A dedicated travel agency that specifically caters to the travel needs of the City of Nanaimo could soon take flight.
The municipality is looking for a “qualified” travel agency provider than can provide council and staff with efficient, cost-effective and user-friendly travel service, according to a request for proposal that is currently under evaluation by staff.
Jane Rushton, the city’s purchasing manager, said the goal is to find a corporate travel service provider that can lower costs and streamline the way travel is booked across all of the city’s departments, which are currently responsible for booking their own travel itineraries.
“We want someone to book our travel through, with, potentially, the intent to lower our costs, streamline our processes and maybe do some reporting on where we spend our travel dollars,” Rushton said. “Right now, it’s ad hoc.”
According to the RFP, which was issued last month, the successful company must be able to provide a wide range of travel-related services, including a dedicated account manager, detailed weather forecasts, after-hour services, secure booking, respond to city inquiries within four hours, offer real-time information about passport, visa, and health regulations and baggage policies.
Rushton said at the end of the day, the city wants a company that provides services that go beyond what the average person can accomplish online.
“You don’t want to contract with somebody that is going to take three days to do something that you could do in a half an hour,” she said. “What we want is a company that is going to give us value.”
Currently, the city does not keep detailed records about council or staff’s travel habits beyond travel expenses that are submitted to the finance department.
“We have budgets and conceivably you can go back at the end of the year and say ‘yeah, OK, I spent ‘X’ amount in that budget and that budget was for travel,’ but it might mean that you took your car to Duncan and talked to the Cowichan Valley Regional District,” Rushton said, adding that more information would be an asset to the city.
The city has a travel budget of $200,000 for this year, but Rushton could not say how much hiring a travel agency would cost as bids are currently under evaluation. Rushton said a decision is expected to be made within a matter of weeks.
The RFP was issued a day before the city released a press release stating that for years it has allowed certain staff and council members to “incur” business expenses and personal expenses on city-issued purchase cards. It also said KPMG had completed a review of business expense policies, found the city to be outdated and recommended that the city create new guidelines on travel expenses, introduce travel cards that are separate from purchase cards and hire a travel service company.
Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said the idea to hire a corporate travel service company was first suggested in December and he is supportive of it.
“If you’re sending all of council to a conference and you’ve got to deal with hotel rooms, air fares, transfers and all of that stuff it can take up a ton of [staff] time,” he said, adding that he and councillors are heading to a conference in Halifax next month and that staff had to spent hours sorting out booking details.
McKay said the decision to find a company did not need to be voted on by council because the city’s travel budget does not exceed $250,000. He added that the idea was supported by the chief administrative officer.
“I think it could save the city money,” he said.
When asked if the decision was due to abuse of travel expenses by city staff or councillors, McKay said that he does not believe there has been “any misuse” of city money allocated for travel, but pointed out that having a company handle all the booking will better protect the municipality from unnecessary expenses.
“It prevents people from booking independently and costing the city money … it puts a tighter control on things,” he said.