and the WHY, but now you need to determine the WHAT’S NEXT.



You’re an analytical boss.

You’re a bona fide prognosticator.

The department heads that used to love you now think you’re a little too inquisitive. But your CEO trusts you to help her identify opportunities and growth within the company (because we all know sales trips are an identifier of growth, right? I mean, you do. You’re an analytics genius).

When you crunch your numbers, you’re way past creating trend lines. You’re reeling out bell curves that identify themes while allowing departments/cost centers/projects to have independent worth – you don’t assume all your travel initiatives are created equal. Because you’re so good at this game, you can anticipate opportunities and pitfalls, and can strike deals that take your slow season into account.  Your suppliers have a love/hate relationship with you – they love you because they know you’re good for whatever you promise them, but they know they’re not likely to catch you coming up short.

When it comes to policy, your noncompliance tolerance is high because your program has been optimized to keep costs low without grating on your road warriors. You recognize that good business costs money, and avoiding traveler friction is worth the expense.

Who needs a silver ball when they’ve got you running the numbers?


Were you honest?

Most likely, your comfort level is probably between A and B, or between B and C. Unless you’ve got a doctorate in analytics and economics, it’s unlikely you’re much beyond C at all. But no matter what you’re currently looking for in your numbers, it’s important to recognize where you are, and where you’re headed. Identify what it is that you need to know, keep your eye on the prize, and learn how to use your data to determine it. Once you’ve obtained that goal, you can set the next one.

Because, honestly, your number crunching should progress steadily, just like your travel program does.

Chesley Turner

Written by Chesley Turner