For travel program decisions makers, as well as travellers, balancing the user experience with policy compliance for academic travel diaries has traditionally been a tricky task. However, according to FCM’s academic travel team, technology and new ways of managing data, is helping to streamline the ‘bleisure’ (business and leisure travel) audit trail.
The Travel Diary
According to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), travellers must complete a travel diary for any trip of six nights or more. A diary shows the dates, places, times and duration of an employee’s activities during a work trip. The purpose of a travel diary is to help organisations and their travellers determine the work-related and private elements of any trip, be it domestic or international, for taxation purposes.
The issue facing universities is whether the hard-line approach involving a high-touch and in-depth recording of activity is the most effective way for travellers or decision makers to capture what they need to meet Australian tax regulations.
Australian universities, and organisations across sectors, have varying rules and regulations about what is acceptable when it comes to completing travel diary information for dual purpose trips. Universities across the country also have vastly different methods of collating travel diary information.
Automated vs Manual Approaches
Melbourne-based university travel specialist and Director of University Partnerships at FCM Travel Solutions, Jamison Warren, said that currently, Australian universities were using a variety of ways to manage employee travel diaries. He said that while some universities had introduced online tools to automate the process and help with policy mandates around travel diary data, other universities had a more manual approach to this area of travel management.
Mr Warren added there was also a handful of universities that had introduced alternative solutions that did not require a traveller or travel arranger to complete a travel diary.
“It really comes down to how risk-averse a university is. We’re seeing universities mandating the use of travel diaries electronically where online tools automate the data collation for travellers and integrate with expense management tools for finance teams. There’s also a lot of manual management using forms, email approvals and spreadsheets still occurring.
“There are also different standards across the academic market for private travel thresholds within an itinerary, which determine if a trip can still be classed as a business trip.”
Mr Warren said that while travel diary data was a legal requirement, it was a challenge for universities to strike the perfect balance of meeting tax obligations, while at the same time ensuring the process was streamlined for those involved. Factors such as extended trip lengths, task orientation and the sheer volume of travellers added to the complexity in the academic sector.
Easy-to-use Online Travel Diary Solutions
There are numerous online platforms currently in the market that feature different pre and post-trip functionality to manage travel diary information. According to FCM, the type of technology, the level of technology customisation and the nature of information required by each university generally is tailored to suit each organisation’s travel program policy.
“For any organisation there is a fine line between policy compliance and user experience …while it is essential to have the necessary data required as part of a travel diary, it’s also not the most productive experience to have your people documenting their every move, hour by hour, each day for an extended period of time,” Mr Warren said.
“In my opinion there are some great solutions currently being used instead of the resource-heavy, manual travel diary processes and even some of the more complex online platforms. Solutions that incorporate smarter data storage and automated collation of specific data is where I see the market heading.
“This area of travel management is not only about creating transparency but also about making the entire process more efficient for travellers, university finance teams and travel providers.”
Could your university make travel diary management easier and more streamlined?
**Disclaimer: FCM Travel Solutions does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your university’s own tax, legal and accounting advisors for advice on these matters.