Agents Feel Impact of Govt. Travel Fracas
This is the third in a series about the impact of the GSA meetings scandal on travel.
While travel agents report no significant decline in government travel stemming from restrictions imposed both before and after last spring’s GSA meetings scandal, keeping costs in line is a major challenge.
The most serious fallout has resulted from a federal mandate last fall to reduce travel spending by federal employees by 20%, later increased to 30%, said W. Reed Atkins, CEO of CI Travel in Norfolk, Va.
“We have seen government efforts to curb costs beginning to take hold, but as of yet we have not seen declines as sharp as the government has targeted,” Atkins said.
He did note a tendency toward shorter stays. Also, he said, some government clients have canceled their meetings and travel plans.
Atkins speculated that his government clients may be taking advantage of an exemption to the federal spending mandate for travel that is deemed “mission critical.”
“The agencies we work with may be justifying more of their travel under that premise.”
Atkins lamented the Global Business Travel Association’s decision to cancel its June National Travel Forum because the GSA would not support the event. “That forum was an excellent opportunity for the government to sit down and address its challenges openly with its supplier partners.”
The GBTA cancelled the travel forum shortly after news of the GSA meetings scandal made headlines. (See “GSA Pulls Out of GBTA Forum,” April 26, 2012.)
Feels impact of 2011 directive
At Duluth (Ga.) Travel, which also handles a substantial amount of government-related travel, owner Arthur Salus said that so far he has not felt a significant impact from this year’s cutbacks in federal travel.
“We don’t really see anything different than before the GSA situation,” said Salus, whose agency derives 60% of its volume from government agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and federal air marshals.
“Our clients are traveling less as a result of the directive last fall from the president, but we don’t see any other effect – not even in meetings – even though they now have to get prior approval for everything,”
Regarding the extravagant GSA meeting in Las Vegas that elicited outrage, Salus characterized it as “an abuse of power – but a very isolated case, involving one office on the west coast.”
The federal directive for a reduction in spending on government travel has posed challenges for Omega World Travel in Fairfax, Va., according to Goran Gligorovic, executive vice president.
“There are two ways to do that – cut the number of trips or the spend on each trip,” he said. “If you want to cut spend that is difficult to do on air because the city pair program already provides good deals to government travelers. Also, it’s tough to cut back on meals – so the focus is on hotels.”
While he noted that the federal government does have a hotel program (FedRooms) with preferred lodging suppliers, Gligorovic said it has not grown as rapidly as hoped because “hotels are not owned by the brands, so there is less control of inventory than the airlines.”
Part 1: “GSA Fallout Wreaks Havoc with Govt. Meetings,” July 16, 2012
Part 2: “Govt. Travel Scrutiny Worries Private Sector,” July 19, 2012