Trends that will define the future of business travel

The year 2020 shook the entire corporate travel industry. With the global pandemic nearly every stakeholder—including suppliers, business travellers, business travel platforms, and travel managers had to rethink and reassess their old habits for the coming future to make the business travel industry move forward.

The growing acceptance of remote working arrangements , a new focus on minimizing risk for traveling employees had all made it more challenging.

But what next ? How to recover and grow should be the focus. Here are some trends that will or can define the future of business travel.

Travel managers to risk managers

Covid-19 changed the risk estimation for business travel going forward. According to the findings of a 2020 survey by Skift and TripActions, more than 60 percent of travel managers around the world said their company’s willingness to let workers travel for work last year had either “decreased” or “significantly decreased” as a result of Covid-19.

One emerging trend is an increasing need for better real-time data on the status of Covid-19 outbreaks in possible travel destinations. Citizens around the world have grown accustomed to monitoring the real-time county- and city-level data on Covid-19 in their own communities; similarly, businesses would need to follow a data-first approach going forward.

One more important best practice relevant to business travel risk assessment is creating two-way dialogues with staff, in order to better understand their needs. Ultimately, no matter how good the design of a travel policy, it’s not going to be effective if the employees don’t feel comfortable

One solution for creating a new risk assessment policy, detailed  in  a  recent  feature  in  HR  Director  magazine,focuses on three key actions:

  • Decide what constitutes essential travel.
  • Develop scenarios for different employee groups, such as  high-risk  individuals  or  departments  that  travel frequently.
  • Rethink policy compliance procedures. Now is not the time to crack down on an employee who makes an out-of-policy purchase to stay safe.

Business travel and spend management

According  to  the  2020  Skift  and  TripActions  business  travel survey (conducted in the midst of the pandemic), more than 80 percent of program managers agreed or strongly  agreed  that  business  travel  is  important  for  driving company growth.

The attitudes toward travel expenses and corporate spend management are evolving. The economic shock caused by Covid-19 forced many companies to make difficult decisions about their cash flow, long-term investment plans, and employee retention as they made every effort to remain solvent.

As the short-term emergency of Covid-19 fades, more business decision makers are recognizing two things. First, they need more insight into how—and how much—they’re spending. Second, they need to more carefully evaluate how the importance of these practices relates to the organization’s wider business goals

 New  generation  of  integrated,  end-to-end  solutions

“Companies’  travel  managers  and  executives  are  going  to  need  tight  controls  in  their  managed  travel  programs,”  said  Finkel.  “That  ensures  they  have all the different levers and approval processes to  provide  peace  of  mind  to  their  employee  base  while traveling.

All  stakeholders—travellers,  managers,  and  company  decision  makers—can  make  smarter  and  safer  decisions  for  their  organization. Thus the  future  of  travel  management  is  likely  to  combine  all  of  these  tools  into a single solution, like TripActions, which  includes  travel  management  support,  online  booking tools, and expense management.

This latest generation of end-to-end business travel tools will also go a step further in simplifying and streamlining the entire business travel process. Through using tools like artificial intelligence and employee-level personalization, travel managers can also rest assured that these end-to-end solutions have the right context to meet the specific needs and circumstances of each individual traveller.

Even after Covid-19, new types of disruptions can take its place in the business  travel  industry. The  only  way  to  survive  in  the  future  is  by  relying  on  a  new  generation  of  integrated,  end-to-end  solutions.

A  small noticeable uptick in consumer travel as a hope for business travel

2020 proved to be a challenging year for many organizations that depend on business travel. But, According to  data  company  Adara,  the  volume  of  domestic  leisure flights in the United States increased at the beginning of summer and fall, as well as at the start of 2021. This can play a more critical role in business travel recovery than previously thought, helping reset behaviors and habits for the hybrid working climate that’s likely to emerge post-pandemic.

Even before 2020, innovations like remote work and trips incorporating work and leisure were already helping to reshape corporate policies related to expense permits, trip-booking rules, and employee benefit packages.

Now, as business travel continues to recover, many corporate travel stakeholders on the management and supply side hope that helping to promote and incorporate leisure travel alongside business travel would help them stimulate demand more quickly.

It also helps  to  reduce the anxieties of employees who are unsure or hesitant about starting to travel again.

TripActions’  enhanced  personal  travel  booking  experience, makes  it  easier for traveling employees to add leisure itinerary details for themselves and their family members to a pre-existing work trip.

According  to  Skift  and  TripActions’  2020  business  travel  study,  more  than  70  percent  of  travellers  said  earning loyalty points gave them the highest levels of satisfaction of any business travel perks.

Now, it seems that travel suppliers are taking this experience to heart. Many hotels and airlines are adjusting their loyalty redemption packages during Covid-19 to help inspire more people to use their high reward balances.

Remote work leading to more corporate travel

Of all the habit changes that took place in 2020, one of the biggest shifts was the transition by many organizations toward remote working arrangements. One 2020  investigation  from  Gartner  found  that 82 percent of companies plan to allow employees to work remotely at least some of the time. According to a 2020 FlexJobs survey, 65 percent of workers preferred to stay remote until the pandemic is over.

But for all the positive changes associated with remote work, the debate about the effect on business travel persists. After all, why would employees need to travel at all if they can meet with co-workers and clients virtually? Although this may seem like a rational solution, the belief is that remote work may inevitably lead to more business travel, not less.

One of the reasons to stay optimistic about the industry outlook is that workers and managers continue to believe business travel is more effective than meeting digitally. According  to  the  Skift  and  TripActions survey, more than 80 percent of business travellers and close to 80 percent of managers agreed or strongly agreed that meeting in person was more effective than meeting virtually.

Beyond  the  simple  need  or  desire  to  travel,  remote  work  is  likely  to  also  create  new  incentives  for  business  trips. New trends are likely to appear. Organizations of geographically dispersed workforces, for example, would need to put together workers for partnership and team building and training, as they won’t have the advantage of informal and in-person interactions around the office.

“Those who are off site by default are always going to want human connection,” said Darren Murph, head of remote for GitLab, at the 2020 Skift Global Forum. “What ends up happening is travel becomes a core part of culture building. Business travel should get a lot more dynamic.

Some travel suppliers are already responding to the increasing demand for remote-friendly business travel by testing new products and services. United Airlines,  for  example,  is  testing  a  new  subscription  that  bundles  flights  with  remote  work  space.  And  hospitality company Selina made waves in October 2020   by   acquiring   the   popular   “Remote   Year”   coworking program

Conclusion

The changes induced by the Covid-19 pandemic presented the corporate travel industry with new challenges, but also new possibilities. 2020 pushed business travellers and travel managers to change their habits in significant ways. But whether these changes end up being a net positive or negative for the industry is an outcome that can only be decided by the actions those in the industry take in response.

A variety of business travel strategies—including product innovation, company investment, risk management, and policy—will need to evolve to address the industry’s emerging realities. But if approached with the right mindset, as well as a willingness to innovate and experiment, it’s possible that the whole business travel ecosystem will emerge from the current crisis stronger, more robust, and more innovative as a result.

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