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New research reveals business travel in Europe grew at a higher rate than expected in 2015

American Express Global Business Travel (“GBT”) announced the results of its 2015 EVP Barometer by American Express Global Business Travel (the “Barometer”) during the 25th annual EVP, held in Paris. The Barometer results show that business travel spending increased by 1.42% in 2015, more than twice the rise anticipated in the 2014 Barometer (0.7%).

In addition, “safety and security” has overtaken “cost control” to be the number one priority of company executives when considering business travel. “Traveller satisfaction” is ranked the number three priority. When it comes to cost control and optimising costs, this year efforts appear to be more focused on improving processes than on the direct costs themselves.

Process improvements include: online and expense management tools, and more consideration to the nature and purpose of travel before booking trips. 

Elyes Mrad, Managing Director of EMEA at American Express Global Business Travel stated: “This year, we are proud to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the annual American Express Global Business Travel Barometer. The Barometer reveals that respondents are optimistic when it comes to business travel spending, however they continue to perceive business travel as a cost, rather than an investment. This demonstrates that calculating the return-on-investment of business travel is still a challenge for companies.” 

“Companies should work closely with travel management companies to address their evolving business travel priorities of security, cost control and traveller satisfaction, while introducing technology and innovation to help their overall programme efficiency.”   

Key findings from the Barometer include:
1)     Growth in business travel reflecting international expansion plans
The Barometer points out that half of the companies’ surveyed aim to grow their businesses by expanding abroad over the next year, compared to 38% in 2014. Furthermore, the study shows that one third of respondents plan to increase their business travel budgets within the next three years, compared to 18% in 2014. However, 76% of respondents still view business travel as a necessary cost, compared with 24% who see it as an investment. Further, 21% of the participants said they would be interested in being more informed on how they can measure the return-on-investment of their business travel.

2)     Evolving company priorities
The Barometer points to the following as the top priorities for the companies surveyed:
Number 1: safety
This key concern has soared in importance over the past five years: while safety was the number two priority for companies in 2013, it has risen by 24% in two years, to become the absolute prime concern.

96% of companies surveyed have implemented safety procedures (follow-up and tracking). Nonetheless, they seem to favour a curative rather than a preventive approach, as only 24% of companies provide training to travellers. 

Number 2: cost control 
Having been the leading priority for companies for a number of years, ‘cost control’ fell back to second place in the ranking of priorities this year.

 52% of respondents believe that they can still optimise management costs to a certain degree. However, 50% of the respondents cited efforts have already been undertaken to improve processes. These include: more thorough evaluation of the cost and the importance of the trip prior to booking, implementing online tools, and the use of payment and expense management tools.

This year, spending on airfares accounted for 40% of the average business travel expenditure while hotel accommodation expenditure was 28%.  However, 59% of respondents reported hotel accommodation expenditure will be a key consideration for them this year. This implies travel managers feel there are further opportunities to potentially drive costs down or maximise their overall hotel programmes by focusing on supplier negotiation or driving the adoption of corporate negotiated rates, for example.

Number 3: increasing importance of traveller satisfaction The Barometer points to a considerable boost in the importance of traveller satisfaction, which leapt up to third place among companies' priorities from sixth place last year.

50% of respondents now measure the satisfaction of their business travellers, compared to 45% last year; and 22% use this feedback to improve their travel policies. Travel managers appear to be mindful that the adoption of tools and processes which positively affect the travel experience, such as itinerary management, incorporation of mobile technologies and new means of payment or expense reconciliation, has a direct impact on travellers' satisfaction and productivity.  

3)     Trends for 2016
According to the Barometer, the upswing in business travel spending witnessed this year is likely to continue in 2016, with respondents expecting a 1 to 3% rise in total travel spending over the coming year.

Further, when asked about the aspects which will grow in importance over the coming year, the top four elements cited by respondents were: price optimisation (50%), security solutions (41%), reliability of data (41%) and quality of overall travel programme management (40). 

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