NORFOLK, Va. - When it comes to government-related travel, knowing where to turn when you have questions may sometimes be a question in itself. A traveler’s first inclination may be to call CWT SatoTravel – the Department of Defense’s go-to for travel management and fulfillment services. However, callers that have recently gone this route have been met with extreme wait times that have left many people in travel-limbo. Understanding the tools and resources that are available to travelers can save time and will properly equip travelers when on official travel.
With the surge in travel following COVID-19, the travel service industry has experienced personnel shortages and hiring challenges post-COVID-19 which impact performance. Additionally, there were over 62 million travel and tourism jobs lost due to COVID-19 throughout 2020-2021, with nearly 9 million of those within the United States. While the travel service industry still hasn’t fully recovered, the contractor’s service level has improved as of late.The travel industry challenges compound the issues of the Travel Management Company (TMC). The Defense Travel Management Office (DTMO) confirmed the average time to service a telephone call is currently four times longer than pre-COVID. This is not due to the personnel servicing the calls and is directly tied to the extended time required to search for available flights, cars, and lodging. Excessive calls roll-over to Emergency Support Center after-hours. Hiring challenges for night/graveyard shift are even greater.Although there have been a few systemic issues that impacted numerous travel records, many of the travel “issues” could have been resolved without a call to the TMC or avoided altogether. This issue is of particular interest to the U.S. Navy who currently contribute a large majority of the calls that are being made to the call centers.“Data was captured from the peak travel period in 2022 when calls were at the highest levels. During a 3-month period, the Navy had 84,117 calls placed to the TMC during duty hours,” said Charles Sharon, NAVSUP WSS Navy Passenger Transportation Policy Specialist. “The statistics provided indicated our volume was nearly 20 percent more than the Army contracts and 26 percent more than the Air Force and Marine Corps combined. Navy personnel placed 48,089 calls to the after-hours Emergency Service Center, similarly, exceeding the other services call volume.”Before calling CWT SatoTravel customer support, it is best practice for travelers to understand the services that they provide as well as the self-service tools that can be used such as the CWT SatoTravel’s online chat feature. By utilizing the chat feature, travelers can be assisted with actions before, during, and after travel such as canceling reservations, car rentals, ticket status, invoice requests, refund requests, credit card updates and submit back to Defense Travel System. Chat support is available Monday thru Friday from 7 a.m. - 6 p.m. CDT.“The TMC has implemented additional technology in efforts to relieve overall call volume and the amount of time travelers spend on hold when they do call. The chat feature was established for administrative actions that don’t require an actual agent, including duplicate copies of invoice/itineraries, reservation cancellation, credit card updates, and early ticketing,” said Sharon. “This feature can be accessed through the CWT SatoTravel’s website by selecting the ‘Chat directly with a member of our team’ hyperlink. The chat feature responded to over 10,222 requests over a 3-month period, equally reducing the call volume over this period.”Another resource that is crucial for all DoD travelers is the Defense Travel System (DTS). DTS is a one-stop-shop for government related travelers to search and book fights, reserve hotel accommodations, and reserve rental cars. It is also a resource for checking per-diem rates in a given travel location. It is within the DTS website that travelers can prepare the necessary documents that they will need for their trips and accommodations. Also, with the proper permissions in place, documentation can be prepared on the behalf of another traveler. Additional common issues that can be rectified within DTS include the following:• Inputting and updating travel documents• Updating travel preferences in a personal profile• Using Travel Authorization (TA) information to prepare a local travel voucher• Inputting and digitally signing actual trip information• Determining the status of an authorization or voucher at any time“The TMC has made huge strides in addressing the call volume and working to bring their performance back with service level agreements through additional technology and staffing, and continue to improve,” said Sharon.Ways to resolve top call issues to the TMC include:• Missing invoices, duplicate invoices, and itinerarieso Ensure accurate e-mail in DTS profile; retain the initial copy; request via TMC’s chat• Requesting reservation changeso Make changes via DTS when possible• Credit cards being declined and/or updatedo Update/verify card in DTS profile prior to arranging travel; use TMC’s chat• Rebooking flights that auto-cancelled due to approval official not approvingo Verify AO approval 3-5 days prior to date of travel• Verifying ticket issuanceo Verify DTS record “CTO Ticketed” stamp; receipt of invoice; use TMC’s chat• Verifying a reservation is cancelled by DTSo Verify in DTS or use TMC’s chat for air/rental car; hotels must be contact directly• Adding rental car and/or hotel to the travel recordo Use DTS when possible• PCS reservations requests and verificationo Contact Command Pay and Personnel Administrator or Navy Passenger Transportation Office• Record stuck in CTO submito Use TMC chat to submit back to DTS, contact DTS helpdesk if unsuccessfulFor more information about travel and to view a list of frequently asked questions, please visit the https://www.travel.dod.mil/ and https://www.travel.dod.mil/Support/Frequently-Asked-Questions/.NAVSUP WSS is one of 11 commands under Commander, NAVSUP. Headquartered in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, NAVSUP employs a diverse, worldwide workforce of more than 22,500 military and civilian personnel. NAVSUP and the Navy Supply Corps conduct and enable supply chain, acquisition, operational logistics and Sailor and family care activities with our mission partners to generate readiness and sustain naval forces worldwide to prevent and decisively win wars. Learn more at www.navsup.navy.mil, www.facebook.com/navsupwss, and https://twitter.com/navsupsyscom.
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