Looking to the Future of Business Travel
Even if you are equipped with a crystal ball, predicting what’s ahead for business travel is a challenging task. But there’s cause for optimism, as we saw at Deem's last Miles Ahead virtual conference, as business travel continues to rise to pre-pandemic numbers through the rest of 2022 and into 2023.
“As we continue to move through 2022, we're entering now another, and ideally more accelerated, phase of the [Covid-19] recovery in this journey for business travel,” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA). According to Neufang, there will be more business travel in 2022 than 2021.
But even as business travelers hit the road again, they should expect change. An urgent need for sustainability efforts, an uptick in remote work, ample time at home, and workers potentially having moved residences during the pandemic all contribute to changing needs and desires on the part of corporate travelers.
So, what can we do to prepare for the future of corporate travel? Let’s take a look at some of the business travel highlights industry pros are closely following.
Sustainability is an urgent priority
If you’ve participated in even one business travel conference, panel or session this year, chances are one particularly pressing topic was sure to come up: sustainability. Today, nearly every company and travel professional is grappling with how to balance the need for sustainability with the value of travel, and the reality that sustainable travel is more costly.
Eric Friedrichsen, CEO of Emburse, described how data can help people make more informed and more sustainable choices during booking. This includes:
- Sharing carbon footprint details in relatable terms — e.g., taking this flight is the equivalent of X plastic bags (a feature we’ve introduced in our EcoCheck feature in Etta)
- Providing alternatives — e.g., naming a specific advantage of choosing a train over a flight
- Creating a culture that encourages people to think before taking a trip
Concerns about sustainability often ebb and flow with the economy, David Grace, president of Deem, said. But something has changed. “Now it’s a concern that’s here to stay and people are willing to put resources behind it,” Grace said.
That’s true at Enterprise, where Don Moore, senior vice president of Enterprise Holdings, has spoken about the challenges — and advantages — of building a rental fleet that incorporates electric vehicles (EVs).
“EVs [are] clearly a hot topic in today's world,” Moore said. But making sure the appropriate infrastructure is in place is essential, he noted. That’s particularly true for a company that prides themselves on the speed at which a returned car is rented out again. An EV takes time to recharge, as well as a lot of power.
Improving sustainability is a priority, but not a simple task.
“There is no playbook,” Neufang pointed out. Nor is this something that can be resolved in a few years, she said, adding that suppliers, buyers, and policymakers all need to be part of the conversation.
“What’ll get us to 2050 might not be invented yet,” Neufang said.
To see how Deem is dedicated to embracing sustainable travel through technology, read more about EcoCheck here.
Expect changes to travel
The pandemic led to a two-year lull in business travel. Even as it resumes, there are changes afoot. Some common themes have emerged:
- People have moved. Relocations during the pandemic have ripple effects. “People who moved a couple of hours away from their office now have a return-to-work business trip. That never would have been a business trip, it would have been a commute before,” Neufang said. Plus, people may have moved to locations that are secondary travel markets, not primary ones, Sean Parham, global travel manager at Snap, noted.
- Road warriors may need to ease back. “Prior to the pandemic, I did feel like a road warrior. I felt like I knew everything about travel, how to get from point A to Z, and how to do different things,” Moore said. But then on his first trip back, he forgot his toiletries at home. That is to say: Even pros might need some time to get reaccustomed to travel.
- Travel may be different. You might not get food on the plane, and things may move a bit slower in general, Moore points out. “It’s a little more stressful to travel than it used to be,” he says. And that may be compounded, for some travelers, by a loss of status and perks that occurred during months off the road — if you’re used to upgrades and early boarding, it’s hard to go back.
Still, some things haven’t changed: The debate over the benefits of window versus aisle seat rages on, as do the differing takes of over- and under-packers. And the merits of business travel remain: “We need to get people back together,” Neufang said.
There’s value to face-to-face interactions, in meetings, trade shows, and conferences, that cannot always be duplicated via video screen, according to a Deloitte report. Now, after a time when travel was curtailed, business leaders may have a better sense of when face-to-face interactions are essential, and when they’re more optional, per the report.
Duty of care is essential
For traveler managers, ensuring that their travelers arrived at their destinations safely has always been a priority. But the pandemic changed what safety meant. “Staying on top of on-going Covid-19 case counts and local regulations remains an overwhelming responsibility,” said Tahnee Perry, vice president of marketing at Deem.
“Very early on, we sat down and decided we need to help travel managers and travelers deal with a lot of these changes,” Perry said. “So we launched something we call Travel SafetyCheck.” This feature, available in Etta, shows health and safety details for flights, hotel locations, and rental cars, all built into the booking flow.
Everyone craves a seamless travel experience
Travel booking should be a simple prospect, not a cumbersome task that you keep postponing until it’s urgent.
That’s Deem’s driving priority. It’s why we’ve developed partnerships for travel expenses, rather than prioritizing our own solution. We’re believers in people selecting best in class options, rather than all-in-one solutions that provide many services — none of them superlatively.
And we’re working to make business trips — from booking to travel to filing expenses — a more seamless and easy experience. Some exciting updates include:
- Delegate booking in the mobile app — now, delegates can make last minute travel in the palm of their hand. Easily switch between travelers, or locate specific travelers with a handy search bar. This feature is available now for Android, and is coming soon for iOS.
- Notifications while traveling — if you’re using the mobile app, you already get alerts for flight-related details, such as gate changes and delays. We’ve added even more mobility information and related notifications; no one wants to open their laptop in the airport for ground transportation information.
The future of business travel is bright
Some trends that conference speakers predicted:
- Bleisure is on the rise. Corporate travelers are eager to tack on a day — or several — of relaxation at the tail end of work trips. Moore believes there’s likely some pent up demand to travel, since people have gotten overly familiar with their homes. He notes that at Enterprise, they’re seeing lengthier car rentals — perhaps people are driving further, or adding extra days at the end of work-related trips to decompress.
- Recovery is en route. A November 2021 forecast from GBTA predicts a full recovery in the travel industry by 2024, with 1.48 trillion in spending anticipated (slightly higher than the pre-pandemic spending in 2019).
- Mobility matters. How can people smoothly depart home, and arrive at destinations? For Deem — and other traveler industry experts — wrangling ground transportation in particular has been a challenge, and an expensive one. A new partnership between Deem and Uber takes aim at this pain point, with the goal of helping people readily navigate ground transportation.
As business travel begins a climb to pre-pandemic levels, travel industry professionals — and everyone here at Deem — is intent on ensuring a future of meaningful, safe, and friction-free business travel.