Carol Bayntun, director of sales and marketing for Ayscough Travel, details what companies should look for in a business travel agent and how they should expect them to insure their trip.

Communication breakthroughs and faster and more efficient transport links mean the world is becoming a smaller place. More and more businesses are expanding, not only within the UK, but overseas either through growth of their own business or by forming alliances and partnerships with foreign counterparts.

Expansion, both UK and worldwide, increases demand for business travel, which in turn has had an effect on the number of corporate travel management companies in the market. Established agents are expanding, new ones are opening and leisure agents are increasingly offering new services for the business traveller, so how do you choose the one that is right for youNULL

As with all suppliers, business travel agents' expertise differs and companies should look for one whose experience is relevant to their business. Perhaps one of the most pertinent questions to ask is: does the agent have knowledge of, and a presence within, the country that the firm itself conducts its business, or do they have clients in the same or similar industryNULL

Insurance is an aspect of a business trip which is often left to the last minute or even completely forgotten. A comprehensive business travel policy is essential and should take into consideration every eventuality, including personal safety.

Business travellers are often less aware of the dangers presented to them in a foreign country than the leisure travellers; they are only in the country for days or even hours and so do not learn about the country and its danger areas.

This, combined with the fact they are often carrying expensive equipment, makes them more of a target for mugging or attack.

Does the insurance policy anticipate such an eventuality and offer hijacking and kidnap cover, trauma counselling or a 24-hour medical emergency serviceNULL
The policy must also protect against anything which disrupts the smooth running of the trip, such as loss or theft of equipment, delayed flights, seat bumping, loss or damage to documents or missed departure.

How convenient is the insurance policyNULL Does it involve filling out tedious forms for every traveller or for every trip, or does the agent issue an annual policy which covers every traveller in the company with a premium based on air travel spendNULL

High-quality service
A successful business travel agent must ensure that it maintains a high level of service while offering its client the best value for money, while thinking beyond the booking of flights to the wider issues such as safety and insurance.
One of the most important things to take into consideration is an agent's past performance in terms of travel policy adherence. A clearly defined travel policy is essential if a company is to make the most of its agent and effectively police its travel spend. It is the responsibility of the agent to ensure everyone booking travel adheres to the company's travel policy, which will detail everything from budget to what class of travel different management levels are entitled to.

Travel policies will be supported and enhanced by the agent's knowledge of, and expertise within the market. Agents do not just book travel, they act as consultants, using their worldwide travel knowledge to advise clients.

Agents can also exploit their position as a major source of income for suppliers, such as airlines, hotels and car hire companies, to generate cost savings for their clients. Agents can negotiate discounts by giving certain companies preferred supplier status.

Clients also want a one-stop-shop; to be able to organise everything they need with one phone call – and this goes far beyond flights, hotels and hire cars. Travellers will expect their agent to manage all aspects of a trip including passports and visas and the provision of insurance.