February 24, 2024

Purpose driven

The industry must take steps now to respond to the aspirations of the next generation, says Valentin Naidja at FREE NOW for Business

Purpose. It’s a word that’s been bandied around a lot recently and one that FREE NOW for Business feels strongly about, both for our own company but also for the wider business travel industry.

Purpose is a consumer-driven movement. While Millennials aspire to prestige and money, Gen Z aspires to make change. They want to work for, and buy from, businesses which share their values and deliver them authentically. So to be future-fit, companies must act now.

What does purpose look like? Sportswear brand Patagonia is a brilliant example. In September its billionaire, 83-year-old founder Yvon Chouinard gave the company away to a trust and non-profit, ensuring all future proceeds not reinvested are used to combat climate change. “As of now, Earth is our only shareholder,” he said. “ALL profits, in   perpetuity, will go to our mission to ‘save our home planet’.”

“While Millennials aspire to prestige and money, Gen Z aspires to make change”

I believe the business travel industry has the potential to be more ethically-focused and purpose-driven. Just look at the progress we’ve made in relation to sustainability. ITM stats now show 67% of business travel buyers consider sustainability when selecting a supplier and 30% prioritise sustainability over cost.

Of course, sustainability is just one element of being a purpose-driven business. Another is DE&I – diversity, equity and inclusion. It’s been proven that a diverse workforce can increase creativity and profitability, but it’s also key for recruitment because, increasingly, potential candidates are prioritising employees with shared values.

Developing, understanding and communicating your purpose will help to create a brand identity that potential candidates – and consumers and buyers – can build positive associations with and loyalty for. Given the current skills shortage across travel and hospitality, this benefit alone should surely be reason enough to get on board.

I mentioned authenticity earlier and this is key. Any ethical initiatives you adopt must be watertight as customers and employees will call out businesses that fall foul of green-washing and virtue-signalling, as experienced recently by a German airline.

When the war broke out in Ukraine, we knew we had to help as one third of our drivers in Poland are Ukrainian and it also directly impacted our customers. We cover drivers’ fuel costs when they travel to the Polish Ukrainian border to pick up relatives and refugees, and have given over 1,000 free-ride vouchers to individual volunteers and free-ride codes to the Red Cross, Unicef and other on-the-ground NGOs.

“Employees will call out businesses that fall foul of green-washing and virtue-signalling”

As well as raising funds, our teammates in Poland have volunteered around the clock at refugee reception points, ordering free rides for over 200 refugees daily to transport them to temporary accommodation. And, within weeks, we added a widget to the app that lets passengers round up their trip fee to donate to Ukraine, a campaign that has raised €1,000,000 to date.

We’re really proud of all of these initiatives, but we also know we can – and must – do so much more before we can claim to be a fully purpose-driven business and I’m calling on the entire business travel sector to join us to make a bigger difference.