First steps back to business travel
With SMEs expected to return to business travel sooner than larger companies, Aisha Battersby at Travel Counsellors outlines the key considerations when venturing out again
The Government Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy estimates that small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) accounted for 99% of the UK business community at the beginning of 2020, with a combined annual turnover of £2.3 trillion.
With these figures in view, the UK SME business sector undeniably packs a big punch.
Whilst statistics group SMEs into pools of data, our focus should be on the people behind the numbers. Couple this with the navigation of complex travel regulations as restrictions ease across the globe, and travelling in a post-Covid world goes far beyond simply booking a ticket.
There is an expectation that SMEs will travel sooner than their larger counterparts. Certainly at Travel Counsellors we’ve seen the quickest recovery in construction, which is one of the biggest representatives of the SME sector at nearly 20%. The expectation that SMEs will travel sooner also suggests that rapid decision-making and reduced approval processes are more common in smaller organisations. This is particularly true if the traveller is making their own arrangements or a member of the organisation has taken on booking responsibilities as an extension of their role.
That said, less internal ‘red tape’ for SMEs to negotiate shouldn’t suggest that companies are taking a cavalier approach. Quite the opposite, in fact. SMEs represent over 70% of our corporate clients at Travel Counsellors, with our latest survey revealing that travel bookers are making the health and safety of travellers their top priority. At the same time respondents said they are looking for ways to manage travel risks, safety concerns and increased regulation.
Room versus Zoom
So, what do SMEs need to consider when making their first tentative steps across the globe once more? This question formed a key theme at Travel Counsellors very first virtual corporate conference last week, where one of the key points of discussion included the idea that SMEs are recognising the need to travel again to support business growth.
Our latest survey responses tell us that 75% of clients travel to build relationships and win new business, and 77% felt that digital solutions, such as video conferencing, were not a complete replacement for face-to-face interaction in the pursuit of business goals.
Ultimately, SME travel needs are the same as bigger businesses but the value of a TMC providing a highly-personalised approach and becoming a real extension of the in-house team seems more critical than ever.
Considerations for SMEs should include but not be limited to:
- An updated travel policy that supports travellers to know what is and isn’t legally permitted, for example, does the journey cross territories currently closed to UK travellers?
- An updated travel policy that considers the objectives of travelling for business at this time and the benefits to the organisation or individual traveller, for example, is a face-to-face meeting required to build back a key customer relationship that may have waned during lockdown?
- A clear outline of the company’s duty of care – the moral and legal obligation of employers to safeguard their colleagues.
Which brings us to the most important factor of all – traveller safety and wellbeing. In the same client survey one of the greatest concerns for travellers was the risk of infection when travelling, with 45% stating that increasing vaccination volumes across the globe will provide peace of mind. After vaccination of travellers, flexible booking policies and being able to rely on a trusted travel expert were next in line.
Understanding and actively listening to traveller concerns about going on the road again must form a key part of all discussions before a business is ready to take flight. Considerations on contactless travel, accommodation cleanliness, specific Covid restrictions in destination – to name but a few – all form part of an essential focus on traveller safety and wellbeing, as does asking would-be travellers one simple question – how do they feel about travelling again?
A TMC should help SMEs to not only put together a robust travel policy, support emergency procedures and mandate any bookings made out of policy, but provide the support network to enable travellers to focus on the business trip in hand – a trip that must now feel safe, secure and expertly organised end-to-end, with a professional travel expert there to allay any fears and support every step of the way.
Aisha Battersby is Head of Corporate Product and Operations at Travel Counsellors