Travel agencies call for review of government’s flight bookings

Whitehorse's travel agencies are calling on the Yukon government to rethink the way it books travel for its employees.

Whitehorse’s travel agencies are calling on the Yukon government to rethink the way it books travel for its employees.

Denis O’Brien, a spokesperson for three local agencies who were invited to meet with government officials this week, said the territory needs an independent review of its travel booking system, which he called “wonky.”

As it stands, a Yukon government employee who wants to travel needs to send a request to a department head, who then approves it and sends it along to a centralized travel service department.

Three full-time employees arrange travel requests and use local accredited agencies on a rotational basis to actually book the tickets.

That administrative cost is over $1.3 million per year, according to documents the agencies obtained in an access-to-information request in 2014.

As of 2013, the government spent about $175,000 annually in booking fees to local travel agencies.

Broken down, each ticket costs about $150 to book, $40 of which is a flat fee that goes to the agency booking it.

Last year, the government carried out a six-month pilot project to determine if in-house bookings would save it time and money.

From January to June 2014, Yukon employees booked flights online to Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, rather than going through local travel agencies like they normally would.

Three departments took part in the project: Economic Development; Energy, Mines and Resources; and Health and Social Services.

According to the report, the project put more work on employees’ plates while producing negligible savings.

“The booking process interfered with regular staff duties and introduced a lot of stress into the workplace and work relationships,” according to one travel arranger respondent.

“Guidelines and procedures provided were not clear as there were too many exceptions and uncertainties,” wrote another.

In seven other Canadian jurisdictions the agencies looked at, none of the governments used a centralized travel department.

O’Brien said the rotation system is handy but it may not necessarily be the best way to do things.

“We also recognize that we could be doing more for what we’re being paid to book tickets,” he said.

“If they came to us and said ‘this is what we need’ we could tailor something for them, but that hasn’t happened. Things need to change and we hope it doesn’t go too badly for us.”

The benefits of using travel agencies over self-booking are that administrative fees would be dramatically lowered and accountability would be kept intact, he added.

“Government employees aren’t supposed to be spending time booking their own travel, whether it’s business or personal – you get someone (in the industry) to do it for you.”

Kendra Black, a spokesperson for the Department of Highways and Public Works, said the results of the pilot project as well as the feedback obtained during the consultations would be used to develop future policy.

“We’ll be working on that over the next number of months,” she said, but said it was too early to specify whether the government would commission an independent review of its current system.

Contact Myles Dolphin at