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Many companies still don't have travel policies

A company travel policy is a necessity regardless of the size of the firm, according to Rolfe Shellenberger, senior travel consultant at Runzheimer International, a management consulting firm. Nonetheless, senior management in numerous companies still think it is not a crucial issue, insisting there is no overspending on travel within their organizations.

Still other companies tend to view travel as an unmanageable part of their business. Shellenberger, summarizing a survey made last year by Runzheimer, says that when there is a decline in their fortunes, these companies will frequently cut back on travel expenses first, although that is not necessarily a solution and may even accelerate a collapse.

On the other hand, companies that place a high value on human interaction will spend significantly on travel, according to Shellenberger. Runzheimer, which has more than 40 years' experience in corporate travel, is located in Rochester, Wisc.

The consultant said that travel policies should be kept short and simple, covering items such as preferred suppliers, method of reservation and method of payment, with details on reimbursable expenses. He advises that if there are too many rules, people tend to get bogged down in them, rather than looking at the overall purpose of business travel.

One particular area, Shellenberger said, is often not addressed, even by companies with travel policies: 59 percent of companies throughout North America do not deal with the issue of limiting the number of employees who travel together.

Of the 345 travel managers surveyed last year, only 26 percent had policies limiting senior management traveling together, while another 15 percent limited all levels of employees traveling together.

Larger companies generally were more likely to adopt this risk management, in some cases even extending it to travel by automobile. The survey indicated 83 percent of small companies had no travel-together policy.

Shellenberger said that the issue is a matter of leadership, what he termed protecting the rites of succession. Realistically, any type of travel can be perilous, he noted; where there is no policy, the welfare of the company can be jeopardized.

Ironically, even in cases where high-level executives do not travel together normally, these rules are often waived for travel on corporate aircraft, when senior management is guaranteed a private block of time to discuss issues on strategic trips.

Speeding through Europe

With the rapid development of high-speed train networks across Europe, business travelers are frequently finding that traveling by train is more convenient and less expensive than traveling by air, notes the U.S. firm representing European rail networks. A first-class ticket on the fastest direct train can cost up to 75 percent less than a one-way flexible air ticket, particularly within mainland Europe, where air fares are extremely high.

On medium-length journeys, adds Rail Europe, such as Frankfurt to Munich, or London to Brussels or Paris, there is not a great difference in time required.

For example, a first-class, one-way, ticket on Eurostar, the fastest train service between London and Paris, costs $199, including a meal, and takes 3 hours. The lowest unrestricted, one-way, economy class air fare is $215, while business class is about $265, and the journey _ including an allowance for leaving and reaching the respective city centers _ takes 3 hours 5 minutes.

Other savings when traveling by train include reduced taxi fares between airports and city centers, and time involved in check-in and baggage collection. Additionally, rail fares generally allow stopovers along the way.

Rail Europe sells a choice of train-only or train-and-rental-car passes. A range of Eurailpasses covers three or more countries, allowing a varying number of days of travel during different lengths of time. Individual-nation passes also are sold for Austria, the Benelux countries, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Eastern Europe, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Scandinavia, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K.

For prices and restrictions, call a travel agent or Rail Europe, at (800) 4 EURAIL.

Toronto resident Joanna Ebbutt writes a monthly column for the Times on business travel. She is the author of the Insight Pocket Guide to Toronto.