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SME SECTOR


PLAN FOR


Smaller companies can run up big bills unless travel is carefully managed as part of their expansion


GROWTH T


HE UK WAS ONCE A NATION of shopkeepers; now it’s more a nation of start- ups. Despite the Brexit psychodrama, a dizzying 663,272 businesses were hatched in 2018, according to the Centre


for Entrepreneurs. This reinforces the idea that we are a country dominated by small to medium-sized enterprises, many of which buy business travel on a daily basis. This is still the largest unmanaged segment of the corporate travel market. Add up all the SMEs in the UK and we’re talking 5.6 million businesses employing more than 16 million people. It’s a segment worth £2 trillion and accounts for just over half of all private sector turnover, according to the Federation of Small Businesses. “We define this sector as those that have


a travel spend under £500,000 a year. It’s vibrant and active,” explains Mervyn Williamson, the UK managing director of Travel and Transport Statesman. Yet this kind of spend can make or break a company. After wages and premises, travel is the third


54 JULY/AUGUST 2019


biggest ticket item to burn a hole in the profit-and-loss spreadsheet. “Small businesses with low spend and volume represent a cost to manage and a challenge to service for traditional business travel providers,” says Neil Ruth, co-founder of TapTrip, a self-service travel solution. There’s no doubt this sector needs more such solutions. For instance, the number of SME companies exporting abroad rose by 6.6 per cent to 232,000 late last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. Businesses are too preoccupied with getting new business, paying staff, boosting turnover and keeping the company afloat to worry about a flight ticket here, a rail booking there. They’re resource poor and their specialist knowledge of the dark arts of business travel management is limited. “There are rarely travel category


specialists in smaller companies. It can be the owner or a senior manager that’ll be looking after travel, alongside many other things,” explains Antoine Boatwright, global innovation director at Reed & Mackay. In fact, there’s a rainbow of people out there booking trips from office managers,


buyingbusinesstravel.com


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