Five Features of Corporate Travel in the Future of Work

November 9, 2021

Every event that disrupts life is different. The corporate travel industry weathered the attacks of September 11 and the recession of 2008, for example, and the recoveries were as unique as the circumstances that created them. (Though, never in my career have I faced disruption to the degree we have all experienced over the last 18 months.) Trends remain fluid and changing, particularly in the world of business travel, as shifting circumstances create a start-and-stop environment.

Uncertainty can be frustrating. Where the “new normal” will land has yet to be revealed. But it’s often instructive to use moments of disruption for reflection. Taking note of new patterns and behaviors enables leaders to strategically move ahead with better positioning. 

The opportunity for travel managers

This is a fascinating and pivotal moment for those of us in the corporate travel industry. As organizations around the globe navigate return-to-office plans, we know those words also entail return to travel. A broad recovery for business travel won’t happen until we “return” to the office. As comfort levels with travel increase and the global economy grows, corporate travel will no doubt resume accordingly. 

That said, it may not bounce back to the levels we saw prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Leaders who realized travel budget savings may be more inclined to examine which trips are necessary versus simply nice. It may be a few years before organizations fully settle into new norms.

This has significant implications for corporate travel managers. Preparing for the future of work requires these essential professionals to view their jobs through a broader lens. Travel managers have the opportunity to become mobility managers, attending to a broader scope of considerations when it comes to getting people from here to there. 

With remote or hybrid workforces, the increased value of the travel manager will be in solving how to move employees safely and efficiently amid new and evolving challenges. In-person meetings, trainings, sales, and implementations remain important. 

How can a disbursed employee base be quickly mobile when necessary? And how is this made easier with evolving duty of care concerns and an increased level of traveler risk?

The future of work

In new research, Milken Institute analysts note that the future of work will include “a broad shift toward remote working and hiring, with a greater focus on inclusion and diversity.” Continued disruption, including acceleration of technologies such as AI, automation, blockchain, cloud computing, and 5G, will compel leaders to address workforce skills gaps to adequately prepare for the future. With remote hiring and working, 88% of firms included in the research’s survey see a wider hiring pool, and 84% of workers see more job opportunities. 

In many ways, the Covid-19 pandemic moved us directly into the future of work with an immediate need to start living it, ready or not. In preparing for stabilization of trends that will constitute our new normal, professionals in the corporate travel industry should note the following likely characteristics of work and their associated impacts on business travel processes.

Work in the future will likely be:

1. Mobile-device integrated 

It’s easy to see that most of us do nearly everything on our mobile devices. Mobile commerce continues to grow and consumer apps offer easier ways to do everything in our personal lives, including booking travel. The corporate travel strategy of the future should focus on a mobile booking experience for flights, hotels, and ground transportation, including the ability to make changes easily from any device.

2. Diverse

Building a more diverse talent ecosystem that includes people with disabilities can deliver greater outcomes for businesses; this is just one pillar of many in a strategy that prioritizes proportional representation. Travel managers in organizations that more fully embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion will be tasked with accommodating travelers of all abilities, identities, and orientations. This broader universe requires attending to vision, hearing, motor, and cognitive impairments along with issues of safety and discrimination. 

Understanding destination safety statistics for women and LGBTQ+ travelers is also important, as is assessing availability of accessible accommodations by travel providers. It’s a set of priorities worth embracing — more often than not, improvements that address accessibility, safety, and inclusion help everyone.

3. Human-centered

Companies realize that taking better care of their people makes employees happier and more productive. Human-centered design approaches consider how the user interacts with digital tools in order to provide an intuitive look and feel and a better user experience. Personalization through technology is an example of a human-centered way to elevate the work experience and help people reach greater potential. 

For the travel manager, this might mean a shift in approach from company risk management to people risk management. This is because travelers’ health and safety expectations have increased along with virus variants and political unrest. A new duty of care model that includes personalization can demonstrate an organization’s care for employee safety down to the individual traveler level.

Supporting such personalization speeds up reliance on technology. Technology provides the foundation for a human-centered approach and surfaces insights that uncover new opportunities for business success. Travel managers, for example, can leverage technology to empower travelers with functionalities that address their individual preferences and enable intuitive self-service within the company’s policies.

4. Remote

Whether companies land at remote, flexible, or hybrid work environments, the future is certain to include a “productivity from anywhere” approach. The way we work is forever changed, as is recruitment, with the wider talent pool that remote work offers. (Of course, certain industries such as manufacturing demand in-person models.)

Level-setting in more flexible industries may look like sending two sales representatives to an overseas meeting instead of five, but including the other three subject matter experts in the meeting remotely for comprehensive service. 

One of the largest challenges for leaders will be measuring productivity in a remote work environment and carefully parsing out underlying reasons for low numbers or a perceived lack of project success. Corporate travel managers will need to be able to quickly pivot and mobilize remote staff as these learning curves move.

5. On the move

We’re traveling again for business, but with more forethought and preparation. Every company out there has realized savings with less travel, and this will change cost-benefit analyses for trips going forward. Travel authorizations may continue to be restrictive and include added parameters based on a more complex duty of care. A general acceptance of remote meetings on both sides of a transaction may wane, however, if competitors ramp up in-person engagements; the cost-benefit calculations change.

How can companies and travel managers successfully support these pillars of the future work landscape? The answer, in short, is simplified business travel that empowers the individual traveler through technology.

Travel technology

Bridging skills and geographic gaps to realize the benefits of a wider, more diverse talent pool involves strategic use of technology. When corporate travel managers view their roles in the broader context of mobility — getting people from point A to point B — beneficial culture and process change will follow. 

To build a travel program, travel managers have historically turned first to a travel management company to support their activity. Moving forward, the first consideration should instead be the technology that can best support the organization’s travelers and all the accompanying complexities.

The reason behind this is twofold. First, we’ve all but completed the transformation into a mobile-first society. Second, business travel is extraordinarily complex with local regulations, myriad policies, tax laws, and so on. 

Leading with technology will help simplify the travel experience. In essence, travel managers can address existing complexities with technology that creates efficiencies and provides measurable return on investment.

Elevating the traveler

Elevating travel technology elevates the traveler experience. This is what corporate travel innovation is all about. Empowering travelers with individualized, accessible experiences eliminates distractions, saves money, and increases productivity. The bottom line is that travel is better for business when it’s better for travelers.

Imagine for a moment a travel technology platform that, for each traveler, accounts for policy, external factors, and personal traveler preferences. Such a platform could eliminate laundry lists of options and searches by aggregating a preferred airline, preferred hotel, policy requirements, and more, surfacing the top three itineraries for easy selection and booking. 

Technology can even do more, like anticipating a CEO’s quarterly trip to Memphis and sending her the best itinerary based on saved preferences. For highly compensated executives, eliminating time-consuming, disruptive selection and booking can amount to significant savings.

Focusing on the traveler also benefits the travel manager. Providing a consumer-grade experience on an internal site mitigates costly leakage by keeping employees in the managed travel platform and within policy. 

Self-service doesn’t negate the role of the travel manager. In fact, it does just the opposite. It allows travel managers to embrace broader roles within the organization by attending to the aspects of business beyond just logistics of travel. This could allow for renewed focus on duty of care, supplier contracts, expense reporting, payments, and increasingly complex risk mitigation.

Mobility and the future

How we serve a dispersed workforce and manage increased complexity and risk is by elevating the traveler experience through technology. That approach facilitates mobility, which is greater than just travel. Mobility in the broadest sense — the relative ease of moving a dispersed workforce through complex circumstances with problem-solving agility — is how we’ll meet the needs of the future work environment.

Mobility includes leveraging technology services and solutions that make processes proactive, sustainable, flexible, and efficient. Corporate travel managers who embrace mobility as their focus can take their programs to the next level and bring significant value to their organizations.

Learn how Deem’s corporate travel management software, Etta, can prepare your team for the future of work.


David Grace
President, Deem

David Grace is an accomplished travel industry veteran with more than two decades of experience leading strategic and management teams for Enterprise Holdings and National Car Rental, and most recently, Deem, Inc. Having been an integral part of the 2019 acquisition of Deem by Enterprise Holdings and then signing on as Deem’s Chief Revenue Officer (CRO), Grace was named President at Deem in November 2020. Grace began his career at National Car Rental and quickly moved into leadership roles, including Vice President of Sales and Vice President of Strategic Accounts, where he led nationwide sales. He later transitioned into executive roles at Enterprise Holdings and, currently, at Deem. Grace is a global travel and mobility thought leader, and a well-known industry speaker. He frequently presents at live and virtual events around the world for industry organizations including Business Travel News and GBTA, and is quoted regularly in trade publications.

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