With PAs expected to multi-task more than ever, one of the key duties that falls under their remit is booking business travel. PA Life teamed up with PrivateFly to analyse their buying habits – Colette Doyle evaluates the results.
Think of travel and what comes to mind: a sun-drenched beach with an exotic cocktail in one hand and the latest potboiler in the other? Maybe an action-packed itinerary on a tourist trail, or a cultural city break perhaps? When you add in the word business, however, you come across a whole different scenario.
Booking business travel for company executives can be a time-consuming process, fraught with pitfalls and obstacles. To find out the truth about the travel-buying habits of the average administrative professional, PA Life got together with business jet operator PrivateFly earlier this year to put together an exclusive survey of PAs and EAs.
We wanted to find out what exactly are the main factors involved when it comes to arranging business trips: for instance, how much time do PAs normally spend on the task, which type of travel do they book, what lead times do they face, how do they deal with last-minute changes of itinerary, what kind of technology do they use to assist them, what is the trickiest kind of travel to arrange, and what are the strangest travel-related requests that PAs have had to handle?
According to our survey, it turns out that virtually all PAs (96 per cent) are responsible for making travel arrangements in the course of their job and of these two-thirds said they spend at least 20 per cent of their time booking business trips.
The most popular answer to the question, “What percentage of your time is spent organising travel plans?” was 30 per cent, which equates to at least 11 hours, or around one-and-a-half days, every week. Around half (51 per cent) of PAs use a specialist management company to book travel, and most arrangements are made within two weeks of the departure date. More than a third (36 per cent) said they were typically given a brief between seven and 14 days beforehand, with another 30 per cent only having between three and six days ahead of the date of travel. A still significant 16 per cent said they typically arrange travel at the very last minute, given just one or two days’ notice.
It’s uncommon for today’s PA to travel with their boss on business. Most (53 per cent) said they never do so, with just two per cent saying they often go along. A further 22 per cent noted that they do only on rare occasions. London PAs were the most likely to be left behind in the office, with 61 per cent reporting they never travel with their executive.
It seems that many PAs are required to book more than just business travel, with 42 per cent booking personal holidays for their bosses at least occasionally and seven per cent always doing so.
When asked to pick the single most difficult part of booking travel, dealing with changing plans is clearly the biggest bugbear for PAs, with 44 per cent choosing this as their number one challenge. The second most difficult aspect is the time needed to compare providers (23 per cent), with being put under time pressure coming in at number three and cited by 16 per cent of those who completed the poll.
PAs are starting to adopt usage of phone or tablet apps for booking travel, but there is still some way to go before this becomes the norm. Just 16 per cent currently said they use this method.
When choosing travel providers, the boss or company policy influences the decision for a significant majority of PAs (70 per cent), particularly those in larger organisations. Other factors that sway a purchasing decision are word of mouth/personal recommendation and search engines, which were equally popular ways of choosing a supplier, at 38 and 37 per cent respectively.
When asked which forms of travel they are responsible for, hotels were chosen by 94 per cent, with airline tickets by 92 per cent. The vast majority (90 per cent) said they book train tickets and 74 per cent taxis or chauffeured cars; meanwhile, 16 per cent of PAs said they also book private aviation flights.
The extent of provider comparison made by PAs varies according to the type of travel they are responsible for booking. Most PAs don’t compare providers at all for train tickets, with over half also sticking with one provider for taxis. When it comes to hotels, between one and three providers were typically compared, with the same for airlines. For private jet travel most PAs don’t find it necessary to compare operators.
While usage of phone or tablet apps for booking business travel is still low, most PAs do find technology essential when comparing suppliers. As many as 68 per cent said their most common research method was to compare individual suppliers online, rather than relying on a phone-based broker or agent.
The most difficult form of travel to arrange is airline flights, with over 40 per cent of PAs singling out this mode of transport. Reasons given included “there are so many stipulations to booking an airline ticket, there is always a caveat”.
By contrast, train tickets are considered the easiest form of travel to arrange, as testified by 38 per cent of respondents. Reasons given included: “generally takes less time to research”; “it is rare that the train is full”; and “no research or comparison needed”.
With acknowledgements to PrivateFly, a leading global booking platform for private jet charter.
ABOVE AND BEYOND
At the end of the survey, PAs were asked to elaborate on some of the most unusual travel-related requests they have been asked to handle on behalf of their executives; the responses show just how many of today’s personal assistants are prepared to go the extra mile. Here is a selection of some of the anecdotes recounted.
“I was asked to collect a birthday present for my boss’s wife that he’d left at home. We were in Wellington, New Zealand, at the time. I ended up flying Auckland-London-Auckland all in first class with just a four-hour turn-around time in London.”
“My boss needed a haggis delivered to a restaurant in New York.”
“I was tasked with getting my executive back from Europe by any means necessary during the Icelandic volcanic disruption.”
“I was asked to check whether it was possible to bring fish through Customs.”
“My boss needed to reach a really remote place in British Columbia, Canada – basically, impossible to access except by private plane.”
“I was required to get a company employee on a trip to Manila out of the country as soon as possible after a threat to US and UK citizens was released.”
“I had to deal with a complex itinerary touring Scandinavia, which meant booking multiple modes of transport, including planes, trains, buses, boats and private car hire, to get there from the UK due to the remoteness of the destination.”
“I had to arrange a trip that involved three locations in India over five working days – an almost impossible scenario.”
“Making plans for a journey to Malawi via Kathmandu was challenging.”
“Dow in Terneuzen in the Netherlands has to be the most awkward place ever to get to from the UK.”