Spurred by new norms of hyper-connectivity, on-demand services, greater personalisation and always-on support, business people expect a simpler and more flexible experience when travelling on behalf of their employers. According to new research from the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE), underwritten by American Express Global Business Travel (GBT), travel managers are taking a more traveller-considerate approach to developing travel policies and programmes.
The study, Managing the Modern Business Traveller, reveals how travel managers are addressing the expectations of modern business travellers to adapt and develop travel policy and to retain and improve compliance levels. Influencing traveller behaviour is an important aspect of this: Eighty-seven per cent say they use or are considering using visual guilt, prompting users to reconsider travel purchases if a more cost-effective option is available, and 85 per cent point to peer pressure and corporate culture to guide travellers.
“Business travellers have come to expect a personalised experience when they’re on the road, but many organisations continue to take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to travel policy, driving travellers to work outside the normal channels,” said Greeley Koch, executive director, ACTE. “While travel polices absolutely need to change to take individual needs into account, travel managers can—and should—tap into the travellers’ point of view to encourage them to do the right thing. After all, managers are on the hook for not only the safety of their travellers, but also the cost of doing business.”
However, more traditional methods of ensuring policy compliance remain prominent. An overwhelming majority (93 per cent) of travel managers say they use education, and just over three-quarters (77 per cent) mandate compliance. Other approaches include rewards and incentives, both non-monetary (20 per cent) and monetary (17 per cent).
“The needs of the business and the desires of today’s business traveller are often different, but we have to quickly rise to the challenge of finding a programme balance that supports both,” said Philip Haxne, Regional Director EMEA, Global Business Consulting for American Express Global Business Travel. “Advances in technology and the managed travel toolset make matching individual needs with the business policy more efficient, and there is great opportunity to better personalise traveller experiences, ease anxieties about safety and simultaneously encourage policy compliance.”
Travellers remain focussed on quality of life
Continuing a trend seen in the first instalment of Meet the Modern Business Traveller, managers are seeing quality-of-life enquiries from travellers increase. Thirty-one per cent say they’ve experienced more enquiries about work-life balance, while 30 percent say more travellers have asked about adding a leisure element to business trips. This is a slightly slower rate of increase than seen in the October 2016 edition of the study, when traveller enquires about work-life balance and leisure increased 48 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively.
While the 2016 research found a more dramatic increase in usage, the trend remains clear. As a result of heightened expectations surrounding work-life balance, more business travellers are exploring non-traditional—and potentially out-of-policy—travel and accommodation methods. Last year, 79 per cent of managers saw growth in usage of services like Uber and Lyft. This year, half (50 per cent) saw usage of non-traditional ground transport grow. The same holds true for accommodation options like Airbnb, with 20 per cent of managers seeing traveller usage increase this year, versus 40 per cent last year.
Travel managers enhance and simplify policies and tools
Travel managers are responding to the needs of modern business travellers by adjusting policies and restocking the corporate travel toolbox to keep pace. On policy, managers are acting across the board, such as incorporating non-traditional accommodations. In 2016, just 9 per cent of managers included so-called sharing economy lodging options in policy, versus 22 per cent this year. On the tools front, apps are on the rise, with 93 per cent of managers providing or planning to provide trip information apps, 89 per cent providing apps for booking and 81 per cent offering T&E apps. This is up from 76 per cent, 67 per cent and 62 per cent in 2016, respectively.
Gaining modern business traveller perspective
With business traveller expectations evolving for the foreseeable future, travel managers must look for ways to get into the travellers’ mind and understand both their stated and unstated needs. One key method to achieve this is leveraging internal and external data. Ninety per cent of managers say they use TMC travel and spend data, 76 per cent turn to card payments providers, 66 per cent each leverage internal systems and TMC analysis, and 60 per cent assess internal policy compliance data.
“Data can make a world of difference for the travel manager seeking to wrap their brain around a growing constellation of traveller needs and expectations,” said Koch. “But it’s not enough to gather the data; managers must actually analyse it and translate it into action. A successful, data-driven travel programme can achieve any corporate travel executive’s core objectives: positioning their travellers for success, while also demonstrating the travel manager’s value as a business leader.”
“It’s also important to remember that a successful travel programme can serve as an effective tool when it comes to attracting and retaining talent – a major consideration for today’s competitive business landscape,” added Haxne. “Strong programmes that contribute to employee happiness and productivity underscore the travel manager’s valuable role to the business as a whole.”