Business travel is back, but not as we know it
Adam Kerr, founder of Tripism, believes the rapid return to business travel brings both challenges and opportunities for the corporate travel industry
Since the start of 2022, business travel has experienced a rapid, post-pandemic rebound. Data from the GBTA in April highlighted a double-digit surge in companies allowing ‘non-essential’ business travel since February this year. Heathrow also reported it had reached 79% of pre-Covid levels in May, with 5.3 million passengers using the airport.
However, post-pandemic shortages of staff across the travel sector have made managing the rapid return to business travel since the start of the year extremely challenging.
The significant swell in demand for corporate travel this year is presenting serious challenges across the industry. As well as the well-publicised shortages of flights and hotel capacity, travel suppliers are struggling to ramp up their recruitment and infrastructure to meet demand.
To add to the complexity of the post-pandemic business travel landscape, corporate travel teams are also having to quickly adapt to support their employees’ rapidly changing travel requirements and demands.
From my conversations with customers, it is clear that employee attitudes to business travel have changed through the pandemic.
People want more detailed information, and they insist on having up to date information. The importance of traveller wellbeing was increasing pre-pandemic, but is now a travel-critical decision point.
On top of that, travel teams are also having to respond to shifting corporate strategies and priorities. There is a lot of information that travel teams now need to be able to communicate: new partnerships, new sustainability initiatives, and traveller safety information among many others.
Ultimately, business travel is back, but not as we knew it.
Corporate travel teams are working hard to manage this rapidly evolving and challenging environment. However, it is increasingly clear that managing the complex demands for detailed trip planning information – and the incredible rate of change of this information – is now well beyond the capabilities many organisations’ legacy tools and travel intranets.
The reality is that very few organisations already have the tools or technology in place that they need to stay on top of all the data points their employees now expect and that the company leadership requires.
In a world with more and rapidly changing information, communication to and engagement with travellers is paramount.
However, that is proving to be a challenge for travel teams still using legacy tools. One of our customers told us they used to have two methods for communicating with employees: send an email to tens of thousands of people, or put a PDF on the intranet and hope the right people saw it.
It is obvious that business travel needs an upgrade. It’s fragmented, opaque, inefficient, and dependent on dated technology that’s been in use for over 25 years.
Employees need quick access to business relevant, company-focused information and a way to share their individual travel preferences. Companies need to provide better information to their employees and more data on the end travel experience. Suppliers need to rebuild a direct customer relationship with their corporate clients and their travellers.
The fundamental fact is that we need new technology solutions to solve these issues. We need platforms that put information at travellers fingertips, that gives employers the ability to share critical information at the right time, and we need travel teams to be able to see the performance of their suppliers and usage.
So, while the return to travel is causing issues in the short term, it is also opening travel teams’ eyes to what could be possible with the right tools. As much as there are challenges, there are also opportunities for businesses to rapidly overhaul how they manage corporate travel.