NGO travel booking: online or through an agent? | Work in development
Reaching destinations far from established tourist flight routes takes a lot of time and money, but is it better for NGOs to use a travel agency or book online?
Tom Henderson, the founder of the disaster relief NGO Beyond states that they find online booking to be “faster, cheaper and more convenient” and “gives us flexibility in everything we do”. They are asking staff around the world to find their own flights online so they can get to a disaster area as quickly as possible. “We find it best to ask our teams to find the flights that are suitable for them and then we will book them from our office,” he says. “If they take responsibility, they can find the trip that works best for them.”
Evgenia Kondrakhina, Director General of the Norwegian Human Rights Organization GNRD, books about 120 trips a year for her staff and says she has had bad experiences in the past booking travel through an agent. “Some agents never confirmed our tickets and changed the departure time without notifying us,” she explains. “When we book online we hardly ever have any problems and if we do, they are minor.”
Sarah Lamaletie is the travel manager at Travelers, the international NGO for the blind and visually impaired. Its role is to reserve transport for the 350 to 450 employees of the association, who make 1,800 to 2,000 trips per year. She thinks hiring an agent is better for her organization than booking online. “It’s very easy to book online if you travel regularly between London and New York – it’s much more difficult if you travel between London and Nampula in Mozambique,” she says. There are so many routes to get to Nampula – via Addis Ababa, Nairobi or Kampala, for example – that it is not uncommon to have hundreds of options when you enter that destination into a live tool. line. “You have a lot more variables and those variables themselves have variables, like ‘if you stop for four hours do you need a visa? “It takes someone who is a real expert to be able to identify the pitfalls and come up with a list of the most appropriate options.”
Henderson says when his staff need to travel to disaster areas, they go to the nearest major airport and rely on local crews to organize transportation to more remote areas. “We tend to bring locals into the field to book our subsequent trip, because we find that they are in a better position to do it,” he says. “During disasters, shuttles are often organized for humanitarian workers.
But Lamaletie says an agent’s expertise can help find the most convenient and profitable routes. “One of our recent bookings was for a guy who wanted to fly to Nigeria on Tuesday and come back on Friday. The agent told us that by scheduling him slightly differently, so he got on the plane on Monday and came back. on Thursday it had much more convenient flights and the fare went from an indirect fare of £ 1,600 to a direct fare of £ 800. It’s good for the traveler, but it’s also good for our donors. The cost, so that their funding goes as far as possible, is a major concern for Sightsavers.
For Henderson, cost is often not one of the most important factors in booking a flight. “If a flight costs £ 100 more but arrives a day earlier, we take the earlier flight because we need people on the ground. You don’t ask an ambulance how many pennies per gallon it uses. That said. , we ‘You are not going to spend £ 3,500 on a first class flight when the economy class price is £ 500. If there is only one first class seat available, we will look for another one. option.
Safety is another concern when booking travel for staff. “You don’t want to put someone on an airline that has a reputation for being insecure or has a reputation for lousy service,” says Lamaletie. “If they’re always late or making last minute schedule changes, that can cause huge problems.” She thinks that’s another reason to book through an agent rather than online. “We have had some nasty cases where someone was inside the country and we got a notice to say that their flight was brought forward. This is where it helps to have an agent that you can call and ask for help, so when we contact the traveler, we already have the solution in place. “
As with booking travel, Byond encourages staff to take their own responsibility for safety and security. The organization includes transportation in its health and safety training. “Staff are encouraged to think carefully before boarding a 30-year-old Russian helicopter, for example,” Henderson said. “The agents are fine, but the person who speaks directly to the airline staff is often more efficient in getting to where we need to be.”
Join the community of global development professionals and experts. Become a GDPR member to get more stories like this straight to your inbox