A report from Deloitte called “Return to a World Transformed: How the Pandemic is Reshaping Corporate Travel” said this: “While many road warriors are ready to return to a consistent travel schedule, ongoing health concerns and shifting workplace priorities will influence the future of corporate travel. The changes adopted and lessons learned during the pandemic, combined with progress toward sustainability commitments, are creating a new normal for corporate travel.”
It has been a long time since travel management was simply a matter of cutting costs, but the pandemic has heightened the importance of personal safety and traveler well-being. Going forward, travel managers will be moving further from that cost-cutting mode and toward being proactive as they use data to stay on top of changing travel programs and traveler needs.
And the pandemic has exposed gaps in travel management programs that need to be addressed and, hopefully, filled. While travel managers have not had to spend time attending to their traditional tasks — negotiating rates, booking travel, handling expenses — they have had to watch in frustration as the landscape changed almost daily about who could travel and where, how to deal with hotel and car rental cancellations and managing unused airline tickets. And all of this while working mostly on GoToMeeting or other virtual platforms.
The purpose of this white paper is to offer guidelines about how travel managers might navigate the coming months as the world bumpily — and hopefully — emerges from the pandemic. Even as variants lurk and restrictions change daily, travel managers must show their value to the company or organization by knowing when business trips are actually necessary, managing those trips, and ensuring that travelers are satisfied that they are being cared for and appreciated.
While this paper draws on opinions and research from multiple sources, it also offers the data-based views of Grasp Technologies, a company founded in 1996 — a provider of travel data management, visualization and payment solutions in the T&E industry. Initially founded to address the critical need for customized reporting and data management in the travel industry, Grasp Technologies has held to its belief in helping its customers thrive and succeed by transforming data into useful intelligence.
Although travel managers and corporate travel departments now face myriad challenges, this paper focuses on four: travel budgeting, unused tickets, traveler habits and carbon & sustainability — because proper data analysis management can be leveraged significantly in those areas.
1) Travel Budgeting: The Big Shift
While it is frequently said that we have to learn from history, that will be difficult when it comes to travel budgeting from here on. Clearly, 2020 and 2021 numbers will not be indicative of the future. Different questions should be asked than in the past:
- Is this trip really necessary?
- What are the Duty of Care elements in place?
- What is the carbon impact?
- Will meetings be in-person, virtual, or hybrid?
- Will in-person meetings or conferences require proof of vaccination - or testing?
- When will it be necessary to bring employees and/or clients face to face?
- Will events like trade shows resemble what they did in the past? How will they change?
More than history, data will be crucial going forward. Rental car rates are skyrocketing, and hotel rates seem to be headed that way. What will the costs of ensuring traveler safety be — vaccination, testing, monitoring of the health of individuals?
Answers to these questions will depend on the transformation of the workplace. Many experts anticipate an increase in flexibility regarding working times and locations, allowing each employee to choose the best option individually. Traditional headquarters locations may decrease in importance. Ironically, a more distributed workforce could stimulate the demand for business travel for face-to-face meetings that require travel.
What Might Business Travel Look Like in 2022 and Beyond?
Here are some views from industry experts on what business travel might look like as compiled by TNMT, a data intelligence company (https://tnmt.com/the-future-of-business-travel/):
- Renaud Nicolle, senior vice president, business travel Asia Pacific at Amadeus: “I see a model where periodic team meetings are encouraged to be held face-to-face to promote some social engagement around them (lunch or drinks) and keep a sense of belonging, as well as specific one-on-one sessions like talent development or performance assessment discussions to increase intimacy and engagement. For customer meetings, periodic in-person meetings should also be favored to cement relationships.”
- Torsten Kriedt, senior vice president-solutions & products, Europe at BCD Travel: “While companies and employees see the limitations of current virtual events, the models and execution are getting better and open up attendance from people that wouldn’t have been able to travel (due to cost, time, etc.). Meeting in person with key partners is still important for specific use cases. As long as the right network effect can be achieved, at least key personnel will still attend those events in person.”
- Lio Chen, senior vice president of innovation at Plug and Play: “Instead of flying everyone to a global HQ for a special event (i.e., training), it is more likely for HQ to send some specialist to regional offices to deliver training. In other words, corporations will focus on making the least number of people travel to achieve the same objectives. That 1-2 people who end up taking the trip instead define a new category of travel that did not exist pre-COVID.”
Of course, predictions like these and many others are all over the lot. While some foresee a decrease in spending on business travel, a report written by Erin Mills, a vice president of Emburse, an expense reporting company, said that a reduction in one expense category (i.e., office rents) could lead to an increase in another category (i.e., T&E). Some executives anticipate that their companies could invest the money they save in office expenses into strategic business trips instead. From the HR viewpoint, the pre-pandemic investment in Duty of Care will only be accelerated — to be considered with more weight in budgeting.
It would be easy for organizations to revert to their old practices, and many probably will. But enhanced environmental targets will push some companies to rethink who travels, how often they do and why. And while we know well the limits of video meetings, there are compelling reasons to forgo some travel and resign ourselves to settling in on GoToMeeting and other virtual platforms.
Data Tells the Story
With appropriate shaping of data, a travel manager can begin to discern the new normal by looking across the entire dataset and benchmark relevant information. While a manager’s experience always comes into play, many traditional patterns have shifted. It is critical to understand changing patterns as close to real-time as possible and act on those changes.
2) Unused Tickets
Never have travel managers had to struggle with so many unused airline tickets and, again, it means a whole new learning curve for managers who might have had to deal with these issues only sporadically in the past.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the issue of the unused tickets because resolution depends on the size of the company, the nature of its travel, and where the company is on its path to returning to the road. Larger companies are in a position to negotiate with airlines as far as extended ticket validity. When it is not possible to simply disperse with the tickets, other options are available. One is trying to reuse tickets if possible. That might mean repurposing for leisure travel with appropriate guidelines provided to employees.
Productive approaches to unused ticket issues include:
- Visibility: Managers should aim to capture all the unused ticket information at the time the
bookings are canceled, in real-time. This allows for having access to the value of the tickets both at an overall level (corporate or department view) and at the traveler level
- Calculation: Some international tickets involve complexities around whether or not taxes are refundable. It is important to avoid miscalculations that could result in debit memos.
- UATP (Universal Airline Travel Plan): During the pandemic, some airlines have offered to migrate the aggregate value of a corporate client’s unused tickets to a UATP card. This has made the process much easier for managing unused tickets.
- Non-GDS: Be aware that bookings made outside of the Global Distribution Systems — like on a New Distribution Capability channel — can bring challenges in capturing the unused tickets since many automation tools today are focused on GDS only.
- Ownership: Reports and online booking tools (OBTs) can display the value of the unused tickets but travelers will still occasionally use credit cards to pay because that is what they are familiar with and because — understandably — it’s not their money. It’s important to have a designated person within the corporate client who is familiar with unused tickets so they do not become an unnecessary loss. The unused tickets represent real money that can be applied to future travel.
Data Tells the Story
Data is crucial in that reports can be created to provide visibility around unused tickets and for expiration management. If managed correctly, these tickets can become “currency” that could even represent a small windfall. Travel managers should think about moving to an accounting system where unused tickets are tracked as real money that is parked, almost like a bank account.
3) Traveler Habits
The wild card in the future of business travel may well be business travelers themselves. Much has been written about how behaviors have changed as employees stayed home for so many months and otherwise spent their time in very different ways and in different places than in the past.
In recent years, the tug of war between traveler and manager has often escalated as travelers seek to handle their own bookings just as they do for their personal vacations. Many companies aim to ensure compliance with travel policy through carrot and stick incentives.
This is another arena where looking at history might be less valuable than looking at what has changed at the company since the pandemic began. Since travel programs have been set aside during the pandemic, managers may have to retrain employees in how to plan and “do” travel.
One concept that has taken hold is using visual guilt within travel booking systems, which many consider an effective way to drive down business travel costs. Visual guilt, according to Danielle Martinez, marketing coordinator at Good Travel Management, refers to the behavioral science of asking a travel purchaser to reconsider their choices if they have not selected the lowest cost (or option within policy) when booking a trip.
This can be delivered via a message, or warning that their selection is non-compliant with a checkbox approval of the higher cost and sometimes with the requirement to explain why the higher price option has been chosen. Visual guilt can be productive in influencing bookers to buy more cost-effectively without the need to have complex travel policy rules. It is a useful weapon against trip leakage, or non-compliance with policy.
There are myriad processes that have to be retrained into the traveler’s mindset and it's not going to happen the first time they travel. It may take multiple trips before it’s ingrained that these are the best practices and the policies that they need to adhere to.
All of these forces may be merging under the ever-broadening umbrella of Duty of Care. Research shows that there will be a likely increase in importance of Duty of Care for business travelers even after the pandemic, making it a dominant factor that must be considered to enable future business travel for all employees.
Data Tells the Story
Old habits die hard — even something as simple as having a meal at the airport before a traveler catches a flight. Do they eat at the airport, or at a restaurant before heading there? There are a number of long-unchanging processes that have in a sense become unpredictable. It’s important that managers be sensitive to travelers who may not “remember” how to travel. Where data comes in here is that managers can provide visibility to both the traveler and employer to monitor how they are handling travel, correct when necessary and, if need be, change the rules because the nature of travel has, simply, changed.
4) Carbon Emissions, Sustainability, And ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance)
The pandemic has made everyone — and perhaps especially businesses — acutely aware of how important it is to be mindful about the impact business travel has on the planet.
Surveys by the GBTA (Global Business Travel Association) and others show that while most companies talk about sustainability, few have serious programs to deal with it — and the same for other environmental and social issues. This may be changing, but travel managers are not scientists, and now find themselves bombarded with information about how to reduce carbon footprints.
According to a New York Times article by Kevin Delaney, editor-in-chief of Charter, a media and services company focused on transforming workplaces, rather than just accept that business travel will rebound, companies can use the change in practices of the past year to open a new chapter for how they approach it.
Commercial air travel, wrote Delaney, “is responsible for about 3 to 4% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. First-class travel, because of the lower density of seating, can result in as much as four times the emissions as sitting in the back of the plane.”
While there is much talk about electric cars — and sales are taking off — gas powered cars will be with us for the foreseeable future and used by rental car companies and ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft.
Changing the mode of travel could also curb emissions. Switching from air to rail could mean a 90% reduction in emissions, though that’s easier to do in the European Union than the U.S. (France is one of multiple European countries to recently ban short flights that can be replaced by a train trip; there’s a caveat for connecting flights associated with long-haul trips.)
In addition, there is the emerging use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs), and corporations and airlines are beginning to work together to bring down the cost and ramp up the use of the fuels. Recently, Microsoft joined with Boeing, Deloitte, Boston Consulting Group, JPMorgan Chase, Netflix, and Salesforce to launch the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance to spur SAF production and technology innovations so these fuels can scale.
Data Tells the Story
Data comes into play here if a manager can gain more visibility into the carbon generated per trip, determine whether certain airlines are doing a better job than others, and consider the carbon impact when evaluating the importance of an individual trip. That kind of visibility holds true for hotels and rental cars, but data is elusive for those segments. Grasp Technologies is going to be working to get more data around those segments. Working with the data, managers can create appropriate guidance for companies and travelers.
The coming months and going into 2021 will not be easy to navigate and, inevitably, there will be day-to-day changes in the outlook and information. With history providing little guidance and with expert advice occasionally useful but often conflicting, it is data that can help travel professionals weave their way through a new paradigm by providing timely patterns and insights. It's critical that managers stay focused on the relentless shifts in the business travel landscape and use the best data they can get their hands on to maintain maximum control of their programs.
About Grasp Technologies
Founded in 1996, Grasp Technologies is the leading provider of travel data management, visualization and payment solutions in the T&E industry. Initially founded to address the critical need for customized reporting and data management in the travel industry, we’ve held to our belief in helping our customers thrive and to succeed by transforming data into useful intelligence.
Throughout our years in business, we’ve engineered cutting-edge travel data management, integration, intelligence and consolidation solutions for client companies of all sizes – sometimes even outside of the travel industry. Our growing suite of products and service tailor to specific business needs. We are obsessed with solving complex problems in aggregating, consolidating, normalizing, translating, cleaning and visualizing data for travel agencies/TMCs, corporations, governments, and other technology providers around the world. Our state-of-the-art solutions have been implemented in more than 100 countries to improve business intelligence and process efficiency. All leading to more profitable clients who can focus on top-line growth. We have grown in excess of 50% year over year for the last decade with back-to-back positions on Inc Magazine’s List of 5000 Fastest Growing Companies.
We have defined many of the industry’s best practices in travel data management, global data consolidation and data bridging in T&E and serve many of the global leading financial institutions and corporations. That’s why many travel management companies, corporations and corporate travel departments turn to Grasp Technologies to manage their complicated data. We believe that with happy customers and happy employees, everyone wins.