One of the more interesting roles in the world of corporate travel just opened up: Director of Royal Travel. And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. You’ll be managing travel for the Queen and the British Royal Family. As much as that sounds like a cool position, I won’t be applying, because I don’t like the idea of being sent to the Tower of London if I do a bad job.
But it did make me daydream a bit about what it would be like to be the person who has the daunting task of ensuring that the world’s most high-profile VIP travellers get around the globe. What kind of travel policy would you need to manage?
Obviously, some parts are pretty straightforward. Domestic train travel is pretty easy to plan when you have your own train. And if you go on a state visit, you’ll likely either be hosted by the premier of the country you are visiting, or maybe in the UK ambassador’s residence. So, choosing the best hotel in town may not be too much of a concern either.
But cost and other factors do come into play, and royal travel has become far less opulent over the years, due in part to a greater scrutiny of costs and a more modern generation of royals. The Royal Yacht Britannia retired more than 20 years ago, and the Royal Family’s air transport program is significantly more modest than Air Force One, for example. In fact, the only aircraft officially designated to the Royal Family is a single helicopter, although the Royal Air Force does operate one VIP Airbus for official use, shared with the government.
In addition, there is a fixed travel budget to work to: about £5 million per year. It may sound a lot for a relatively small group of travellers, but you need to consider that it also includes non-royal travellers, such as support staff who travel ahead of the Royal Family to plan visits. You also can’t throw the 71-year-old heir to the throne in an economy seat when he's flying around the world on official business. However, some of the younger royals are bucking this trend, and Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge don’t seem to have such qualms for short-haul trips.
Finding the balance between travelling in luxury and not be seen to be wasting travel budget is probably more critical than for anyone else on earth. After all, the Royal travel budget comes out of the public’s pocket so any hint of excess is highly scrutinised. Therefore, chartering private jets is probably not a good idea for anything other than official visits, where there are no other viable (commercial) options.
For commercial flights, obviously the policy should be to favour British Airways wherever possible, as it’s the national flag carrier. Failing that, another UK airline or a Commonwealth country’s flag carrier would be preferable, if feasible.
The environmental impact of travel should also be a consideration for planning. Prince Charles is a high-profile environmentalist, as are his sons. The carbon footprint of travel should be considered, in order to avoid the kind of negative coverage that has appeared in the past when private jets have been used for non-official travel (even when there was no cost for doing so). Calculating the overall carbon footprint of a trip and purchasing carbon offsets could be a good way to mitigate this, although it could have a significant impact on the budget.
The Queen visited more than 115 countries until she gave up overseas travel in 2015. A considerable number the places that she and other members of the Royal Family (particularly Princes William and Harry) continue to visit are in developing nations. While safety of the Royals themselves is more of an issue for their person protection team as well as the security services of their host country, their forward planners and support staff won’t be afforded such protection. As such, duty of care is a critical consideration. The travel manager will need to liaise closely with local embassy staff to monitor current events, and also ensure that staff remain safe.
Ensuring ROI is also tricky. The monarch is the head of state in 16 countries, ranging from Canada to Barbados to the Solomon Islands, so there needs to be travel by one of the Queen’s representatives to all of those, as well as to other 53 members of the Commonwealth (of course some are visited more frequently than others). But most importantly, the Royal Family is the face of “UK plc” – the entire British economy – so it could be argued that the ROI of a successful travel program is almost immeasurable in terms of overall international trade impact.
All in all, the considerations to run the Royal Family’s travel probably outweigh almost any commercial organisation’s in terms of complexity and the need to maintain a positive perception – both for your boss and for 60 million onlookers who pay for it. It’s a daunting job, but for one lucky person, they’ll get to work in the most prestigious office building in the world.
Might we suggest candidates first read this article: The Top 5 Things Travel Managers Need from Expense Management Systems? Good luck with the interviews!
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