Flexibility versus compliance – finding the right balance to meet the needs of the modern business traveller

In an increasingly fragmented travel marketplace, and amid the proliferation of technologies that offer more choice than ever, corporate travel buyers are increasingly walking a tightrope between flexibility and sensible travel policy, new research from the Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE) shows.


Summary:

  • New ‘Balancing Business Travel Tools & Policy for the Traveller Experience’ report from ACTE Global and American Express Global Business Travel highlights travellers are increasingly demanding to control their travel experiences;
  • Report highlights that travel executives must adapt practices as they continue to align travel programmes with organisational objectives and resource constraints.
  • Findings show growing emphasis on balancing policy with quality of life and autonomy on the road – 37% rise in enquiries about work-life balance.
  • Security remains a top priority for both travellers and managers, with 46% of respondents receiving an increasing amount of enquires about personal safety, although the rate is declining.

Its new study ‘Balancing Business Travel Tools & Policy for the Traveller Experience’, the latest instalment of its ‘Modern Business Traveller Series’ in conjunction with American Express Global Business Travel, highlights travellers are increasingly demanding to control their travel experiences – and travel executives must adapt as they continue to align travel programmes with organisational objectives and resource constraints.

The study reveals travels managers are increasingly addressing travellers’ growing demands for quality of life and autonomy on the road. More than one in three (37%) of travel managers surveyed reported an increase in enquiries about work-life balance, a six percentage point increase from its previous Oct-2017 research. The options sought by travellers appear to present real cost-saving opportunities: 32% of managers saw growth in requests to use chain hotels, while 22% saw more employees asking about sharing lodgings with colleagues. Nearly two-thirds (61%) say more travellers are asking for improved technology to manage travel.

Travellers are not alone in feeling that outdated travel policies and limited options inhibit them and have a negative impact on the success of business trip. Travel managers feel constrained, as well: more than one in three (38%) say programmes suffer from limited content while one-fifth believe access to multiple booking channels can help improve them.

However, a much larger proportion – nearly half – worry that increasing options will erode their control of the programme, a major dilemma for businesses. “Ultimately, managers must strike a balance between offering a retail-like experience to travellers while maintaining a robust programme that deters off-channel bookings and rewarding conscientious budgeting,” says the report.

Further driving the need for dialogue and collaboration is ongoing traveller concern about safety and security. The global travel landscape remains volatile and uncertain amid shifting geopolitical tensions, devastating natural disasters and an increasingly complex web of travel security policies worldwide. Nearly half (46%) of travel managers say they’ve seen an increase in enquiries about personal safety, albeit interestingly this is down from the 51% who reported an increase in Oct-2017 and 65% who did so in 2016. “While the rate of growth may be slowing, it remains significant, demanding that travel managers grapple with an ever-evolving threat environment,” says the report.

While increasing innovation and technological change may be creating instability in the corporate travel arena, it also driving the evolution of travel programme development, ensuring travel policies continue to meet the needs and requirements of modern business travellers. A little more than a third (36% ) of travel managers say they are planning to upgrade their technology. However, the report notes this “may be a major missed opportunity” and it is described as “among the most effective ways to address travellers’ desire for choice, ease and flexibility”.

Travel managers may also want to take a cue from their peers at companies with a younger workforce (where the average traveller age is under 40), says the report. These ‘younger’ organisations are often “leading the charge” when it comes to updating their programmes to address modern expectations, it explains, noting, for example, that 83% of younger organisations provide or plan to provide trip information apps.

The fact is, travel managers cannot afford to let their programmes stagnate,” says Greeley Koch, executive director, ACTE Global. “Personalised travel policies have become an important recruitment and retention tool, and job candidates are now going out of their way to ask about them and making decisions based on what they hear. Keeping up with the modern business traveller is an organisational imperative.”

The research suggests many travel managers may struggle to reconcile the apparently competing demands of flexibility and compliance. Working with their travellers, the TMC and travel providers, travel managers can find a balance that allows them to deliver choice without compromising their programme and ACTE Global and American Express GBT suggest four recommendations to find a better balance:

  • Give travellers the tech to manage their travel: technology is a key enabler of the travel experience. Most (75%) organisations already give their travellers apps for booking and trip information – but it’s clear from the data that travellers want better technology. Tellingly, just 36% of organisations plan to upgrade their traveller tech in the next 1 – 2 years.
  • Work with partners to make more choices available: TMCs can help organisations improve their relationships with travel providers, helping them expand the range of content on their programme and agree to protocols for direct messaging to travellers. Travel managers should expect their TMC to provide a good user experience, combined with the technology to enable the compliance and visibility of a corporate booking environment.
  • Educate travellers about their options: more travel options appear all the time so it’s important to talk to travellers about which options are actually available through the programme. Reassure travellers that they can still receive loyalty points when they do the right thing and book within policy.
  • Learn from industry peers: travel managers in “younger” organisations (organisations where the average traveller is aged 40 or under) seem to find the right balance between choice and control. These travel managers are more likely than their peers in “older” organisations (where the average traveller is aged 40 or older) to provide travellers with the technology tools and policy support they need to build flexible travel experiences. Their insights could help find the right balance for your programme.