The wider trends driving business travel recovery

Amy Stewart

One of the major changes brought about by the pandemic has been in the way people work.

Many large companies now say they will continue to offer more flexible working going forward enabling employees to choose whether they work from home or the office or both.

These changes mean a very different landscape for the travel management community to deal with in terms of what business travel now means as well as the focus on people.

These were two of the macro trends highlighted at the recent Global Business Travel Association conference in Berlin last week.

Suzanne Neufang, CEO of GBTA, says there are new opportunities for travel buyers and travel management companies.

“Many of you, whether supply or buy side, now have people who are digital nomads, people who have left inner cities because they haven’t had to come into an office but, we do see the connection between real estate and offices and business travel starting up again. There will be new policies that need to be made, there will be new kinds of business travel for the return to base.”

Echoing some of the thoughts on new opportunities in business travel, Ariel Cohen, founder and CEO, TripActions, says it has been seeing 20% growth in its system in recent weeks which shows that business travel is coming back.

“When thinking about trends the question is what’s coming next, everybody is thinking that meeting in person is super important. What we see is that the travel that used to happen such as sales people, C-level is coming back first but on top there is a new type of travel, team travel which is growing at a 40% rate now week-on-week.

“We have this belief that next year will see bigger numbers than 2019 because of the sales teams plus the new type of travel because of remote work.”

He adds that there is a lot of talk about the ‘Great Resignation’ and says: “Eventually if you’re not meeting your employees, or your customers and your partners, you don’t have a company so it’s really important to do that.”

Dennis Vilovic, founder of Troop Travel, says the distributed workforce driven by the pandemic is a challenge and an opportunity for companies but it has demonstrated that people want the flexibility of deciding where they work and requires some “adaptations.”

“The commuter of yesterday is the business traveler of tomorrow. If you’re working from home you don’t have to live in a big city but it impacts the workforce and is a challenge for employers.”

People first

Neufang adds that during the pandemic when business travel stopped, the focus shifted from savings and productivity to people becoming the most important factor for travel managers and that the ‘people first’ approach will remain prominent.

Robin Handley, senior director of customer management support, CWT, says: “Attitudes towards travel and risk have changed, perhaps irrevocably. In the next two to three years, the focus of travel managers, companies risk departments and HR teams will be guided by the rules and regulations put in place by governments around the world – but that is second to the intense focus to be placed on employee/traveler confidence, engagement and safety.

“That’s because people are the crux of an organization’s makeup, in terms of corporate post-pandemic bounce-back. They are foundational for moving the business forward, and ensuring resilience for both the short and long-term.”

Neufang adds that people focus has also seen many companies renewing their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion as they look at “goals for promoting people in our organizations, for hiring people and developing them and making sure, in the vast scheme of things, that our business travelers also see that care and attention that we give to colleagues and each other in the workforce, through our DEI activities.”

Digital drive

The changing interpretation of business travel and people focus were two of five macro trends highlighted by the GBTA on top of sustainability, self-service and digitization.

A separate session at the conference took a deeper dive on sustainability with climate change expert Mike Berners-Lee highlighting the limited effectiveness of carbon offsetting whilst also arguing for the need for some business travel because it fosters trust and understanding.

Looking ahead, in tandem with a focus on people, there will also be increased emphasis on digitization as companies look to drive efficiency through technology.

Cohen says: “Travel is getting more and more complex. COVID is still here, there are restrictions, the world is less stable so I think people will move faster to digital systems because it’s not manageable. You can’t call an agent and get what the COVID restrictions are and the flight and a multi-city trip booking and the carbon footprint.

“All the things you need to do can’t be a manual process it has to be automated. On the other side there are the employees, who have a say and can choose what they want to use and are not going to use any software, not just in travel, that was not designed for people so I think you will see all of the changes you talked about earlier happening really really fast.”

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