Thursday, December 8, 2022

The return of the Business Traveler

As travel opens up and customers are booking that long-awaited holiday, Airlines companies and hotels are looking at new options to lure leisure travelers. But the travel providers are equally keen to get their corporate business back in line, even though recovery looks slow and long. Research reveals that 96 percent of global business travelers are willing to travel for business over the next 12 months if their demands for flexibility can be achieved.

Timed with the SAP Concur Travel Industry Summit, new research commissioned by the SAP Concur organization in April – May 2021 highlights global business traveler enthusiasm to return to the road, while pointing to what companies are doing—and need to do—to ensure a productive return to responsible business travel.

In 2020, business travelers found the trip itself to be the most stressful stage of travel, reflecting increased anxiety around safe travel during a global pandemic. The findings from this year’s survey suggest a return to pre-pandemic stress levels before, during, and after a business trip.

However, employees’ expectations of their employer to protect their health and safety while traveling for business remain. After a year of being grounded by events beyond their control, employees are ready to return to business travel, but on their own terms. The actions that companies take in the next 12 months could make or break their ability to acquire and retain valuable employees amid a competitive market for talent.

Mark Cullen, Managing Director for Concur EMEA South says that in 2020, business travelers found the trip itself to be the most stressful stage of travel. “They reflected increased anxiety around safe travel during a global pandemic. The findings from this year’s survey suggest a return to pre-pandemic stress levels before, during, and after a business trip.”

He adds that employees now have expectations for their employer to protect their health and safety while travelling for business. “After a year of being grounded by events beyond their control, employees are ready to return to business travel, but on their own terms. The actions that companies take in the next 12 months could make or break their ability to acquire and retain valuable employees amid a competitive market for talent,” he explained.

Some of the key findings from the survey of 3,850 business travelers across 25 global markets and 700 travel managers in seven global markets include:

Enthusiastic to travel again: Out of the 96 per cent willing to travel for business over the next 12 months, 68 per cent are pushing for a return to business travel, while just 32 percent feel their company is requiring them to do so.  The baby boomers look most likely to push their employers for the return to business travel (74 per cent). However, four in five business travelers worry that unless they increase business travel this year, their professional (80 per cent) and personal lives (80 per cent) will suffer. The main professional concerns include the ability to develop and maintain business connections (45 per cent), making less money (38 per cent), and not advancing in their career (33 per cent). One in five (18 per cent)—including 29 per cent of Gen Z respondents are more concerned about losing their job if they are unable to increase their business travel.

These business trips adds a lot of value to these employees who rely on face-to-face meetings to make personal connections with customers and colleagues (54 per cent), experience a new places (52 per cent) and taking a break from their everyday life (41 percent). There are also those who are looking forward to having the ability to dress up to go somewhere (19 per cent), and one in 10 say that their partner wants them out of the house (11 per cent) !

– Travel on their own terms: Flexibility, such as choosing transportation, lodging, and travel dates, is now the most pressing need for business travelers, ahead of their vaccination-related demands such as wanting themselves, or the clients or colleagues they visit, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (72 per cent vs. 62 per cent).

This is particularly important for the younger generations, in the U.S., where the majority of Gen Z business travelers (59 per cent*) say they would rather have a crying toddler in the seat behind them than have no control over when and where they travel for work. Heavy workloads and unused vacation days also mean workers plan to make the most of any upcoming business travel—89 per cent say they will add their personal vacation time to their business trips in the next 12 months.

– Health and Safety is priority: 89 per cent of employees expect their company to protect their health and safety while traveling by allowing them to select their preferred accommodations (46 per cent), preferred mode of travel (43 per cent), book travel directly on supplier websites (39 per cent), and decide the length of their trip (39 per cent). While most of Gen Z (93 per cent) and Millennials (92 per cent) expect changes, only 76 per cent of baby boomers do. Other benefits that business travelers expect from their employers in the wake of the pandemic include the ability to choose direct flights (52 per cent), stay in four- to five-star hotels (41 per cent), and select premium seating, like first or business class (39 per cent).

– Traveller over Travel: Almost a third of business travelers (31 per cent) would ask to limit travel if their company does not implement policies or measures to help protect their health and safety. One out of five business travelers (20 per cent) would go as far as looking for a different position. The issue is even more important for the younger generations with more than half (56 per cent) of Gen Z and Millennial respondents who prefer to limit travel or search for new positions. This climate puts additional pressure on travel managers, who must be extra vigilant to ensure policies match employee expectations.

– Challenging times ahead: Nearly unanimously, global travel managers think their job will be more challenging in the next 12 months compared to last year (99 per cent). The challenges facing global travel managers include communicating and ensuring compliance with new and revised company travel policies (60 per cent), last-minute changes or cancellations to bookings (53 per cent), and changes to government regulations (51 per cent).

Travel managers unanimously (100 per cent) expect their company to implement some travel guidelines or policies in the next 12 months. However, their expected changes do not necessarily track to business traveler demands. “Enthusiasm for returning to travel, paired with the intent to act if their flexibility demands aren’t met, puts global business travelers in a unique power position,” says Cullen. “However, with an eye toward the right changes, organizations can encourage a productive return to business travel this year—and help achieve broader business goals in the process,” Cullen concludes.

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