By Janelle Harb
Throughout the semester, The Griffin has been covering issues and concerns regarding the Travel Team, a travel agency whose service is mandatory for all student organizations and faculty. On Wednesday Nov. 9, administration held a meeting in which two representatives from the Travel Team, Luke Thomas, Vice President of Global Business Alliances, and Sharon Guariglia, National Account Manager, met with Matt Mulville, Director of Student Life, Beth Crvelin, Assistant Director of Student Life, Gary Lew, Director of Purchasing, two representatives from the Undergraduate Student Association, and one representative from The Griffin. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the College’s association with Travel Team, past issues with the system, and what can be improved upon in the future.
When booking travel, most clubs and organizations must appeal to USA for additional funding that covers an estimated cost of the trip. The Finance Board then meets to review these appeals nearly every Thursday during the semester, where they decide whether to approve the appeal. Senate then meets on Tuesday and votes to either pass or reject the appeal.
A problem that most student organizations have faced when appealing for travel has been a sudden increase in price from Travel Team’s estimates, thus forcing them to appeal to USA for more funds. They must then wait for the appeal to process all over again. By that time, the price may have changed again, and the cycle repeats. However, upon further investigation, most of these significant price fluctuations have been due to the constant flux of airline flight prices that the Travel Team cannot control.
The Griffin previously detailed situations where club leaders were shocked to see sudden price increases in the estimated travel cost, the booking of expensive means of transportation such as limousines, and mishaps in incorrect hotels being booked or, in one instance, no hotel being booked at all.
The representatives from Travel Team at the meeting earlier this month claimed that they were not aware of any problems students were facing, as they had not heard any of the concerns until reading about them in The Griffin. National Account Manager Guariglia stated that the company is “here to work with you and make it better in any way possible.” VP of Global Business Alliances Thomas added that Travel Team does not make more money when more is spent on the trip, and that the purpose for the company is intended to help save in the most efficient way possible for the client.
In an effort to reduce the risk of prices drastically increasing, USA is looking to provide more of a range when passing a budget, so that if the price increases, then it will be pre-accounted for and it will not have to be re-voted on again in future weeks.
“We’re rearranging our own process to make sure that we get the [travel] quote,” said Vice President of Business and Finance Jeff Spencer, ‘17, “[and] that it’s as close to when the Senate votes as possible, so it’s more accurate information than in the past.”
That would potentially solve half the problem of rapidly fluctuating airline prices, but there is also an administrative side to dealing with Travel Team. VPBF Spencer also commented on this issue.
“Another problem,” said Spencer, “had been that once the money had been allocated, Elaine [Mrugala] (an Administrative Associate in Student Life who confers with Travel Team and students to book travel), still needed to get licenses and whatever other information you needed to travel. So now, hopefully, she should have all of that by Wednesday morning, so the second she gets the green light, we can book them, and we’re set.”
The Griffin was also able to speak with Vice President of Student Organizations Jerry Daigler, ‘17, who talked about potential upsides to Travel Team.
“There have been hiccups,” said Daigler, “but the College as a whole has found [Travel Team’s] service helpful and are satisfied. I think a big benefit to using them or any travel service is that they know a lot more of the rules and standards of travel that could save us money in the long run.”
There’s also a legal component when it comes to Canisius allowing students to travel.
“There is a lot behind-the-scenes that we as students don’t see in compliance with the Clery Act,” said VPBF Spencer. “The College needs to know and report where exactly students are, and if there’s any sort of significant event that happens that could impact student safety, that’s federally mandated.”
In regards to the issues that have come to light regarding students’ discrepancies with Travel Team, Director of Purchasing Lew assured The Griffin that administration always “follows up” with these issues and that they are taken seriously.
“I’m the Director of Purchasing,” Lew stated. “My job is to manage the vendors that service the College, and Travel Team is one of our primary partners. When a vendor doesn’t perform, we change vendors. That’s how the business world works. The College, you should know, is very satisfied with what the Travel Team has been doing.”
The College may be satisfied with Travel Team, but that does not mean students are satisfied with Travel Team, and many students whom The Griffin has quoted in previous articles have expressed explicit dissatisfaction with the system. Lew’s comments raise questions of how connected the desires of administration are to the desires of students. Lew’s comments spoke to some aspects of this issue.
“The College administration has partnered with the Travel Team for travel services,” said Lew. “We are satisfied with their performance, but we also are willing to scrutinize [them]. We realized after reading articles in The Griffin that there [were] communication and process problems that needed to be resolved. Going forward, [we’re working on] how to make this better for student travel, and maintain the duty of care and liability issues that the College has to deal with, and how do we make it work for everybody.”
Since the publication of two previous articles regarding the Travel Team issue, The Griffin has received Letters to the Editor regarding Travel Team, as well as had students and professors reveal their trials and tribulations with the system off the record. It is disconcerting that so many students and faculty have had issues with Travel Team over the years, and administration is only just now realizing there was any problem at all.
Most recently, Jennifer Vinci, ‘17, President of Fusion Gaming Society, revealed in her letter published in The Griffin on Nov. 11 that Fusion has seen little savings in using the Travel Team. She also recounted a personal story about her time studying abroad where she was stranded in Paris with her visiting family with no plane tickets. She continues to question why students are viewed as incapable of booking their travel plans, despite gathering all of the information themselves at the cheapest price regardless due to the appeal process. Perhaps adherence to the Clery Act explains this, although it is still troubling that students seem to be able to consistently find lower prices than Travel Team can.
“As student government and classes change every year, we’re willing to keep revisiting these issues,” Lew concluded.
However, these issues have been occurring yearly for several years now, with little progress. As detailed in previous articles in The Griffin, an alumnus and former Student Senator, Andy Plewinski, ‘15, had contacted the newspaper detailing his dissatisfaction with the Travel Team and that fact that these issues were still occurring, well after his graduation. With these issues continually being dropped after certain students graduate, they are never truly being resolved.
With administration satisfied with Travel Team and students persistent in their disatisfaction, the College has a decision to make. If nothing else, the appearance is that the College fails to value student concerns over the Travel Team system. There is debate as to the extent which Travel Team is flawed, but there is no question that there’s at least some room for improvement. The College sits at a crossroad: continue using Travel Team as normal, or take some form of action which shows at least a genuine support for the concerns that many student and faculty have expressed. Only time will tell what the College will do but this is an issue students have shown that they are certainly not apathetic about. With the College receiving the message that students will not stand for hatred on campus from the protest on Nov. 9, it shows that they are listening. The question is whether or not the College is more concerned with students, or with making a buck.