April 18, 2024

A fine balance

Lingering uncertainty, hybrid working and rising costs are putting travel managers in a precarious position, says Paul Dear at SAP Concur

According to SAP Concur’s latest Global Business Traveller Report, over half of travel suppliers (55%) admitted that they are now more concerned about rising oil prices and inflation than the restrictions imposed by Covid-19.

As these pressures mount, travel managers and business leaders will increasingly need to carefully consider the cost-benefit of their travel programme while maintaining key business relationships.

Although cutting back on business travel may bring short-term financial benefits, as the lack of business travel during the pandemic showed, in-person business meetings are still critical to increasing and maintaining revenue streams.

As the squeeze on saving resources increases, travel managers will have to work more closely with business leaders to be strategic in where they restrict travel funds, ensuring that budgets prioritise potentially lucrative accounts.

It may also mean lessening the number of business trips but extending each excursion to optimise efficiency. This will place the company in a financially resilient position and prepare them for competitive growth once the economy begins to stabilise.

Talent war

As corporate travel policy continues to evolve from being a costly business affair to an effective employee incentive, travel managers hold the responsibility of reinstating the importance of business travel as a driver for employee recruitment and retention.

Unsurprisingly, there will be pressure to cut initiatives that some may view as ‘nice-to-haves’. As a result, travel managers will likely have to prove the value of workplace initiatives like business travel, tech adoption, hybrid working support and sustainability.

While some cutbacks may be unavoidable, it’s important that the foundations of these programmes remain and employees continue to feel supported. Although internal and external business travel may seem like an expense that doesn’t directly link to revenue, such initiatives are an effective tool in talent retention, which can make a big difference in the ongoing war for talent. 

Tools for the job

As more businesses continue to adopt a hybrid working model, travel related to internal team building workshops and meetings are gaining momentum.

Although in the past these were solely managed by the HR department, travel managers are now being urged to play an active role in implementing and driving more purposeful travel and wellbeing programmes.

However, the transformation or integration of these two departments is sure to add more financial pressure for organisations already struggling to cope with macroeconomic factors such as inflation.

As travel managers and HR teams continue to cope with the complexity of their changing roles, digital tools will play a greater role in connecting and integrating traditional departments to create new efficiencies.

Connected tools can essentially generate comprehensive data, which can provide the advantages of full visibility of travel spend, accurate forecasting, automated reporting, dashboards and analysis. These insights can be used to make decisions to help the business navigate a turbulent market.

Meanwhile, employees will take advantage of having more time to do high-value work, with connected tools covering admin tasks.

Business leaders and travel managers now need to be particularly prepared for the fast-changing developments on the financial and political scene. Strategies will have to incorporate flexible and cost-effective measures to ensure employees are as safe as possible when they travel. 

Paul Dear is Senior Director of Global Supplier Strategy and Management at SAP Concur. His career has spanned over 30 years, working previously for HRG before moving to SAP Concur. Paul is also a qualified accountant.