COVID has taught us a lot about our travel programs and how we can do things better. While most travel is still stalled, the promise of a vaccine in 2021 means business travel will slowly come back onto the global radar. However, if you’re like most companies out there, it’s likely your travel budget has been slashed and is unlikely to return to pre-COVID levels any time soon. Better and more closely managing your travellers’ movements is also going to become a new necessity.
So how do you future-ready and add value to your corporate travel program post-COVID? Here are a few tips that will help you prioritise the changes your program needs.
Traveller health is going to be a priority for organisations. Not only will it be important to know where people are going, if they’re fit to travel and whether they have received a COVID vaccination, but it will also be critical to understand if they are in good health when they return home.
Even before COVID became a threat, it wasn’t uncommon for travellers to return from overseas with some sort of cold or flu and head straight back into the office to resume work.
COVID will make people think differently about doing this — the risk to a company’s workplace and peoples’ personal lives is simply too great. Importantly, organisations need to recognise these risks and start changing company culture now to allow for greater flexibility. For example, allowing people to spend time away from the office to recover from any ailments they may have picked up while they were travelling.
Traveller education will also be critical. To complement Government advice, organisations will need to invest in employee education to ensure they minimise the risk of their people becoming sick while they are travelling. Protective masks, regular hand sanitising and practising social distancing will all need to become incorporated into the daily routine of travellers.
Yes, it’s difficult to manage, but the risk of contracting a virus whilst travelling will remain a constant threat throughout 2021 and even possibly 2022. Traveller education and constant reminders will be key for organisations to ensure their people remain safe and to minimise their own organisational risk. Key to this is ensuring all information is managed within a common platform that all employees have access to. This will create a single source of truth which is important to understand if employees have visited a known virus hotspot during their travels.
Knowing the location of your people (and where they have been)
I met with the leadership group of a large organisation and one of their primary concerns was knowing where their people are. The perception is that a lot of travellers are spending too much time in airport lounges and not enough time doing their jobs. This is categorically untrue for most travellers, however, it’s difficult for senior managers to know this as they simply don’t have access to information that is able to convince them otherwise.
Over the past decade, travellers have started to book a lot more of their travel directly with suppliers or through an online travel agent. There are three reasons for this:
- It can be a lot cheaper,
- It’s more efficient to book through these channels, and
- The services travellers require cannot be booked through a corporate travel agent.
This leaves a significant gap in the ability of an organisation to track the location of their people. As an example, a corporate travel agent can book flights to Europe and back, however, if there is any intra-Europe travel, this would normally be done by train or on a low-cost carrier. Corporate travel agents generally won’t book this type of content and therefore wouldn’t be able to provide details on these legs to your organisation. To illustrate further,
A trip booked through a corporate travel agent:
Melbourne → Milan → Frankfurt → Melbourne
The same trip, once all the land sectors are added:
Melbourne → Milan → Zurich → Paris → Frankfurt → Melbourne
Therefore, despite it being critical for organisations and senior management teams to understand where their people are, the corporate travel agent system only currently gets them so far. One of the lasting legacies of COVID is that filling these gaps will become a non-negotiable.
Compliance is one of the most important aspects of any travel program. I have worked with dozens of organisations to help them better manage their compliance, however, the platforms offered by corporate travel agents are not able to provide any meaningful data beyond what type of airfare the employee travelled on, for example, a business, flexible or restricted airfare.
Compliance is a lot more than whether a traveller has booked the best fare of the day. It’s about monitoring travel to high-risk destinations, managing health risk, ensuring expenditure is within budget, knowing who is accompanying the traveller, understanding any tax implications etc. I could go on, but you get the point!
Most organisations don’t have the systems in place to effectively manage compliance. This isn’t about beating people over the head with your compliance framework. Instead, it’s about simplifying processes such that it becomes easy for travellers to comply with your organisation’s policy and procedures.
Why do processes need to be simple?
Because, in most organisations, 80% of travellers travel less than 3 times a year.
If you have complex travel management systems and processes in place, then you have two options available to help your employees abide by them -
- Option 1: Provide internal resources to ensure compliance, which costs a bomb and is horribly inefficient, or
- Option 2: Simply allow people to blunder their way through the process and accept you will never improve compliance.
Truly understanding travel expenses
Understanding travel costs should be the ultimate objective of any organisation. However, the majority of organisations will never achieve this as they rely on systems and processes that have limited or no capacity to provide data at a trip level.
Let’s break down the potential “expense steps” of your average business day trip:
- Travel from your home to the airport
- Refreshment at the airport
- Taking a flight (using the ticket purchased for the trip)
- Ride from the airport to the office
- Takeaway coffee
- Ride from the office to the airport
- Refreshment at the airport
- Taking your return flight
- Ride from the airport to home
That’s ten transactions that makeup one simple trip.
Now think about how hard it currently is to access all these data points, to assess if the trip has been done within budget. Wait… But we don’t have a budget in the first place?
This is my point — most business travellers don’t have a budget to work within. Without a budget to measure expenses against, how can any organisation know if they are managing their costs effectively?
Would you give an employee a credit card to buy a new computer without any understanding of what they will buy or how much it’s going to cost? Of course, you wouldn’t. And you certainly wouldn’t leave it until after the fact to question and approve the purchase.
So why do we allow business travellers to head off on a trip without having any understanding of what it’s going to cost and no accountability for staying within the approved budget?
Imagine if you had a platform that gave you access to this information for every trip that was taken. How much easier and efficient would it be for organisations to manage budgets, compliance, control and reduce expenditure?
Carbon emissions have fallen off the agenda in recent months due to COVID-19. However, once we start to travel again, travel-related carbon emissions will start to be discussed, especially when stakeholders start to ask questions about companies’ progress on zero-emission targets.
The difficulty with carbon emissions is an organisation’s ability to report on it. Most rely on their corporate travel agent to provide the data, however as we’ve discussed above, there can be significant gaps. The accuracy of the data can also be questionable and difficult to manipulate unless you spend a significant amount of time working out how the data is generated.
Furthermore, there is currently nothing in the market that encourages a change in traveller behaviour. To make this happen, you need to place information in the hands of the traveller so they can decide between taking a flight or catching a train, taking public transport versus driving, flying economy class instead of business class. Most travellers are conscious about the effects their actions have on the environment, and if we are able to get the information in front of them, then it will make a difference.
At its essence, good environmental policy should not be costly or difficult to implement. As an organisation that invests in corporate travel, you have the power to use your spending to influence change — why shouldn’t you demand your corporate travel programs include carbon emissions reporting as a baseline?
The major issue with travel data is the ability to extract data at a trip level. Once you have this, then the ability to manage budgets, expenditure, compliance and traveller movements improves significantly.
Organisations are always after a single source of truth in business decision-making, information systems and processes — why has this desire not stretched to their travel management? A single platform which collates user-input data for all activities, including the creation of trip plans and budgets, travel approvals, submitting expenses and managing compliance and procedural tasks — is this too much to ask for?
If organisations can achieve this, stakeholders across the corporate travel spectrum will be better informed of the status of their finances, their travellers’ safety and planned travel as and when they happen. This can only be positive for companies and teams who are working with increasingly tight travel budgets but still expected to grow sales and meet KPIs. An easy-to-use platform that allows travellers to proactively work within budgets and policy settings will drive better outcomes for the organisation across the board.
Corporate travel will resume — slowly but surely. This break in travel is an opportune moment to review your existing travel program and seek out ways to drive exceptional value into it. I hope the thought-starters I’ve provided above helps organisations start thinking more creatively — and being more demanding of the information they should be entitled to in their travel program — about what their corporate travel future looks like.