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Tips from the top with Melissa Elf

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Melissa Elf

This feature is based on an interview with our new General Manager, Melissa Elf, who has a dual role overseeing Flight Centre Travel Group’s academic specialist Campus Travel and FCM Travel Solutions, which manages travel for government and corporate organisations.  

Melissa has been in the travel industry for more than 20 years, including a decade with Campus Travel’s parent company Flight Centre Travel Group. The highly-regarded travel professional was appointed General Manager for FCM in January this year, after holding a number of senior roles with the Flight Centre Travel Group. She took over the management of Campus Travel in June.

“During my career I’ve seen quite a few changes in the corporate travel sector,” Melissa said. “From a people and culture perspective, one of the most interesting has been the role of an organisation’s travel policy. A strategic and smart policy will do more than just help your bottom line savings… it can also make a big difference to the success of your company in terms of staff recruitment, retention and traveller productivity.”

With more managers spending more time on the road than ever before, an attractive travel policy has become a key tool for recruiting the high flyers or top researchers, who will help grow your business or academic organisation. Here Melissa has shared some travel insights …

Attracting top tier talent

More than ever before, ‘road warriors’- people who spend a lot of time on the road - will not accept a job without examining an organisation’s travel policy or opportunities for travel. As well as looking for good remuneration and a challenging role, executives, c-suites or senior researchers want to know their employer is able to give them what they need to perform well, when they are travelling for business.

This includes things like permission to travel during work hours as well as guaranteed four- to five-star accommodation. However, the fine print is also important. Road warriors want permission to travel business class for long-haul flights where they have to hit the ground running as soon as they land. They want to stay in hotels that offer the amenities that make their life easier, such as breakfast or a choice of nearby cafes. They don’t have time to be dealing with slow WiFi, and they want a 24-hour concierge so that help is available when they need it. Another must-have: an in-house pool or gym, so that they can maintain some sort of exercise routine wherever they happen to be.

Talking tech

The organisations that are getting it right often have one thing in common: they listen to their staff travellers. For example, some travellers like the flexibility of being able to book their own accommodation or flights. Smart companies and academic organisations are facilitating this flexible environment by working with their travel providers to implement easy to use online booking or pre-trip approval technology.

There is no single solution that works for every company: it depends on the specific needs of your employees. However, it is worth bearing in mind that corporate and academic travellers increasingly want to draw on the products they are already using for leisure travel – including anything from Airbnb and Uber to the growing numbers of low-cost carriers. Ensuring that your corporate or academic travel programs embrace new offerings and include technology that makes it easy for staff to book their own arrangements, is an essential step.

Keep it personal

Technology is not diminishing the role of a travel consultant, in fact, some would argue the role of a travel consultant is even more important nowadays. The advice and support of a travel consultant has become so critical for travellers, that travel management companies and technology firms are proactively working to develop solutions that blend technology (for automation of simple tasks such as data entry) with the expertise of a consultant. By removing the more menial elements of a travel consultant’s role with the help of technology, consultants are more productive and have more time to concentrate on the customer’s needs ensuring they have personal support from initial consultation through to reconciliation and beyond. It also means that travel consultants can concentrate on service aspects such as emergency situations or travel disruptions where personal support is essential.
Over the past few years, travel risk management plans have become commonplace. However, best practice risk management is about more than protocols and processes – it is also about lending an ear.

When a crisis does happen – which could be anything from a weather event such as a cyclone or flooding, or an airline grounding its flights – affected travellers need to know that there is someone they can talk to. One of the essential roles of the travel consultant is to provide personal support for a broad range of situations, both high and low risk, letting the traveller know that the company is looking out for them.

The bottom line

While an attractive travel policy is a sure fire way for companies or academic organisations to set themselves apart from their competitors and attract top talent, there is no denying that when organisations are looking to cut costs, travel is one of the first areas to be targeted.

As in all areas of a business or organisation, the best way to cut costs is to work smarter, not harder. For many organisations that means finding the right travel partner. A good travel partner should feel like an extension of your organisation. They will also know where to find the best cost savings without impacting the experience for your travellers.

The biggest spend categories are, of course, air travel and hotels. The good news is that there are many ways to reduce costs that don’t involve choosing a lesser product or imposing restrictive policies on your high value executives, researchers or department leaders. Changing your organisation’s buying behaviour, demand management and having complete visibility of aspects such as air credits on hold and booking leakage are all ways that organisations can help travellers secure more value from their travel budgets and contain costs from the top down.


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