June 13, 2024

Business travel reimagined

Darryl McGarvey, of SAP Concur, outlines how businesses can successfully provide a good business travel experience for employees post-pandemic

As UK businesses adapt to restrictions easing and the UK returning to some level or normality, what is in store for business travel, especially internationally, remains an area of uncertainty. Borders are gradually reopening in many countries as vaccination programs take effect but UK infection rates are also rising, so it’s understandable that many employees may be slightly worried or filled with confusion.

Despite this, our recent research shows that appetite amongst business travellers from small businesses to get out and travelling again is stronger than ever and 96% of those surveyed are willing to travel in the next 12 months. However, the research also finds that when they do start travelling again business travellers want additional changes to be implemented, with flexibility being ranked by 72% as a top preference.

This means returning to pre-pandemic business travel habits is not an option. And with businesses and travel managers seeking to prepare for the mass restarting of international business travel, they must remember that it is their duty to ensure clear business travel policies are in place to ease confusion and assure employees that their needs are being prioritised. So what steps can businesses can take to provide employees with a good travel experience whilst adapting to the industry’s ‘new normal’?

The world reopening?

Business travel has long been an important part of roles within many industries. Meeting clients and customers in person has often been an effective way to add a personal touch to transactions with existing clients and build relationships with new ones. However, over lockdown many employees had to substitute this with video and conference calls. Although many have found this alternative to be effective in certain situations, our research finds that failure to kickstart business travel will make it difficult for employees to build new relationships (38%) or sign new deals (37%).

On top of this, business travellers associate much of their career-related success with the ability to travel. So, it’s no surprise that 80% worry about being affected personally by the inability to take business travel trips too, with travellers worried about making less money (35%) or not advancing in their career (40%)

At the heart of the desire to get back to business travelling is wanting the opportunity to build close relationships with clients and even colleagues, highlighted by 54% of travellers. This overlap in personal and professional interests when it comes to business travel is important for employers to know as they reshape their business travel policies and strive to understand their employees needs in the process.

Reimagining the business travel experience

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a noticeable shift in the needs of business travellers; some new needs that have emerged include:

  • More flexibility When it comes to the planning of their trips, business travellers would like the ability to select their own preferred accommodations (46%) and book directly with suppliers. 9/10 also want to be able to add some personal holiday time to up to half of their trips, allowing them to make the most of their time on that trip.
  • Greener travelMany business travellers also expect to adopt more sustainable travel practices from now on such as prioritising domestic trips (33%) and embracing alternatives to trips involving travel by plane.
  • Safer trips – With many restrictions still in place on travel business travellers want to ensure that their health is considered during the planning stage of their trips. 92% expect to change their routine to ensure this is the case, with changes including; using a personal vehicle instead of public transport (35%) and staying in larger hotels (36%). Over half of travellers (53%) are willing to implement such changes themselves if their employer doesn’t support these measures.

Returning to pre-pandemic ‘business as usual’ business travel then would effectively ignore these growing demands of business travellers. This would be very detrimental to business, with 20% of business travellers saying they would leave their organisation if they do not provide adequate business travel programmes. Employers must therefore make sure they’re including employee preferences in their new business travel policies and guidelines, so they more accurately serve those they were designed for.

Making the new normal a reality

Moving forward, businesses need to ensure they’re actively listening to the needs of their employees. Business travellers’ need for more flexibility is rooted in the ultimate need for more autonomy over travel. Yet, simultaneously this autonomy needs to be paired with business guidelines and policies that encourage support this independence amongst business travellers. This can be done by generating them from the bottom upwards to ensure these needs are properly addressed.

Darryl McGarvey is Director of Channel Development at SAP Concur