If it's true that there's strength in numbers, there should be discounts involved--or so goes the thinking of the travel subcommittee of the university's Business Process Improvement Committee.
In 1999, Johns Hopkins spent an estimated $25 million on business-related travel, which included more than 40,000 plane flights, many of which were to international destinations.
No significant discounts, however, were derived from this frequent flying, according to Gary Ostrander, chair of the travel task force and associate dean of research in the School of Arts and Sciences. Ostrander said that in the past the university has not taken full advantage of its position as the largest employer in the state and one whose affiliates travel frequently.
"We felt there were considerable cost savings to be had in this area," Ostrander said.
By leveraging these hefty travel numbers, the five-member group has already negotiated better rates for airline tickets, rental cars and hotel accommodations for Hopkins faculty, staff and students, with more to be announced in the coming months.
The travel subcommittee is one of five task forces established by the Business Process Improvement Committee formed last summer by President William R. Brody. The BPIC, chaired by Alfred Sommer, dean of the School of Public Health, is a wide-sweeping initiative charged with examining everything about the way Johns Hopkins does business. Other task forces of the BPIC are currently examining mail services, standardized purchasing of selected goods and services, academic leadership training and financial business practices.
The travel task force includes Ostrander; Christine White, assistant dean for medicine at the School of Medicine; Herbert Hansen, senior associate dean for finance and administration at the School of Public Health; Roland Catalano, director of Accounting and Finance at APL; and Paul Beyer, the university's director of Purchasing.
The group's first difficult step was to accumulate data on just how many and how often people at the university travel--information not previously available--to show to travel providers. To determine the total number of business-related trips made in a single year, the task force had to contact each individual department, a process that took several months to complete.
The committee's second step--so that Hopkins people could start enjoying cost savings immediately--was to approach travel providers directly and solicit bids for discounted rates. In looking at airlines, the task force considered those that fly out of Baltimore-Washington International Airport, offer a large volume of flights and are currently being used by the Hopkins community. In a similar fashion, the committee approached car rental companies and hotel chains that are available in all major cities.
To date, the university has negotiated a 9 percent discount with USAirways, is close to securing a similar discount with United Airlines, and with Avis has acquired preferred customer status, which entails reduced and fixed prices on each automobile size. In addition, the university will remain a member of the Ivy Plus Travel Group, a group of peer academic institutions that commands discounted rates at selected hotels in most major cities.
Paul Beyer said the committee's next major goal is to find two or three preferred travel agencies that would secure increased cost savings and services and support the university's needs. Requests for proposals will be sent out in June, and Beyer said final selections will be made later this summer. A university travel program and associated website will be in place by fall 2000.
Beyer describes the program as a Hopkins dedicated service, with on-site offices, to assist people with reservations, ticketing changes and other travel-related issues. "So if a person were stranded in Chicago because his flight was canceled, a dedicated Hopkins agent would provide assistance in getting that person where he wants to go," Beyer said.
The School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Applied Physics Laboratory all currently have on-site travel agents, and Ostrander said the contracts of those agencies will be honored.
During the next several months the task force will continue to expand its efforts in picking up more travel discounts and special services, including reduced rates on hotel accommodations, upgrades on flights and accommodations, and discounted airfares on often-traveled routes such as Baltimore to Chicago, Atlanta and certain destinations abroad.
Ostrander said that it will not be mandatory to use the new travel agents or providers, and he understands that some people will want to remain with their preferred airlines and travel agents.
"However, our expectation is that these rates we obtain will be so competitive that the bottom line is, people are not going to want to waste their money," Ostrander said.
To contact the BPIC travel task force, call Ostrander at 410-516-8215.
For more information about travel discounts currently available to the Hopkins community, go to www.jhu.edu/~purchasing/ and click on Hot News.