Supporting the needs of travelers at any level requires precision, attention to detail, an awareness of safety and grace under fire. There is, however, a level at which expectations begin to shift into an even higher gear.
A Global 2000 executive, for example, may require a very different type of travel experience than a salesperson at a regional company. These same requirements may extend to other types of discerning power travelers — including high net worth individuals and those served by family offices — as well as to executives at organizations of any size whose service or security requirements are higher than those commonly available through conventional commercial travel.
If you’re new to executive travel management or to serving a high-level executive in this capacity, you’ll be expected to seamlessly execute travel to these standards — whether or not you’re ever given formal training on what those expectations are.
While every executive is different, there are some common themes you can use to help you navigate the needs of a high-level traveler. Check out the following key differences you’ll want to be aware of when managing their travel plans.
Travel Priorities Change
Private air is a great example of the way travel priorities can shift. For high-level executives, business aviation isn’t only about comfort. Besides the need to ensure safety at every stage of the journey, choosing private aviation about three things: efficiency, productivity and privacy.
You know the drill with commercial airfare. You arrive at the airport hours in advance and wait to board your plane. If you’re lucky, your flight will land within a reasonable distance of your destination; if not, you’ll be stuck transferring to a car for the remainder of the travel time. Airport backups, missed connections and other delays add further complications, hindering a traveler’s ability to use his or her time effectively.
Now, contrast that experience with the one provided by private air. Rather than spending hours waiting, your executive can simply arrive at the fixed-base operator (FBO) and depart shortly after. Perhaps even more importantly, they can fly directly to areas that may not be served by major airlines — which is especially important in the case of businesses with offices or facilities in smaller markets or rural areas.
A private jet setting can also be more conducive to getting work done while in transit. Depending on their size, private jets can typically be configured into different work-oriented layouts in order to maximize productivity, while amenities like conference rooms, and enhanced communications create a true mobile office, further increasing on-the-go effectiveness.
Compare that to trying to get anything done in the cramped quarters of a commercial flight, with the space limitations and potentially intrusive seating partners they often entail.
Business aviation can also offer much-needed privacy for traveling executives.
Imagine that your company is in discussions for a potential merger or acquisition, or is registering for a public offering or other transaction. Executives simply can’t be overheard discussing corporate business, or risk setting off speculation, undesirable publicity or — at worst — violations of federal securities laws.
Particularly if your executive will be traveling with a group of colleagues, private flights — typically arranged through your company’s corporate flight department, or through a fractional ownership or membership program — may be preferable for the confidentiality they can provide.
Measuring Travel by ROI
Most business travelers are subject to clear allowances for travel expenses. But as you look at more senior levels of an organization, rules often change so leaders can have the flexibility they need to get the job done.
That isn’t to say that cost isn’t a factor for traveling executives. There are simply other factors that are more important in the grand scheme of things than booking arrangements at the lowest possible cost.
For instance, although you already know you can save money by booking air and hotel reservations weeks or months in advance — as well as by booking non-refundable tickets — the restrictive nature of these arrangements doesn’t always mesh with the reality of high-level executive travel.
Senior executives often won’t have the visibility or certainty around their schedules to allow for these options. Things move quickly in the world of business, and the company that’s nimble enough to capitalize on new circumstances first often wins. That makes it easier to justify last-minute bookings and frequent schedule changes — despite their cost.
You’ll often hear executives use the term, “ROI,” or “return on investment.” Travel expenses are actually a great example of measuring ROI: what matters most isn’t usually the absolute cost of a trip, but the return they might achieve from investing in that way. Will spending money now allow them to make more of it later? Spending $2,000 on a last-minute commercial flight – or even $10,000 on a seven-passenger Learjet 31 from New York to Washington D.C. – makes great financial sense if it allows your executive to close a million-dollar deal.
Real Safety Threats Exist
Most high-level executives think of themselves as normal people, but the public profile of their position may put them at a higher risk of both opportunistic and targeted crime.
Public knowledge of their schedules may result in premeditated incidents, such as the pie in the face received by Qantas’ CEO at a speaking engagement. Status symbols — such as expensive clothing or luggage, or even the deferential treatment they receive from travel companions — may tip off bad actors to their importance (and, therefore, their desirability as a target for opportunistic crime, such as a pick-pocketing or kidnapping).
By most accounts, executive kidnapping is severely underreported — by as much as 90%, according to AIG. Understandably, no company wants to shake investor confidence by reporting a compromising position into which their executive has been placed. But because it’s so underreported, executive assistants working at this level may be unaware of the importance of protecting not just their executive’s comfort and productivity, but their safety as well.
Safe travel planning for high-level executives takes a number of different forms, potentially including:
- Coordinating your executive’s itineraries with your company’s security department so that they can make necessary advance preparations
- Sharing only the relevant parts of your executive’s itinerary to external (and sometimes internal) travel partners and providers
- Booking hotel arrangements with security in mind (for instance, by requesting a room on floors 3-5 or one without a connected, adjoining room)
- Choosing travel partners that offer necessary safety features (such as the obscuring of your executive’s contact information when executing reservations)
- Equipping your executive with safety-minded items — such as a keychain flashlight — before they travel
Of course, this list is far from comprehensive — what’s necessary for one executive may not matter to another. If your executive isn’t forthcoming about their expectations, reach out to others in your company (ideally, your company’s security department, if one exists) for insight into your executive’s particular security needs.
Your Executive’s Productivity Is Your Responsibility
Finally, keep in mind that the schedules of high-level executives are often booked in 5-minute intervals — and few have the luxury of relaxing their schedules while traveling. That means it’s up to you to defend their productivity with the same pleasant, yet ruthless approach you rely on when they’re in the office.
For example, you may need to:
- Closely monitor the progress of their meetings to ensure everything is running according to schedule — even if you’re on the other side of the world
- Reschedule meetings or reservations if your executive’s schedule deviates from their itinerary in any way
- Help rearrange their schedules and deliver necessary supplies in case they have a medical situation while traveling
- Choose travel options that allow them to maximize their productivity during every minute of the trip (such as private aviation or a car service that provides in-vehicle amenities that are conducive to work)
- Choose hotels with options such as in-room refrigerators and on-site fitness facilities that help them uphold some semblance of a routine, healthy lifestyle on-the-road
You’ll learn your executive’s unique rhythms and requests as you go. But if you need to get up-to-speed quickly, or if you need a quick refresher for inspiration, check out “The Power Assistant’s Guide to Executive Travel Management” from Savoya. In addition to providing a complete step-by-step walkthrough of the travel planning process for high-level executives, this free resource offers in-the-trenches tips for every stage of your executive’s journey.
Travel management is your chance to shine as an executive assistant — to prove you can be your executive’s strategic partner, rather than a glorified version of Travelocity. Step up to the plate with these and other tips for high-level executive travel management. That’s what being a power assistant is truly about.
Sarah Rickerd – Savoya / Photo by Hubble on Unsplash