May 20, 2024

How to…reimagine your business travel

Like companies all over the world, Willis Towers Watson has been rethinking its workplace in light of the pandemic and quickly recognised that the changes would also require a reimagining of its business travel.


Willis Towers Watson, a global advisory, broking and solutions company, has 45,000 employees of whom 28,000 were travelling pre-pandemic. Much of that travel was US domestic, intra Europe and intra Asia, with frequent travel between London and New York and other key financial hubs. The company’s 2019 T&E spend was around $250 million. Three years ago it consolidated its travel to American Express GBT in 50 countries. An internal review of the company’s workplace had already identified a shift in the role of the office from a place to work to a place to meet. Collaborating closely with colleagues leading this project, Procurement Director Emma Jones set up a team to embark on a simultaneous review of the company’s approach to business travel.


Starting from the place of zero travel, they engaged with colleagues from across different parts of the business and across the company’s global offices to gain an understanding of why they were travelling, how frequently, and how that travel impacted the success of the business. “We needed to identify those in-person interactions that drive the greatest returns and add value back into the business and those which could be done virtually with no impact on revenue,” says Jones. “We also needed to consider what the impact of any travel would have on colleague wellbeing, our cost base and sustainability, with a reduction in CO2 one of the main objectives.” The key to all of this, she explains, was to truly understand “the business of our business” by identifying the different functions and personas within the company and understanding how and why they interact. At the same time, Jones and her team consulted with their TMC and buyer focus groups to gauge what approach other businesses were taking and also adopted elements of a Purposeful Travel Framework being developed by consultants Festive Road.


“It’s always critical to have advocates to help drive your message forward. The earlier you can have conversations to explain and spread the message the better,” says Jones. “We probably would have liked to have started those conversations a bit earlier and, in hindsight, we could have engaged with more people, for sure. The timing is absolutely crucial.” Jones admits she was lucky because she was able to “almost piggy back” on to the work being done on the return to office, which already had strong stakeholder engagement. “We were able to take some of this narrative and mould and adapt it. But if the appetite isn’t there, and the timing isn’t right, you’re not going to achieve the level of buy-in you need.”


It’s still a work in progress, but the ultimate goal is to establish a clear set of guidelines that appeal to all of the business segments, shaping how people will interact – both internally and externally – and making it completely transparent for managers, budget holders and colleagues to recognise what permissible travel will look like. “As the value of travel becomes more visible as an enabler to the success of the business, the travel team naturally becomes an adviser to the business,” adds Jones. “It changes the dynamic quite considerably and there is a huge opportunity for the travel management function to be elevated.”