Making Corporate Travel More Human
Is it time to re-evaluate how we manage travel?
This is a bold statement but hear me out.
In my 30+ years of experience, I can say I have seen it all. However, one word is always in heavy rotation no matter what is happening in our industry: Compliance.
If business travelers are not securing their travel plans within your preferred program, there are significant impacts. Right now, the focus is on duty of care, which is where it should be. However, I suspect we will quickly shift back to all the other reasons compliance has, for years, remained at the top of the list: cost savings, supplier relationships and traveler efficiencies. Why then, after 20 years, are we still faced with an estimated 25% of the managed traveler population booking with online travel agencies or on supplier websites?
To answer that question, I think we need to shift our approach. What if corporations managed business travel by allowing travelers to have more flexibility versus more restrictions?
Strategies for corporate travel personalization
A few years ago, I worked with a manufacturing customer that achieved double-digit increases in compliance and cost savings by changing their approach to their managed travel program. I think this is very relevant today.
Their success in giving travelers more flexibility rather than enforcing more restrictions was based on two key strategies:
1. Providing general guidelines and flexible policy limitations around hotel bookings:
The manufacturing company stopped negotiating on a property level and, instead, created preferred programs with the most popular hotel chains. This included volume discounts, benefits and preferred rates.
Hotel choices are a critical component of business travel; the ability to get a good night’s sleep has a significant impact on a person’s daytime performance and health. In fact, it was reported during the New Traveler Disruption Benchmarks session at the 2019 GBTA convention that business travelers’ second highest priority is a good night’s sleep. (Their first priority was a flexible travel policy!) Travelers have unique individual needs when it comes to feeling safe, secure and comfortable enough to sleep well. Now, add in concerns about COVID-19 and you can see where providing more choices in the travel program is powerful.
2. Improving the airline experience by removing airline connection requirements:
The company found that when people had the flexibility to fly the route that fit their needs, they made responsible price choices. Especially since the airline and airport experience will be dramatically different moving forward, allowing for this simple accommodation can and will make a difference.
I recently shared this specific customer experience with a group of travel buyers at a Business Travel News webinar, Optimizing Content for Traveler Compliance and Personalization. Many in the audience shared they felt pressure from their companies to tie compliance to a set of fixed rules and regulations. That age-old argument of travelers taking advantage of fewer restrictions is always a possibility, but I’m convinced the benefits outweigh the risks.
3 Steps toward a more human approach
With the state of the travel industry right now, and general nervousness of travelers getting back on the road, I can’t think of a better approach than to make their personal choice a priority. By allowing people more options in choosing what’s best for them, travelers gain a greater sense of personalization when using the program. And when you do the right thing for them, they will do the right thing for your company. We firmly believe that when travel is better for people, it’s better for business.
If this approach sounds interesting to you, I recommend a few key steps to consider as travel begins to un-pause:
1. Don’t go it alone. Create a group of key travelers to use as your sounding board for ideas and guidelines. Getting their buy-in will help them feel ownership in the new approach and, therefore, help increase compliance.
2. Test it out. Use this new approach with your small group of travelers, monitor the results, and ask them how the changes impacted them personally. Getting feedback from the test group will help you address any unforeseen consequences and help you create a seamless experience for the entire company as you roll out the new plan.
3. Customize your online booking tool. Make sure your booking platform has the functionality you need to create a customized program that fits your needs. For example, with Deem you can create groups with different policy requirements, booking options and payment methods.
If you make it difficult to travel but still require people to travel, they will go outside of the program to get what they need. So, don’t forget the human aspect, which is more important now than ever before.