IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa Athletics Department is looking to hire a firm to handle all its travel arrangements — from booking last-minute flights to transporting hard-to-ship pole vaults to wrangling large-group restaurant reservations.
The department, seeking to streamline the process and save money, issued a request for proposals from prospective travel agencies last October, asking for pitches through mid-November. The university has not yet announced a selection, and UI officials didn’t provide The Gazette with the number of agencies that responded.
According to the UI request, the department had planned to sign a contract by Jan. 1, leading up a June 1 start.
Travel expenses account for a hefty chunk of athletics costs annually, with the department spending nearly $7 million in the 2017 budget year — the most recent data provided by UI — on things like air and ground travel, lodging and meals for competition in the preseason, regular season and non-bowl game postseason.
That total includes use of airplanes, UI-owned vehicles and the “in-kind value” of donated transportation. The $7 million doesn’t include expenses for postseason bowls or recruiting travel.
UI athletics in 2017 spent another $1.6 million on recruiting-related transportation, lodging and meals. Its nearly $2 million “bowl expenses” for 2017 covered travel, lodging and meals.
The request stressed that although the chosen agency will coordinate travel for athletics-associated conferences, student and faculty recruitment, and competition, it won’t be booking leisure travel or trips for general campus faculty, staff and student travel.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
As for athletics, though, the expectation is the agency will establish a firm grasp of the department’s “unique needs” and maintain profiles of all its travelers and their specific needs.
Although UI athletics is open to alternatives, it expressed interest in housing an on-site travel representative. It also expressed interest in an online portal for “easy access to make travel reservations, view travel reservations, obtain copies of itineraries, maintain traveler profiles, and obtain detailed reporting.”
Even with an online component, the department expected the agency to be available at all hours to answer questions within 30 minutes.
The request highlights the challenges that come with booking travel for large teams, including moving athletic gear.
“Many travelers want complete control over making their own travel arrangements or having their support staff do so. Others want a very high level of personal service and assistance with making their travel arrangements,” according to the university request. “These individuals expect a live person who is easily accessible, who they feel ‘knows’ them, and will accommodate their personal travel preferences.”
In response to questions from prospective agencies, UI athletics officials reported the department’s current arrangement is piecemeal.
They said the department has no on-site travel representative or service team despite buying about 3,470 airline tickets in the most recent budget year.