July 15, 2024

Take good care

Kieran Hartwell, MD Corporate Travel at Travel Counsellors, believes it’s time to redefine the meaning of ‘care’ in business travel

When we first think about care in our industry, it’s often linked to the moral and legal duty of a business to keep their employees safe from harm whilst travelling. And that, of course, is true.

Ensuring travellers and travel bookers are safe and protected is vital for both the individual and the company. Technology and tools, such as traveller tracking and repatriation services, are cornerstones in a compliant, risk managed travel programme. But can we really call this ‘care’? Or is this actually ‘compliance’? I wonder whether we need to move beyond these definitions and shift focus to the individual, so that we can build travel programmes around their needs, lives and preferences. 

“This disconnect between company perception and an individual’s reality is being felt on both sides on the fence”

Why is now the time to redefine care in business travel? The first big trend is a change in expectations, as clients no long want to be a persona, they want to be unique. The travel industry has seen this play out all too recently.

For one, the upheaval of 2020 has highlighted there is no single way to do things. All our clients’ opinions keep changing and evolving as the world around us remains unsettled. Trying to find simple ways to define a traveller no longer works.

This disconnect between company perception and an individual’s reality is being felt on both sides on the fence. One key area is the ongoing personalisation debate. Is personalisation, in regards to NDC, predominantly care led – or profit led? A personalised, customer-centric approach that has increased profitability at its core does not fit with this new concept. 

We are also seeing a shift in the make-up of the global workforce. According to recent studies, Gen Z and Millennials currently make up approximately 38% of the global workforce and this percentage will rise to about 58% by 2030. These people are not just your current travellers – they are our future stakeholders, who will shape travel policy, choose the policy and dictate the way a company approaches travel in years come. And they will be doing it with their personal values at the forefront, so it’s vital to acknowledge their need to be ‘seen’ and considered as an individual.

“Travel managers are key players in the business travel eco-system, too, and also need to be considered and cared for by their suppliers”

Another trend is a change in travel, although with an obvious discord between traveller centricity and cost savings, a care-centric travel programme feels far away. But this is shifting, and many travellers are now shunning a blind acceptance of travel policies and voicing their needs, and most importantly, organisations are listening.

The benefits are evident. Just as taking time to understand employees’ drivers builds loyalty to the business, taking the steps to place travellers at the centre of the programme builds loyalty to the programme.
But it doesn’t stop there. Travel managers are key players in the business travel eco-system, too, and also need to be considered and cared for by their suppliers.

I believe now is the time for companies to focus on instilling care as a culture, but it won’t happen overnight. There are clear benefits to creating a culture of care with travel programmes – loyalty, confidence and employee retention – helping to turn programmes into an extension of the workplace, rather than policy driven. We need to shift the dial from obligation to personalisation to create an industry that truly cares, inspires confidence and, through confidence, encourages growth.

Kieran Hartwell is Managing Director Corporate at Travel Counsellors and has over a decade of business travel experience, including Chief Commercial Officer for Travel and Transport and President at Radius Travel.