How business travel needs to evolve amongst continued uncertainty

Business travel hit rock bottom during 2020 with travel movements reducing up to 95% in many markets throughout the world. The new year has brought new hope, and despite a few early setbacks, we are starting to see a slight resurgence in travel within Australia and other parts of the world.

We are looking for things to return to “normal” soon enough. But are we prepared for the post-COVID changes in travel?

As organisations, we need to start considering our travellers and balancing their needs with the organisations. We need to question whether our current travel programs will meet those needs as travel starts to ramp back up.

As I mentioned in previous articles, many travellers are going to have different expectations coming out of the pandemic when it comes to travelling. As individuals, they will be seeking flexibility and they will be looking to book with travel providers and suppliers that meet their needs. On the other hand, with the ongoing pandemic and all the challenges this presents, organisations will need even more control to ensure traveller safety and to keep costs minimal. Therefore, we need to strike a balance between enabling flexibility for the traveller while maintaining the oversight required to minimise any potential exposure to the organisation.

So how can we transform age-old travel programs to please both the traveller and the organisation at large? Over the past 12 months, I have been reflecting on this, and the answer is, improved processes and managing data better than what we have done in the past.

Best practices and policies

First and foremost, companies need to reassess their policies considering the needs of travellers and the organisation. Policies that should be reviewed include why people are travelling, introducing spending limits depending on the economics of a trip, and what measures are required to ensure a trip can proceed safely within a constantly changing and uncertain climate.

After the upheaval of COVID-19, reviewing policies will be well received by most people within the organisation, especially when they understand change is required to ensure their safety and well being. Furthermore, good communication and getting feedback from a variety of sources throughout the organisation will ensure travellers, travel coordinators, managers and business administration staff are on the same page. It will also help to manage traveller expectations, empower support staff and reassert travel practices endorsed by the organisation.

Controlling expenditure before it even happens

My experience is that the majority of travellers are trying to do the best by the organisation they work for. However, there is little or no guidance on what is expected of them. A guaranteed way to ensure travellers meet the expectations of the organisation is to agree to the details of a trip, including how much it will cost and get it approved before any money has been spent.

This ensures all parties are clear on the reason for the trip, where it will take place, how much it will cost. If this is clear then travellers will do their best to meet these expectations.

An easy way to go about this is to introduce a form that’s easy to complete and consistent for all trips taken by travellers across the organisation. The form would capture the details of the trip — who, where, when and why — and importantly, how much it’s going to cost. Once the form is complete, it’s sent to the traveller’s manager who approves the trip. Preferably, this process would be online, automated and recorded so all communications, comments and changes can be accessed by all relevant parties.

Reporting

It’s all well and good to submit plans and budgets for approval, but you also need to know that those plans and budgets have been followed.

Centralising the expense tracking against the budget should be a prerequisite for any travel program. This will ensure all the employees stick to the budget that has been allocated to the trip. And it’s not just about flights and accommodation. It’s just as important to understand all costs associated with a trip, including taxis, rideshare providers, conference expenses, meals and beverages.

Having the transparency to track expenses against the budget at the individual trip level or higher at the department level is essential to ensure overall budgets remain in the black throughout the course of the year.

Risk management

In this time of uncertainty, travel management is not just about managing costs, it’s also about managing risk. When creating policies and approving trips, employee safety should be front of mind for all organisations.

With the dynamic and changing nature of COVID-19, it’s going to be essential to plan and prepare for travel to most destinations, including within Australia and overseas.

Organisations need to think about how they are going to capture critical information to ensure proper risk assessments are undertaken and the most up to date travel contact details is captured and available in case travellers need to be contacted. Safety is the responsibility of everyone, and companies need to be thinking about what they can do to take care of their employees.

Covid-19 has presented organisations with a lot of challenges, however, they are not insurmountable if the correct processes are put in place to help manage issues as and when they arise. This includes a great approval process to ensure travellers are following policy, planning budgets, communicating the right information to management teams and planning for risk. This shouldn’t cost organisations money or require additional resources. In fact, if the right solution is implemented, it will save money, reduce resources, improve compliance and increase levels of satisfaction across travellers and the staff that support them.

Software company with a habit of developing applications to help organisations better manage travel in a dynamic and ever changing travel market.